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'Snowpiercer' season 3 episode 5 review: 'A New Life'

Sabotage threatens an important day for Layton and Zarah.

Steven Ogg and Daveed Diggs in Snowpiercer
(Image: © Robert Falconer/TNT)

Our Verdict

The structure of the episode reduces some of the tension, but it does hit some effective emotional beats.

For

  • - The various traditions add depth to the community
  • - Till and Layton return to their investigation roots
  • - The Javi/Sykes scene
  • - Thankfully, the pregnant woman was not punished for her choices

Against

  • - The structure is superfluous

This post contains spoilers for Snowpiercer season 3 episode 5. 

Hope is hard to come by in a world covered with ice, but Snowpiercer isn’t without its bright moments amid the hardships and fraught leadership battles. Less than 3,000 people are still known to be alive and this figure is chipped away with each rebellion. However, funerals are not the only rituals being practiced, as the impending arrival of Zarah (Sheila Vand) and Layton’s (Daveed Diggs) baby shows in "A New Life." 

Childbirth is not without its dangers and the peril levels are increased thanks to the gene therapy Zarah consented to. Wilford’s (Sean Bean) scientists came up with an experimental treatment that offers immunity against freezing temperatures, but both Zarah and Jose (Katie McGuinness) are experiencing worrying side effects. 

Only Mrs. Headwood (Sakina Jaffrey) remains, as her husband — somewhat ironically — died during the influenza outbreak that occurred in the six-month gap between seasons, but the work continues. Josie is discovering parts of her body are dull or numb to the touch and Zarah’s body temperature drops significantly during labor. Even though Mrs. Headwood predicted the latter it doesn’t offer much comfort to the shivering mother-to-be. 

During Layton’s absence on the “pirate train,” Zarah made the choice to equip their child against the harsh climate, and part of me was convinced she would pay the ultimate sacrifice in return. It is very touch-and-go, but ultimately it is another example of Snowpiercer teasing high stakes and not following through. Zarah’s opening narration lingered on the choices she made, making it seem like she was a goner for sure. However, in this case, the happy ending is excused because there is nothing more frustrating than a plot that punishes a pregnant woman for her decisions. 

"A New Life" begins in the middle of the narrative, with Zarah’s labor struggles and Layton investigating another fire that turns into an explosion. This is a common TV device (know as in "media res") used to elevate tension levels by cluing the audience in that something awful is going to occur. More often than not it stifles an episode because we are prepared. It's an unnecessary narrative choice because Snowpiercer viewers know that something will go wrong because it always does. 

When things go back "12 hours earlier," we are presented with a Third Class baby-naming tradition that involves pinning paper bearing the moniker of “someone special you remember” to a constructed tree. Like the Tailies name their newborns after the nearest city they had passed — hence, young Winnipeg — these small details add texture to this community. Unfortunately, an act of sabotage using ethanol means the tree is quickly destroyed by fire when Ruth (Alison Wright) turns its lights on. It is quickly put out but as far as omens go this isn’t great.

When word of the fire gets to Layton it gives Zahra a reason to boot the nervous dad-to-be out of the delivery room. The arson investigation is quickly established because Bess Till (Mickey Sumner) conveniently recognizes aspects from her previous life as a cop. 

This is also a reminder that Till and Layton first met when they were investigating the murders back in season 1 and animosity has long been put behind them. It is a fun team-up, which highlights the impressive production design elements as they follow each lead through the different environments like the market and Night Car. 

Old friends-turned-foes are interviewed, as the likely culprit is someone with a grudge against Layton, which puts Miss Audrey (Lena Hall) high on their suspect list. Audrey is a mess, but Till tries to appeal to the woman she once knew and not the shell she has become. This pep talk doesn’t turn things around in an instant, but when the baby’s birth is announced Audrey does pick up a guitar and belts out an emotional rendition of Arrow Benjamin’s “Love and Hate.” It isn’t an explicit sign she has listened to Till’s words, rather it provides a haunting song to accompany the final sequence.

Audrey isn’t responsible and neither is Wilford, who spends most of “A New Life” drifting in and out of a suspended state after Roche (Mike O’Malley) stabbed him in the heart with a powerful sedative. Wilford is haunted by flashes of the violence he has enacted on people like Alex (Rowan Blanchard), who embraces her complicated feelings for Wilford by keeping watch over his bed. 

Although his semi-lucid taunt to Layton suggests Wilford won’t be a changed man even if it leaves a mark on his psyche like the one Javi (Roberto Urbina) is traumatized by. In a bid to help his friend, Ben (Iddo Goldberg) assigns Sykes (Chelsea Harris) as his new partner because she was also mauled by Wilford’s dog as punishment. It isn’t going to be a quick fix, but this is a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Ben shows Josie some basic engineering skills as a distraction from her ex-boyfriend Layton’s current baby situation. They are both sad about their romantic losses and it is telegraphed early on in this episode that they are going to find physical comfort in each other. I am all for this casual hook-up, even if it is not a surprise.

The other hot romance between Ruth and Pike (Steven Ogg) has been interrupted by her return to the hospitality fold, but this doesn’t stop his plans to make her the new leader. His gripes against Layton are more than a few grumbles, as the end of the episode confirms he was behind the incendiary device. It isn’t only Wilford’s supporters who reject Layton’s return to power. 

The arrival of his baby is a moment Layton wants to savor, because on Snowpiercer victories are short-lived. This season continues to move forward at a steady pace.

More Snowpiercer

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.