‘Snowfall’ Ends Its Criminally Underrated TV Run on a High
Everyone involved with Snowfall told us that the series wouldn’t end well. No one consumed by the show’s crescendoing tension could expect anything but tragedy.
Few, if any, outlaws ever got away scot-free. And, even with the boundless capabilities of historical fiction, neither could Damson Idris’s Franklin Saint. Many Snowfall fans anticipated the series concluding with him being whisked away by the CIA, or killed at the hands of his Aunt Louie (Angela Lewis) — if not one of the many people whose lives he’d ruined en route to a fortune that ultimately escaped him. But, true to the late John Singleton and showrunner Dave Andron’s shrewd vision, they forged their own path: Franklin didn’t go out with a bang; he’s simply withering away, possibly as a casualty of the crack cocaine he introduced to the streets of LA.
On the eve of the Season Six premiere, Idris told Rolling Stone about how the heaviness of the plot turned him inward on set. “I kind of kept to myself, I wasn’t going out [on set],” he said. “And the arc of the character and where Franklin is going to end up, although it’s a tragedy, it’s also inevitable. But at the same time, unpredictable. And we’ve seen these stories before. Franklin’s one is going to really, really stab people in their hearts.”
Viewers likely felt Leon’s (Isaiah John) pain during Snowfall’s final scene where he watched his best friend, Franklin, stumbling down the street in a mangy tanktop, eyes bloodshot by the weight of grief, his crumbling empire, and losing everyone and everything that ever mattered to him. He began drug-dealing to provide for his mother Cissy (Michael Hyatt), Aunt Louie and Uncle Jerome (Amin Joseph), and later his wife Veronique (Devyn A. Tyler) and unborn son. But by the end they were all dead, in jail, on the run like Louie, or had abandoned him like Veronique. His desire to be “better” than his alcoholic father Alton (Kevin Carroll) fueled his efforts, yet he ended up lost in alcoholism himself. During the final scene, he told a befuddled Leon, “I’m free.”
In the end, he’s left with only paranoia of the CIA and delusions of deliverance while anchored down by the addictive despair he’s inflicted on his city. Its cruel irony cuts deep because of the brilliant ride Singleton, Andron, and the Snowfall writers took us on.
Snowfall was a masterclass in character development: there’s Aunt Louie’s come-up from low-level hustler to boss; Franklin’s mom Cissy’s shift from moralist anti-drug crusader to his consigliere (to a veritable political prisoner after killing Teddy); and his best friend Leon’s abrupt radicalization and exodus to Ghana with his girlfriend Wanda (Gail Bean), recovering from a descent into drugs. We watched Franklin transform from drug-game novice, to archcriminal, to losing himself in his rabid pursuit of the riches that were stolen from him by former CIA agent Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson) at the end of Season Five.
The show was a cautionary tale of drug-trade futility that never preached so much as gutted you. Franklin killed Kevin (Malcolm Mays), one of his best friends, because he had become a liability. In Season Six, Uncle Jerome was set to leave Louie, the love of his life, because, as he told her, “The money ain’t worth this shit.” But he never got his freedom, as he was slain while trying to save her from enemies who’d kidnapped her.
There was only a short window when the Saint family existed in a state of relative harmony, and even then the happiness of Jerome opening his car stereo shop and Franklin’s real estate investments were marred by the reality that it was all precarious, the wrong enemy, or that CIA Agent Teddy’s nefarious whims could pull the rug out from under everybody. The show taught us that the drug game might take you to the top, but it’s nothing more than a Jenga tower.
Dave Andron and his team of writers sustained Singleton’s goal of depicting the devolution of 1980’s LA, but they also pulled back the curtain and exposed the U.S. government’s involvement in the so-called War on Drugs in a way that humanized history; Franklin is widely believed to be inspired by Freeway Ricky Ross, a former drug trafficker who was tied up in the Iran-Contra scandal that San Jose Mercury News investigative reporter Gary Webb’s 1996 series “Dark Alliance” revealed. Ross, who co-hosted the After the Snow podcast with Dave Mays in 2022, had previously said Singleton “stole” his story, which they were allegedly collaborating together on as a feature (last year he said Snowfall producers invited him to the studio).
No one will ever know how much Singleton intended to trace Ross’s story, but it’s hard to deny how much Franklin’s path parallels Ross’s. The show excelled at stoking emotion from stories we only hear about in books and documentaries. It’s one thing to learn that America diverted crack cocaine profits to fund Nicaraguan coups that Congress wouldn’t approve. But to read it while witnessing a ruthless, manipulative character like Teddy McDonald makes the treachery even more palpable.
Snowfall refused to be a paint-by-numbers TV crime drama. The show frequently took big swings, as in “Celebration,” a polarizing Season Five episode where psychopathic sage Skully spikes the wedding’s chocolate fountain with LSD and the show’s main characters are held hostage by the depths of their consciousness — good and bad. Of these episodes, Idris told Rolling Stone, “We can’t just expect it to be the gang banger on the corner with the chains and the low rider who’s doing the drive-by. That is not the story that we want to tell. And we don’t want to glamorize stuff. We want to really show pain. We want to really show the nightmares that these characters go through and the effect of what they do.”
In Season Three, an episode showed the characters in an alternate reality, removed from the specter of the drug game. During “The Illiad” episodes, Franklin and Oso (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) escaped a deranged man who held them captive and wanted to feed them to his pet tiger. The ambition has to be appreciated.
The show was frequently pitted against The Wire, which seems like an oblong comparison. The Wire is about an entire city, and its institutions, including the drug game; Snowfall is a narrower look at a network of people bonded by the drug trade. We’d all be better served to just admire Snowfall’s greatness. Its strong character development, pathos, and ingenuity ring true to the legacy of the great John Singleton.