Snowpiercer: The Drawers' Real Purpose Explained (& Why They Won't Work)

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Warning: SPOILERS for Snowpiercer Season 1, Episode 6 — “Trouble Comes Sideways”

One of the most dreaded punishments on Snowpiercer is being banished to the Drawers, but episode 6, “Trouble Comes Sideways,” revealed what the true purpose of the Great Ark Train’s cryo freeze chambers actually is. As with many things aboard Snowpiercer’s 1,001 cars, things aren’t always what they seem and the Drawers could have a greater purpose beyond imprisoning those who defy Mr. Wilford’s perfect order, which is enforced by Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) in the name of the train’s mythical billionaire messiah.

The Drawers were also seen in the 2013 Snowpiercer movie directed by Bong Joon-ho, in which they were a form of imprisonment on the train where space is at a premium. In TNT’s Snowpiercer, the Drawers initially appeared to serve the same function; Nikki Genet (Madeleine Arthur) was sentenced to the Drawers because she witnessed the gruesome murders committed by Erik Sotto (Matt Murray) and L.J. Folger (Annalise Basso). Pike (Stephen Ogg) and the Tailies he led were banished to the Drawers after their failed revolution. And, after Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs) solved the murder of Sean Wise, Melanie had the Train Detective sent to the Drawers because he also deduced the biggest secret of Snowpiercer: Mr. Wilford was not on the train and Cavill is posing as him. But the Drawers are also deadly to its prisoners; the technology causes deleterious side effects, the least of which are tissue damage and vomiting black fluid. In fact, the suspension drug is even the basis of the narcotic called Kronole proliferating through the train.

Related: Snowpiercer Theory: The Real Mr. Wilford Is Already Dead

In Snowpiercer episode 6, Josie brings a very sick Layton to Dr. Pelton (Karin Konoval), who shed sinister light on what she believes the Drawers are really for: “Mass incarceration, human experiments, extra-judicial incarceration… it’s [Melanie Cavill’s] own little North Korea tucked away in Second Class.” Further, Pelton told Layton that among Snowpiercer’s 1,001 cars, 12 of them are full of Drawers, totaling 400. And Melanie has indeed used the Drawers to lock up her enemies who threatened Mr. Wilford’s perfect order, including Layton. But Pelton also revealed that Cavill has a secret blacklist of names intended for the Drawers. One in every ten passengers is on the Drawers’ blacklist, including Layton, Pelton, and even Josie.

But when an incensed Layton confronted Melanie about the Drawers, Cavill confessed something very different: She said the Drawers are a “lifeboat,” a worst-case scenario meant to preserve 400 people in the hopes of restarting the human race after the planet thaws out. The names on the blacklist were selected “for diversity, for health, for skills” to give humanity “a fighting chance on the other side.” And the Drawers are crucial because Snowpiercer is “dying” and Melanie is unsure how long the Great Ark Train can continue its revolutions when its continually besieged by strife from within while enduring the unforgiving frozen wasteland outside.

Melanie’s admission rings true because it explains her distress that the Drawers don’t work. The suspension drug is faulty and poisonous, which means the Drawers are useless if they can’t safely keep its inhabitants in stasis. It’s yet another potential catastrophe if the worst-case scenario happens and Snowpiercer fails. Because, after all, Melanie knows that try as she might, she can’t maintain her Mr. Wilford deception and keep saving Snowpiercer from disasters forever, like how Cavill personally kept the train from derailment because of mold causing the cars to unbuckle.

The true purpose of the Drawers further illustrates the fascinating dichotomy of Melanie Cavill, who is both the savior of humanity but also has to behave like a cruel villain to maintain the fragile, broken order established by Mr. Wilford. While Melanie initially didn’t know the Drawers were harming the people in stasis, she still continued to use them to imprison her enemies, including Layton, after it became clear what harm the Drawers cause. There also may not be a way to fix the Drawers’ technology, which could ultimately doom everyone aboard Snowpiercer if and when the Great Ark Train does eventually fail.

Next: Snowpiercer Does What The Movie Never Could

Snowpiercer airs Sundays @ 9pm on TNT.

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