WARNING: This contains a lot of spoilers!
Snowfall is a rarity in current TV. It’s a TV show that actually got a whole lot better with each season. In the olden days, some popular shows had rough starts. Look at the first season of Cheers (which went on for 11 seasons and aired its final episode 30 years ago.) Nowadays, shows got to be perfect right out of the gate but those that do falter over subsequent seasons. The first season of Snowfall was very rocky. It’s not surprising it took them several attempts to film the pilot episode.
Snowfall, which recently ended its six-season run on Hulu in April aired 60 episodes focusing on three central characters in southern California. The show’s main character, Franklin Saint (Damson Idris), was a teenager with a lot of hope and aspirations who inadvertently gets involved in the cocaine trade while trying to help out a more privileged friend. Franklin lives in South Central L.A. and for a while seemed to be too gullible and niave to get involve in it.
But over the series, he became a cutthroat drug kingpin drunk on his own power and need for total authority. I’d equate Franklin to Michael Corleone and how he started out as a WWII veteran trying to distance himself from his father’s business that his older brothers are more involved in. By the time the series is ending, he has turned against his friends and family raging a war leaving many dead people in his wake, both from gun violence and crack addiction.
The other two characters at the center also had humble beginnings as well. There’s Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson) also going by his CIA undecover alias Reed Thompson, who is approached to clean up a mess made by another CIA operatative. Teddy would become the series’ villain toward the end as he worked with the Nicaraquan Contras fighting the communist spread in Central America. Like Franklin, Teddy seems reluctant to get involved in the first season but during the second season becomes more active in the drug trade, even getting his younger brother, Matt (Jonathan Tucker), a Vietnam vet, involved, but harming his life to the point Matt suffers a life-threatening heart attack.
Teddy becomes further estranged from his father, Robert (John Diehl), a retired military colonel, and his relationship with his wife, Julia (Peta Sergeant), ends badly. Toward the end, Teddy has gone rogue even from the CIA, willing to kill anyone who stands in his way. The irony of someone so ruthless and cautious being gunned down by Franklin’s mother, Sharon (Michael Hyatt), shows how little he viewed her. Sharon or “Cissy” had been apprehensive of Franklin’s dealing but went along with it because she didn’t have to deal with the white men who sexually harassed her and berated her at her dead-end jobs. Cissy guns down Teddy for killing her husband, Alton Williams (Kevin Carroll), a former Black Panther and recovering alcoholic at the end of season four.
The other central character is the most sympathetic. Gustavo “El Oso” Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) is a former Mexican wrestler who gets involved at first with the Villaneuva Cartel before working both with Franklin and Teddy in later series. The first two seasons has him involved with the cartel under Lucia Villaneuva (Emily Rios), before this was written out of the series for the remainder. I’ll admit the Villaneuva stories were never the most thrilling. I think it’s because they tried to cram so much into the first two seasons, it was hard to keep track.
By the third season, the series began to catch some of its footing as it had Franklin and Teddy working together as he’s working with the Medillin Cartel on the supply of cocaine in America. Franklin also begins to work closer with Avi Drexler (Alon Aboutboul), an Israeli crime lord who first gave Franklin a kilo of cocaine to sell as they work on the crack supply. Franklin is able to launder his money into legitmate business ventures which Cissy and Alton, getting back on track finally, is more than willing to be involved in as they move out of South Central L.A. into more affluent neighborhoods.
However, Franklin’s business ventures are hampered by LAPD Sgt. Andre Wright (Marcus Henderson), a neighbor and father of Melody (Reign Edwards), who is the affection of Franklin before it ends badly. Melody gets addicted to crack and turns violent against Franklin, who shoots Andre in the head with his own gun staging it as a suicide when he realizes Andre is closing in on him. Melody shoots Franklin, nearly killing him as he has to walk with a cane for most of the fourth season. But Melody gets clean and moves away from L.A.
Losing his childhood crush isn’t the only thing bad that happens to Franklin. His long-time best friend, Leon Simmons (Isaiah Johns), becomes a rival at one point as the street gang warfare spreads over the sales of crack. Franklin’s uncle, Jerome Saint (Amin Jospeh), originally a close alley becomes a bitter rival toward the end as does Jerome’s wife, Louanne or “Louie” (Angela Lewis). And Franklin’s own girlfriend, Veronique Turner (Devyn A. Tyler), who he is close to starting a family with as she gets pregnant, leaves him at the end, once she sees how far gone he has become.
In the end, Franklin ends up broke and destitute as Teddy was able to seize almost all his money. Cissy kills him before he can transfer it back and Franklin becomes enraged at his own mother. Veronique goes behind his back and sells what he has in real estate and absconds. By 1990, Franklin has become an alcoholic like his father living in the same house he grew up in but it’s almost dilapidated and able to be sezied by the local government for failure to pay taxes.
Louie has taken what little money she has left and gone on the run following Jerome getting killed in a shoot-out with other gangs. Gustavo, who was hoping to start a new life with his girlfriend, Xiamara (Joey Marie Urbina), is teaching wrestling to youth with only a phone number service for people to connect with him. He listens to a message Xiamara left on on meeting their family in North Carolina but it’s unsure if he does so. In the end, it’s Leon who is the only one who really seems to have the happiest ending as he is using his money to start a free clinic. But Franklin is so drunk and far gone, claiming he’s “free from all it,” but actually he lost it all.
The series was created by John Singleton, Eric Armadio and Dave Andron. Singleton, passed away in 2019 following a stroke and the final episode is dedicated to his memory. There’s even a metareference as Franklin and Leon observe a person meant to be Singleton filming Boyz N’ The Hood. Singleton grew up around the neighborhoods with the drug deals and gang warfare that is in Snowfall. Even though it might have been viewed as exploitive earlier on, the series focuses as a morality tale of the dangers of drug use and lust for power.
It’s also serves as a criticism of the 1980s, a decade in which conservatives and the Reagan Administration were more than willing to have non-white neighborhoods fight amongst themselves, killing themselves, as white businessmen and corporations got richer. While there’s little mention directly of Reagan, Bush or the Iran-Contra Affair, the series shows how government targets black and Latino communities just for existing. They introduced drugs to these communities then go after them. This goes back to what John Ehrlichman, a counsel for Richard Nixon, said about targeting black people and hippies by making cannabis a schedule I drug. And crack cocaine had the same substance as regular cocaine but it was targeted more during the 1980s and 1990s.
When Cissy shoots Teddy, she’s just not killing the man who killed her husband, she’s targeting the government responsible. That’s why she pleads guilty at her arraignment. But she’s also atoning for her own sins by allowing it. In many ways, Cissy is the perfect example of someone who “doesn’t want to see how the sausage is made.” And like Franklin, she loses everything even her family as Franklin turns against her proving that in the end, he just cared more about his money.
Killing off Franklin would be too easy. I think the ending is a twist on the saying of “Survival is the best revenge” because sometimes it’s the best punishment.
What do you think? Please comment.