(This review was originally published on Aug. 12, 2019)
Now that we know Infinity Train is getting a third season – which will probably be released sometime next month on HBO – I supposed it was time to update this review.
Looking back, I definitely gave that first season a higher score than I wanted. It was hard for me to accept that the show that I had been looking forward to for three years was somehow disappointing. I had also had a shitty, shitty week when it premiered. I got dumped. I found a post online that required me to call the FBI… Okay, those both happened on the same day, but that definitely didn’t help.
I admired the original short film, which premiered on YouTube. It was so full of mystery and wonder – and the fact it started in media res was superb. The first season, which was told a little too linearly for me, ruined the pacing and the only characters who got developed were Tulip and Amelia.
It was still fine, mind you, but the second season was much better by leaps and bounds – which made it appear as if the first season was simply creating the world, more than Tulip’s emotional and social journey. Lake and Jesse’s adventures certainly expanded the world even more — right now we’re only focusing on Tulip’s story.
When the show was first announced, they said it would be a five-night event – just a mini-series. Fine. Over the Garden Wall managed to do it – and at the time, I decided not to set myself up for disappointment and treat it as a one-off show, despite many people saying it would be multiple seasons.
The first season revolves around a young girl named Tulip, who runs away from home after a mix-up with her divorced parents prevents her from attending a game design camp. She tries to make it to camp on her own, but finds herself lost in the frigid Minnesota autumn – and when she comes across a mysterious train that says it is going to Osh Kosh, she jumps on.
She awakens in a snowy landscape with a glowing number on her hand. Along with the robot One-One and the talking Corgi, King Atticus, Tulip must discover the secret behind her number and how she can get home.
How Many Stops Do We Need?
Frankly, the pace of this first season is their worst enemy. When you present a 10-episode season as a mini-series or as a stand-alone series, the pace must be tight. In every episode something must happen – the development of the characters, the plot, a solved puzzle… Something needs to be done to progress the plot
And much the first season,alled The Perennial Child, doesn’t do that. And there is a time when Tulip’s character development seems on the decline – something you don’t have time for on a show like this. I understand the number is supposed to be the central mystery – but half the time it seems like it’s getting ignored in favor of these captivating worlds, Tulip’s home life and the Cat while the latter is significant, I feel as though they don’t get explored proportionately.
The first half of the season is a mess. The first episode is interesting, even if part of me wishes they hadn’t made the introductions so early in the show – it gives some insight into Tulip’s motivation, but it means we take a little too long to get going and the revelation doesn’t seem worth it.
I thought I liked it – and it’s still an entertaining episode, but I feel watching her board the train doesn’t have the same impact.
The episode does establish why Tulip just can’t get off the train. There are dementor cockroach-dogs (canonically called ghoms) wandering the wasteland around the train, and Tulip seemingly has the risk of disintegrating in an ominous-looking portal. But now, it almost seems like too much in one episode.
The next four episodes or are kind of hit-or-miss. I didn’t care much for “The Beach Car,” which introduces the character of The Cat and while I appreciated how “The Corgi Car,” was more or less word for word the same as the pilot, I believe it would have been stronger had they waited to change Tulip’s number until then, instead of doing it in the second episode.
But the last half of the season was brilliant.
“The Chrome Car,” in which Tulip meets her reflection – an unnamed being who yearns for freedom, was surprisingly emotional, and I adored the designs of the Flex, the police of the world, as well as their voices.
And “The Ball Pit Car,” blew me away. I think this is where the show started to reach its peak, and become excellent. Sure, it starts out cute; Tulip gets into a car full of ball pits, slides, tunnels and all that fun children’s play place stuff, but then it quickly gets dark.
From there, the series finally starts delving into the mysteries of the train. And I was actually right about some of them: namely who the Conductor is (though not their motivation) and that creatures aren’t supposed to move between cars.
Considering just how high the Conductor’s number is, I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more of her.
Unsure about antagonists
The Conductor, also known as Amelia, is an outstanding antagonist for this first season, even as a standalone. Amelia is Tulip’s foil. She is like Tulip – both refuse to deal with their emotions and process them, which is why they are both trapped on the train. But Amelia, who’s been on the train for decades. Tulip willing accepts things change, and she can’t always control how they go. Amelia has still not done so and this has harmed not only her but all the passengers on the train.
But the Cat isn’t one. Sure, she’s entertaining, but she only works for the Steward. As the season progresses, she just gets in the way. There were other ways for Tulip to find her videotape… I don’t hate her or like her as a character, but as one of the main adversaries – the Cat is simply annoying.
I hope she appears more in the third season, since she only appeared once in the second season and I want more to kind of justify her existence and why out of all people, Amelia chose her to be her assistant because otherwise it seems the Cat would have been perfectly content to just do a bit of mostly harmless conning here and there.
Not an express train
Adding on to that, the first season of Infinity Train works okay as a piece of standalone media – but it’s only really good in the context of a series. That may not be the conventional wisdom – but if we look at the first season alone, it’s kind of painfully generic and Tulip has her moments, but she’s not the most engaging character.
The second season – I argue – could work on its own. Context helps, yes, but you still get a clear idea of how the train works and of Lake/M.T.’s character if you haven’t watched the first. The only issue would be with the Conductor – but again that’s only on its own.
The Train is merely a means to an end in the first season – it’s an intriguing set piece, but in the end, it seems like a way to get Tulip to go to all these different worlds – none of which get properly explored or developed.
We only see a handful of carriages, each different from the last, and we learn the train can move the cars around, meaning that you could unknowingly be sent to the end of the train.
At the least, in this first season, the order in which and what cars you go through are random – this is of course due to the Conductor, but it gets frustrating that we never get to explore these worlds or the characters who live there.
In the second season we definitely understand it better. And I know that this is a strange thing to say about a show – but I believe the first season of a show should stand on its own – because sometimes that’s all you get.
And for a show like Infinity train which is an anthology – each season should be able to stand on its own without too much context from the others – like American Horror Story -you’re introducing new characters (more or less) to focus on each season – and while the mystery builds up and explanations are provided more and more -each season should be viewed in a vacuum.
This first season isn’t that engaging to me, now that I’ve seen the second and I’m eagerly awaiting a third season, which promises to be interesting…because the Apex is back.
I’ll also be honest, I’m still kind of disappointed we didn’t get to see the Fart Car from the pilot, which was honestly kind of a disappointment.
And I still don’t understand why the network and the crew decided to present the show as a mini-series… There was so much hype around the show that I wouldn’t have been disappointed if I’d known it was going to be an anthology.
But… I liked it. And I can’t wait for more.
And that’s the scoop.
Year of release: 2019
Length: 10 episodes
Creator/Executive Producer: Owen Dennis
Producer: Keith Mack.
Directors: Jill Daniels (art), Madeline Queripel (supervising
Story By: Owen Dennis, Alex Horab, Lindsay Katai, Justin Michael, Madeline Queripel and Cole Sanchez
If you like this read: Welcome to My Life is a welcoming short that deserves a full series