In Season 2, Snowfall no longer has to validate its characters’ ambitions quite so much, and the show is more persuasive for it. Still, there’s something missing. Set four months after the first season, the series picks up at a moment when crack is beginning to emerge on American streets, thanks to a confluence of circumstances that the first episodes detail. Franklin, who went from a kid hawking dime bags to a significant purveyor of cocaine in the first season, has figured out how to cook his product into crack, increasing both demand and his profit margins. Teddy, whose final chance at work involved an off-the-books CIA operation funding rebel Nicaraguan Contras by helping them traffic cocaine, has established networks north and south of the border. Lucia, after putting out a hit on her own uncle, has established control of the family drug business, and is aggressively pursuing its growth.
Snowfall’s historical grounding at the beginning of an American catastrophe allows Singleton to explore the structural elements that precipitated it, but it also gives the series a distorted kind of optimism at times. Each main character is deliberately myopic about the consequences of his or her actions. Lucia describes the opportunity of cashing in on a hot new drug trend as something that can empower the Mexican community; Teddy sees his clandestine work as saving the future from communism; Franklin sees how grateful his friends and family are for the wealth and jobs he’s creating. But the four new episodes made available for review spend no time with the addicts whose lives are the collateral damage, leading to a strange sense of cognitive dissonance for viewers. Seeing the story only from the perspective of dealers, at least in these early episodes, feels like a trap: We’re encouraged to enjoy the misadventures of the drug game, and deterred from thinking about its consequences.
Season 2 is at its most fascinating when it considers the concept of power, and how it’s gained and lost—but again, it focuses on the winners, at least for now. As Snowfall’s characters form new allegiances and deals, they’re constantly having to prove that they’re tougher than the people they’re engaging with, to the point where conflict and brutality can only escalate. (As one character puts it, “There are no good guys, and the only way to deal with bad guys is to be worse.”) Idris, who is Snowfall’s greatest asset, conveys greater authority and intention as his character rises, even while communicating that he’s still very much a kid. The British actor is spectacular in the role, giving Franklin endless charm but also an increasing detachment from viewers as his ambitions soar.
Teddy’s storyline, which tended to sag in Season 1, is bolstered by the addition of Jonathan Tucker as his brother, Matt, a pilot and a Vietnam vet whom Teddy conscripts to help transport his product into California. Teddy maintains that he has noble reasons for what he’s doing—“If we win this war we can change the course of history,” he tells Matt—but Hudson, for one, makes it obvious that he’s enjoying it. Rios’s Lucia doesn’t entirely exude the killer ambition that supposedly made her father anxious about promoting her, but she’s a more complex character than the stereotype of the female drug baron (this is made more obvious in a scene where she encounters another woman in her line of business). Peris-Mencheta is always fascinating to watch as Oso, bringing significant emotional intelligence to his role as hired muscle.