‘Snowpiercer’ season 3 episode 1 review: 'The Tortoise and the Hare'

'Snowpiercer,' TNT's post-apocalyptic drama, returns with a high octane premiere.

Daveed Diggs in Snowpiercer
(Image: © David Bukach/TNT)

What to Watch Verdict

A strong if not a little overstuffed return, which sets up some intriguing dynamics and makes a new introduction.


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    The time jump is a wise choice

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    An intriguing new character

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    Ruth's role as the rebellion leader on Snowpiercer

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    The dynamics on the "pirate" train


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    The danger levels are high, but concern is reduced when someone like Layton is near death

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    Melanie is definitely still alive no matter what they want us to think

This post contains spoilers for Snowpiercer season 3 episode 1. Read our Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 10 review here.  

Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs) has come a long way since the first season of Snowpiercer when he was tasked with solving a murder aboard the perpetual motion locomotive. Since then he has led a rebellion and come face-to-face with the presumed-dead Mr. Wilford (Sean Bean). In an audacious bid to explore the possibility that the globe is warming up, Layton led a small group of supporters to command a 10 car “pirate train,” and the second season ended with the splinter group free from Wilford’s megalomaniac clutches. The challenge in “The Tortoise and the Hare” is to update the audience regarding the fate of those on each train without getting bogged down; showrunner Graeme Manson is mostly successful in this endeavor.

Leaping forward six months means a lot of the early scenes are filled with exposition to fill the gaps, which includes the progress (or lack of) in collecting data to support the theory that they can rebuild civilization away from the train. Some of this dialogue is a little forced but necessary to set the scene. 

Conditions are squalid for almost every inhabitant aboard the 1,023 cars that now make up Snowpiercer, yet the rebel faction still lives on. Ruth’s (Alison Wright) steady evolution from Wilford acolyte and enforcer to rebellion figurehead has been incredibly satisfying and well-plotted. There is no wiping Ruth’s slate clean of all the awful things she did to the Tailies, but she has used her position and knowledge of the train to aid Layton’s cause. Now, Ruth is squirreled away in the belly of Snowpiercer leading the resistance.

Sean Bean in Snowpiercer

Sean Bean in 'Snowpiercer' (Image credit: David Bukach/TNT)

Snowpiercer's network of spies remain, with the premiere reminding us how vast this locomotive is both during the opening sequence and when Ruth has to change hideouts. Wilford is wise to the underground activities but doesn’t know who is behind the subterfuge. However, there are those passengers who are willing to give up the conspirators. 

When Ruth’s refuge is compromised she is taken to the one place no one will think to look: the uninhabitable first-class section. The frozen carriages are in the exact state they were left in — Ruth is horrified about the mess beneath the layers of ice — and at minus 25 degrees, it is far too cold to survive. Ruth’s hiding space is equipped with a heater that brings the temperature up to a balmy minus 12 degrees. No one said a revolution was going to be easy, but Ruth has definitely drawn the short straw.

Punishments are dished out to those who took a hot bath treat in return for aiding the rebellion, which sees the offending parties enduring sewage being thrown at them. Wilford runs on a climate of rewards and fear, which sees former first-class passengers easily swayed to turn people in. Manson has tapped Orphan Black's Kristian Bruun to play one such snitch, Stu. The good thing about a train with this many passengers is the ability to add new characters — even if you might wonder why you have never seen them before. Hopefully this isn’t the last we will see of Stu.

Chelsea Harris, Stephen Lobo and Lena Hall in Snowpiercer

Chelsea Harris, Stephen Lobo and Lena Hall in 'Snowpiercer' (Image credit: David Bukach/TNT)

Meanwhile, there is an additional character aboard the pirate train who happened to be asleep when the divide went down. Martin (Stephen Lobo) is another former first-class resident and he proves quickly that he is not to be trusted. Although, in his defense, he just wants to be reunited with his husband and twin sons. 

One crisis after another impacts the pirate train. Ben (Iddo Goldberg) heads out into the cold to collect another sample despite protests from Alex (Rowan Blanchard) and ends up falling through the ice into a hidden building. On top of this, technical issues are plentiful, which elevates Alex's self-doubt; her role in the rebellion is still on shaky ground, as well. It's not the ideal combo considering Miss Audrey (Lena Hall) has conspired to break free of her gilded cage in the library and uses this moment to whisper in Alex’s ear about the benefits of returning to Wilford. 

Ben is driven by Melanie’s (Jennifer Connelly) ghost, though it is safe to think she is still alive. Sure, conditions are pretty grim, but no physical body equals no death on TV. Not to mention Ben’s accident reveals there is at least one other survivor who hasn’t been aboard Snowpiercer. 

The rescue mission to save Ben sees Layton and Josie (Katie McGuinness) arguing about who should go. The stubborn streak runs and unresolved tension bubbles to the surface with a kiss followed by immediate awkwardness — suggesting romance is not something they have been engaging in. Layton is also plagued with visions of an unfrozen world and the mysterious flashes of nature are an additional twist in the packed premiere. 

Archie Panjabi in Snowpiercer

Archie Panjabi in 'Snowpiercer' (Image credit: David Bukach/TNT)

There is a level of contrivance in getting them both off the train as it leaves space for Miss Audrey’s escape. Bess Till (Mickey Sumner) is a force to be reckoned with even when trapped, and she should never be underestimated. It is a tense sequence as the rescue mission hits some snags while Alex is tempted into switching sides. However, at no point does it seem like they are going to kill off Layton so it takes some of the high-stakes wind out of the events. 

One more event occurring with the pirate train is the discovery of a new person (Archie Panjabi). I look forward to hearing her survival story.

The action on the main train has some intriguing moments, including the reveal that Javi (Roberto Urbina) is still alive but being tormented by Wilford. Pregnant Zarah (Sheila Vand) thinks she is protected by her current medical condition, but she shouldn’t rule out how nefarious Wilford is — and his propensity for experiments on unwilling subjects.

“The Tortoise and the Hare” is a fast-paced return, but in showing both the pirate and main train it veers toward being overstuffed. One crisis quickly followed by another shows how close to the edge the pirate train is riding, but none of the regular characters ever feel in true danger. The group dynamics and unsettled atmosphere among the splinter group set up the conflict, and it is in these quieter moments that Snowpiercer is full steam ahead. 

Emma Fraser

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.