NOTE: This post contains spoilers for Snowpiercer season 3 episode 8, “Setting Itself Right.”
For once it isn’t the freezing temperatures that pose a danger to the passengers of Snowpiercer, as a last-minute deviation to their travel plans has the train approaching a hazardous gas; when it rains it pours on Snowpiercer. This gives Layton an immediate problem to solve as he tries to distract himself from the revelation that shook his faith in the validity of New Eden last week.
Asha (Archie Panjabi) confirms the Dragon’s Blood tree was an image stuck on her locker from a calendar, meaning Layton’s so-called vision was simply a flashbulb memory. “Putting off your own crisis for a collective one,” is Zarah’s (Sheila Vand) perceptive observation about his choices. Layton isn’t the only one grappling with his past actions and “Setting Itself Right” offers revelatory moments for several passengers.
One person who isn’t reflecting on their misdeeds is Wilford (Sean Bean), who appears to have got over whatever brief guilty feelings he was experiencing. Keeping up with Wilfor’d post-death nap mood swings is causing whiplash. When Miss Audrey (Lena Hall) visited he came across as a shell of his former self, in the following episode he showed compassion to Alex (Rowan Blanchard) and now he is back to taunting everyone within his sights. Perhaps this is simply the drugs wearing off and his arrogance is edging to the surface.
Signs that someone has been using the tracks (other than them) are why Wilford thinks Melanie (Jennifer Connelly) is still alive. They opt to take a detour to the spot where they think this small vehicle is. Problems arise when Asha’s equipment registers dangerous levels of hazardous materials in the air and the giant orange cloud that sits on the horizon points to volcanic activity as the source.
Wilford is immediately placed under suspicion as he is the reason they changed their travel plans, but Alex points out this section has previously been free from noxious gases. Plus, Wilford is quick to remind them that the train was built to withstand this kind of situation so they can travel through the hazy cloud safely. It all seems a little too neat for those who are used to his tricks and manipulations. Plus, Snowpiercer isn’t a new train and certain filters might not withstand the harmful substance.
Everyone is ordered to shelter in place during this toxic journey other than essential staff, which sees Javi (Roberto Urbina) and Sykes (Chelsea Harris) switch out dog therapy — so Javi can get over his debilitating fear — to check each carriage is effectively protected. Of course, there is a breach and the basic protective gear is not enough. Javi has to resuscitate Sykes after she becomes overwhelmed. He has a breakthrough as the imagined sound of a dog snarling is pushed aside to save his friend.
Javi isn’t the only person experiencing dealing with the trauman of survival in this altered world. Asha might finally feel like she is part of the Snowpiercer community — after Ruth (Alison Wright) encouraged her to take a job in the agriculture section — but memories of her family push remorse to the surface too. She admits that after the marauders hit them hard in the nuclear reactor she poisoned everyone else in a bid to protect her nephew from the dangerous remaining people, but he died from cancer anyway. “Once you chose survival at any cost, there’s no going back,” is the guilt-ridden lesson she took from this.
Asha happens to be a filtration expert (handy in a moment like this!) and she joins Layton in the compartment that’s compromised in bulky protective suits. Unfortunately, the hole they have to climb into is too small to accommodate the size of this gear. Asha opts to remove her helmet to fix the problem, knocking Layton out with a crowbar so he can’t stop her. When he tries to pull her back up after she has fulfilled the necessary task to save the train she is too weak from the gas. Instead, she asks him to describe New Eden. Layton hesitates at first, but he plays along and delivers an evocative vision of what it looks, feels and smells like.
“Asha, you did it,” he says when she dies — retribution for all my grumbling that Snowpiercer avoids killing main characters. Yes, Asha was new but it still felt like there was a story to be told here. Instead, her arc has mostly fueled Layton’s path, as she renewed his faith in the place he doesn’t know exists.
After Asha’s death, Ruth says the “have to keep going.” Having not even grieved Pike (Steven Ogg) yet, Ruth is not allowing herself to mourn, rather choosing control. As we saw from Till (Mickey Sumner) last week, however, there is only so much one person can keep in before emotions bubble to the surface.
Till’s renewed friendship with Audrey taps into the shame she is holding within. “Your past may be rotten but your core is not,” Audrey tells her while getting to the root of her desire to drink alcohol to excess.
It’s easy to forget that Till was a Brakeman before the revolution who enacted the strict rules and punishments. She is not that person anymore, but she hasn’t effectively confronted what she did. Through Audrey’s therapeutic methods she does face and acknowledges her past while also reflecting on the role she now plays. This is a fruitful dynamic and the series should give Audrey equal consideration as her villainous choices have been fueled by Wilford’s coercive grip — a grip that has lost a lot of its power.
Of course, Wilford still wants to dominate this train. Zarah thinks Wilford wants Melanie to come back as it will throw the precarious environment into chaos. The maintenance vehicle spotted on the horizon proves we won’t have to wait too long to find out if this prediction is accurate.