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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Wilford’s tyranny on Snowpiercer hinges on his masterful manipulation of people's perceptions

Illustration for article titled Wilford’s tyranny on Snowpiercer hinges on his masterful manipulation of people's perceptions
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Mr. Wilford is a terrifying sci-fi villain. When he’s first introduced in season two of Snowpiercer, his cruelty is obvious but it also feels a little one-note. He’s almost too broadly Bad, more of a symbol for capitalism at its worst than a real character. In “Our Answer For Everything” though, the extent of Wilford’s evil is not only on full display, but it feels more specific, sharper, instantly more disturbing. He’s a master manipulator, a master abuser. His cruelty works to indoctrinate people on a large scale, but it’s most frightening at its most zoomed-in. It’s difficult to watch characters squirm under his grasp, because his behavior seems so obviously sadistic, but that’s what makes it all the scarier. He has effectively brainwashed the people around him into believing his abuse is a form of love.

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We see this most clearly in the way Audrey has chosen to stay onboard Big Alice. Now, there’s technically room for the fact that Audrey could still be playing Wilford and acting the part of the ensnared devotee in order to gain his trust and ultimately betray him. Layton and Ruth worry that she’s perhaps defected for real, but there are some glimmers that she’s still working to bring down Wilford, seen in the rare moments when Audrey is alone, like when she’s in the bath and appears to be dissociating from her surroundings, even sinking her body all the way underwater at one point. But it’s also possible that Audrey really is back in Wilford’s control, especially after she successfully passes the test he presents her with.

Wilford reveals that Kevin’s alive. He survived slitting his own arm with the razorblade in the bath, and Wilford tasks Audrey with “fixing” Kevin, which amounts to her taking him through the usual immersive grief experience she provides back on Snowpiercer, but there’s a nightmarish quality to that process here. She effectively convinces Kevin that Wilford’s violence was an act of love, that Kevin was nothing before Wilford. This is made all the more disturbing since Audrey has a twinned scar. They both survived the violence Wilford forced upon them, but this shared experience isn’t healing; it’s harmful. It makes them both vulnerable to Wilford’s preferred method of controlling people. He wants to be seen as a savior. He wants to be the antidote to people’s pain. Nevermind that he’s the one supplying the poison.

Audrey indeed gets Kevin to thank Wilford for sparing his life. In a truly unnerving scene, she even demands that Kevin kneel and lick Wilford’s slipper. This is exactly what Wilford wants: total subjugation. And Audrey provides it with a smile on her face. Even if she is still plotting to cross him, it’s clear that she at least once believed the things she tells Kevin or maybe even partially believes them still. It’s hard to comprehend why she would go through all this with Kevin if she weren’t somewhat under Wilford’s spell again for real. In any case, it’s these moments where Wilford’s indoctrination happens on such a personal level that he works best as a supervillain.

We even see him employing abusive tactics with Alex here, too, though they’re a bit more subtle than the hold he has over Kevin and Audrey. He strategically shuts Alex out, excluding her from plans and information, and it visibly upsets her. She feels rejected, and it makes her go to him. It’s exactly what he wants. And when she does demand to be included in his inner circle again, he tells her that he knows she went behind his back to take Melanie to the barracks and that she has to choose between him and her. He reiterates that he saved her, that she should be thanking him constantly for her life. Once again, it’s abundantly clear how effective Wilford’s psychological and emotional manipulation tactics are. Alex sees him as a parent figure, as a savior, and it makes her loyal to him.

Given the rising support for Wilford onboard Snowpiercer, there’s a thread that connects Wilford’s violence and emotional abuse on an interpersonal level to his ability to garner love and admiration on a larger scale. All of the entwining subplots of “Our Answer For Everything” are set against the outburst of unrest aboard Snowpiercer, spurred by the murder of eight breachmen. Boki survives, but he’s overcome with grief over losing his crew, and he, like most of the train, blames the Tail for the attack. The Tail might have won the revolution, but they’re still the most vulnerable population aboard Snowpiercer, and the other classes are quick to turn against them once more. Every scene feels urgent and fraught due to the surmounting unrest.

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This episode finally provides much needed character development for Ruth, who has been acting like she has completely forgotten her role in inflicting violence against the Tail. Indeed, she has forgotten. When Winnie hides from her, she can’t understand why. Not too long ago, Ruth ordered to have Winnie’s arm removed and then accepted Winnie’s mother’s arm instead, eventually leading to Winnie’s mother’s death. This is such an indelible trauma for Winnie, and Ruth barely remembers it at first, underscoring just how monstrous the Wilford-engineered social structure was. Tailies were dehumanized to the point where Ruth didn’t bat an eye when she called for a child’s arm.

Ultimately, the execution of Ruth suddenly confronting her past is a little uneven. The writing clumsily and conveniently overcorrects: Ruth comes off as too sympathetic, and her actions are ultimately downplayed. She explains to Winnie that she was just following rules and that she understands now that this was wrong, but that’s a lot of processing for her to have done in a matter of minutes. When an anti-Tailie mob is just about to freeze off Layton’s arm, Ruth gives a rousing speech about how that violence can never be undone. “You’ll never be the same again,” she warns them. But that suggests that Ruth has been grappling with her past all along, when really she hasn’t thought about it until now. She didn’t even remember Winnie, and now she’s claiming to have undergone a great change after reconciling with her past. It’s just not convincing, and it’s disingenuous to give her this big speech when this hasn’t been touched at all until now.

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The continually spiraling Bess Till is very determined to solve the case of who has been doing all these murders, and it leads her initially to a first class passenger, which isn’t that surprising given that the first class passengers are exactly who is the most likely to be loyal to Wilford and his system given that they benefit the most from that system. But then she’s led straight to pastor Logan, the very man who has been claiming to help her. It’s not necessarily the most shocking twist, but it is one that resonates powerfully, because the close connection between religion and enacting Wilford’s vision is yet another unnerving result of the power Wilford has over people. Wilford conflates violence with love, unrest with peace, pain with relief. Again, he provides both the poison and the antidote, but it’s the latter that people tend to focus on. Logan was likely working Bess to get her on his side, and she tricks him by pretending to understand his conflation of pain and relief before then attacking him. But it’s not really a victory over Wilford to expose who has been causing the chaos on Snowpiercer. Because the effects have already settled in. A majority of the passengers light red candles in support of Wilford, signaling that it’s time for him to reclaim the train. Wilford reigns because he has, once again, convinced people that they need him. Even when so much evidence suggests otherwise. He’s the ultimate villain, because he has so totally convinced people that his cruelty is their salvation.


Stray observations

  • Layton fears that he has broken Pike, which yeah, seems about right!
  • We don’t check in with Josie at all in this episode, but I have to imagine she’s not doing great.
  • Wilford requests that Icy Bob be prepared, so it’s safe to assume that he’s about to launch his real attack on Snowpiercer.
  • Zarah doesn’t do much other than react to Layton throughout the episode. I never know what Zarah’s purpose is.
  • The one thing that remains consistently great about this show is its soundtrack.
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