'Snowpiercer' Episode 3: The janitors running the train's black market makes perfect socio-cultural sense
The janitors keep everything in order and have unrivaled access through back doors to elite spaces and a network of contacts to get into places
Spoilers for 'Snowpiercer' Season 1 Episode 3 'Access is Power'
In one of the few funny lines in this episode, Terrence (Shaun Toub), janitor and head of the train's underground black market, asks Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs) to guess what he was before boarding the train. The viewer expects to hear him say that he was a crime boss or hardened criminal who therefore knows how to trade in a closed prison-like environment like the train.
Instead, he tells Layton that he was 'a janitor' who worked in high rises and the train was nothing but a 'horizontal high rise'. His expertise in getting and trading in illegal items on the train is because his janitor crew has access to places, up and down the train, as we see in the cold open of the episode where the murdered Shawn's skin graft (that allows people to gain access further up the train) is traded across classes and train cars thanks to the janitor crew and their network of contacts like John 'Oz' Osweiller (Sam Otto), who is part of the train's security detail and Dr Henry Klimpt, in charge of the 'Drawers'.
The same concept has been used before in films like the 'Fight Club' that created an army out of an angry underclass of janitors and servers, 'The Shape of Water', where the cleaners help free the amphibian creature under the noses of the top army brass and even 'Harry Potter' had Dobby and Kreacher turn tables on their masters. The janitors are the invisible cleaning crew that keeps everything in order in glittering elite establishments like ballrooms, shiny shops, homes, and restaurants but also has unrivaled access through back doors and back alleys of these privileged spaces and a network of contacts to get into places they can't go themselves.
The uneasiness about servants has always persisted among the elite for precisely these reasons and, therefore, the high premium on loyalty. In ye old England, for instance, during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Master and Servant Act required obedience and loyalty from servants to their contracted employer, with infringements being punishable by law. In the 21st century, we have nanny cams and CCTV cameras to help keep "the help" surveilled and under control.
And yet, wherever a hierarchy of power and access exit, so does a parallel black market trade in knowledge and goods that help people breach those barriers. That could be a prison, a high rise, or a train. It is insightful of Melanie (Jennifer Connelly) aka Wilfred to cultivate an informant like Shawn who could keep tabs on this parallel system of power on her train. In the last episode, we already had Layton confront Melanie about why they wanted Shawn's killer caught — it is because it represents a hole in her spy network that keeps her in power.
Within the world of the Snowpiercer train, Terrence is shown to be a powerful man. He and his minions all wear white — it serves as their cleaning staff uniform but it also, 'unofficially', serves as the uniform of their army. Since they are behind the Chrono drug trade on the train and Shawn was leaking information about it, Terrence has one less problem. His janitor crew could aid a Tailie revolution and in fact Terrence has already helped by giving Layton the door-opening skin graft, which he passes on to Josie with a kiss. But Terrence seems to be more about trading for value than any political motivations. But since he likes to "peek into the penthouse" as he tells Layton, he might help in a revolution that will help him and his crew get into first-class permanently. We'll have to wait and see.
'Snowpiercer' airs on Sundays at 9 pm ET/PT on TNT.