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Infinity Train

Entry updated 17 January 2022. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (2016; 2019-2021). Cartoon Network. Created by Owen Dennis. Executive producer Owen Dennis. Supervising director Madeline Queripel. Writers include Owen Dennis, Alex Horab, Lindsay Katai and Justin Michael. Voice cast includes Jeremy Crutchley, Robbie Daymond, Lena Headey, Ernie Hudson, Ashley Johnson, Kate Mulgrew and Matthew Rhys. 40 eleven-minute episodes, plus the pilot. Colour.

The series was much anticipated, the 2016 pilot garnering 4.8 million views on YouTube. Book One centres on Tulip Olsen (Johnson), who has found it hard to accept her parent's divorce. When they cannot take her to Game Design Camp (see Videogames), she angrily sneaks off to make her own way. Boarding a strange train, she loses consciousness, waking up in a field with four snowmen. The third's head is a Robot, One-One, comprising two conjoined hemispheres, one optimistic (Crutchley), one depressive (Dennis); they are looking for their mother. Another snowman has an embedded door: Tulip opens it and steps through.

The field was an immense room, though not as large as the space it encloses (see TARDIS): it is one of the innumerable giant carriages of a train crossing a blasted landscape inhabited by soul-sucking cockroach-dogs called Ghoms (see Monsters). A number on Tulip's hand fluctuates during her journey from carriage to carriage, into different Pocket Universes of varying levels of absurdity: in one, a land of talking dogs, Tulip befriends the corgi King, Atticus (Hudson), who joins her and One-One in their search to find the Conductor. They discover the Steward (Johnson), a masked spidery nightmare of cables, repairing the carriage's Technology: grabbing Tulip, it tells her "return to your seat", but on seeing One-One it reels in shock and flees. Later, The Cat (Mulgrew), previously met selling pyramid schemes, traps Tulip in a VCR recording of her childhood; she only escapes by candidly remembering her experiences during the collapse of her parents' marriage. A carriage with Gravity working in different directions has One-One declaring it broken and being compelled to repair it; in another, Tulip's chrome reflection escapes its mirror world and departs.

The Conductor is revealed as a Mecha (Rhys), containing Amelia Hughes (Headey), an engineer and widow who had usurped the true Conductor, One-One (who has been trying to return to its motherboard): Amelia sought to create a carriage universe which contained her late husband. Once defeated she acknowledges she must accept her loss and move on. Similarly, Tulip's experiences have taught her not to fixate on what is beyond our control – we must adapt to the changes in our lives. This is the train's purpose (at one point Tulip bemoans its emotional manipulation): the number on her hand now reads zero, signifying she can return home, where she now lacks a reflection.

Book Two finds the now androgynous Mirror Tulip or MT (Johnson) pursued by the Mirror Police (see Crime and Punishment), who wish to execute her. MT reluctantly finds herself assisting a new passenger, the too socially compliant Jesse (Daymond). One-One, now reinstated as Conductor, says MT's purpose is to help Jesse grow emotionally: but she fights to free herself of others' definitions, to find her own Identity. Early on the story is fairly light, with MT and Jesse befriending a Shapeshifting deer, but steadily darkens: during their journey they meet The Apex, a destructive gang of children led by teenagers Grace Monroe (Howell-Baptiste) and Simon Laurent (McCarley), who believe Amelia is the true Conductor. Later MT murders one of the Mirror Police; though done in self-defence, this is surprisingly brutal for what is ostensibly a children's show (although it will be surpassed), with MT showing no remorse. Matters end happily, with both Jesse and MT – now choosing her own name, Lake – escaping the train.

Book Three focuses on Grace and Simon (their characters explored in some depth), cult leaders who argue that the train's denizens are inferior to humans and high numbers are a badge of honour. Becoming separated from the Apex, they meet Hazel (Abiera), a child, and Tuba, her motherly train companion. Simon eventually kills Tuba: the traumatized Hazel temporarily changes into a turtle girl, which an increasingly empathetic Grace hides from Simon. Amelia arrives: her derision of Grace and Simon's understanding of the train only hardens Simon's beliefs, but fortifies Grace's growing doubts. Hazel, hating Simon and hurt by Grace's prevarication, leaves with Amelia. Simon sees Grace's loss of faith as a betrayal and – his number now so large it covers his body – attempts to murder her, but a Ghom kills him, horribly. Grace, her number visibly falling, tells The Apex children, "It's unfair for me to tell you how to understand yourself ... but together we can make some changes".

The fourth book is set in the 1980s, during the time Amelia usurped One-One, and tells of teenagers Min-Gi Park (Young) and Ryan Akagi (Murashige), two Canadian friends of Korean and Japanese descent (respectively). Once on the train they are joined by the very entertaining Kez (Lewis), a concierge bell with valley-girl diction. Though having its darker moments, it was lighter than the second and third books, being intended as a breather before the fifth – which was to be a film focusing on Amelia. However, this was not commissioned, so the fourth is currently the final season (Dennis has said he planned eight books in all).

Infinity Train is a remarkable series, one of the most significant of recent years. The characters' journeys – particularly MT's and Grace's – can be understood as allegories of struggles involving race, women, LGBT and class issues (see Feminism; Politics; Race in SF; Sex; Transgender SF), as well as more generally of grief and abuse. It should also be mentioned that, despite some considerable grimness, all books are rich in Humour and whimsy. The train itself, whose methodology is shown to be imperfect, is a product of science, its origins unknown. The cancelling of this outstanding animation series is greatly to be regretted and it is to be hoped that it can be resuscitated at some point. [SP]


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