Warning: Major Spoilers in review. Don’t read if you haven’t watched Cult of the Conductor
The newest volume of Infinity Train is indescribable. But in a good way. It has been a few days since I finished the season, and I’m still having trouble putting into words, precisely exactly how it made me feel. I was surprised about how much some of my predictions were off – and it surprised me by how the showrunners handled its themes and plot in a very mature manner.
When people talk about media subverting expectations, this is an example of how to do it well. This show, which started out with a young girl running away from home because she was upset about not going to game design camp, has now become a show with THREE confirmed deaths – two of which happened in this season and both contributed heavily to the plot as a whole.
It’s easily one of the best seasons of television I’ve seen this year – and I’ve watched a lot of TV since going into quarantine. This volume, named Cult of the Conductor, was well-paced, well-plotted, emotional, and thematically relevant to the time we’re living in.
And this time, I rewatched the entire series before I saw the finale. To refresh myself. And I’m glad I did. Not only did the re-watch make me appreciate Vol. 1 in a new light, but this season bought back quite a few details from the past seasons as well.
The protagonists of the season are Grace and Simon, the leaders of the Apex who were introduced in Vol. 2. They lead a gang of children, pillaging train cars in hopes of getting their numbers as high as possible and never want to leave the train.
An incident in the Unfinished Car (from Vol. 1) results in them getting separated from the rest of the group. On their way back, they run into Hazel – a young girl and her companion the Mighty Tuba – a giant gorilla and her surrogate mother.
Both decide to bring her back to the Apex – effectively turning her into one of their many cult members. But before that, they need to separate her from Tuba and figure out why her number isn’t glowing.
But her introduction, causes the duo’s dynamic to shift and leads them to finding out the real reason they were put on board the train, forcing them to make some very difficult decisions.
I’m really trying hard to hold back on the details because if you haven’t seen it – you just need to experience it on your own. My summary doesn’t even come close to doing the series justice.
And there is just so much to analyze.
A Jam-Packed Plot
I cannot believe how much happens in this season – and how much of it builds on topics and ideas from Season 1 in particular. Characters like The Cat and Amelia return and have significant roles; both receive significant development.
While One-One doesn’t make an appearance at all – we still learn quite a bit about our favorite little robot. Important aspects of the world – like Ghoms and the passenger tapes, show up again with even more significance this time around.
And so far, it’s the only season to end on a real cliff-hanger. There’s not a question of: What will their life be like post-train, rathe there’sr a question of what’s next for these characters? Because for the first time, nobody gets their exit.
The remaining protagonists still have a lot to learn, and we learn nothing significant about the train. The show is begging for another season. This type of ending surprised me, it wasn’t until I was going through my re-watch that I realized I had no idea how they were going to wrap everything up in 22 minutes worth of screen-time.
And as it turned out, they changed the formula on us. I should have known that after Episode 5, but it didn’t hit me then. For once, somebody wasn’t going to get redeemed.
A season that at first seemed like it was going to focus on dealing with lies and misconceptions, did turn out to have those as themes: it also focused on reality, trust, and toxic relationships.
In this season, the cars aren’t the obstacle. They’re mostly there for mood and scenery – surviving the cars isn’t the issue. Grace and Simon have been doing that for years at this point.
It’s very much a season where the relationship is the driving force and source of conflict. This means there’s a lot more you can fit in since world-building and the fantastic worlds of the cars don’t need to be a primary focus.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The cars are all wonderful and creative, but except for the Color Clock Car and Le Chat Chalet Car – most of the scenes could have taken place in any other car, with pretty much the same results.
The episode The Campfire Car is the most notable in this regard. There is nothing threatening in the car and no key needed to get out – rather its use comes out of its scenery and ambiance for a significant ceremony.
But not a single episode feels like it was wasted. And the change in conflict gives the audience a better idea about just how fucked up the train is and how much Amelia’s reign as Conductor harmed people. And it shows One-One being in charge still doesn’t fix everything.
There are so many plot points explored: Grace and Simon’s relationship, the founding of the Apex, Grace’s past, Amelia’s redemption, Hazel’s identity…some of them get far more focus than others. After all – the season only adds up to about two hours of run time total. So while I do believe some aspects, particularly some of the events in the finale felt a little rushed and certain aspects that would have been intriguing to watch or expand on got glossed over.
But, because the episodes were so well-paced and so well-focused, I hardly noticed it and it doesn’t really affect my opinion of the season overall. I think the crew managed to get a handle on how to pace these 11 minute long episodes extremely well: they fit a lot of plot and information into them, and still manage to stay tonally consistent while including jokes and atmosphere.
I still wish the episodes were a bit longer. Now that the show is on HBOMax, the 12-minute time limit seems kind of arbitrary. They could definitely be a little longer – like 15-minutes long, just to fit in a little more – or they could be slightly different lengths.
There are a few episodes that I, personally, would have cut differently or scenes I would have extended but I can also imagine this harming the series and I understand why the crew did what they did.
Cult of the Conductor is a highly ambitious season for the already ambitious show – so I have to give props to the whole team for a near-perfect season. I really hope that the characters, backstories, and story beats we didn’t get to see get explored a bit more in later seasons.
Just Take It Easy-Peasy
Were the past two seasons not quite emotional enough for you? Do you want to cry your eyes out? Do you want to yell in rage at a character? Do you want to have those conflicting feelings over a character’s fate gnaw at you long after you finished the episode? Do you want to have your heart ripped out, ripped into a million pieces, and then chucked into a paper shredder?
Of course, you do. Why else would you be watching this show?
I don’t think I’ve ever cursed at a season of TV more. Again, in a good way. I thought Mace’s death was pushing the envelope – but apparently that was only the appetizer. This time, it’s Simon’s death that gets the graphic on-screen glory.
After several episodes of him crossing the Moral Event Horizon – in the finale, Simon’s number gets so high it COVERS HIS FACE and as he’s trying to make sense of his “victory,” a Ghom attacks him. And we find out just how horrifying that process is from start to finish.
Simon writhes in agony as his flesh is melted off – and we are treated with the look on his face as his eyeball also melts. And then his skeleton becomes nothing but ash.
I don’t know if I’m ever going to be over that scene -like seriously, Owen, what the fuck? I love it, but emotionally I’m not okay. Even if he was a murderous, bigoted, egomaniacal asshole…did we really have to do it like that?
I thought he was going to get wheeled. But I guess that wouldn’t make it pass the censors. But I thought it would have been karmic justice after murdering Tuba. But nope. He was killed by his worse fear.
And unlike, Lake, his murder of Tuba is wholly unjustifiable – especially since he makes the poor thing think he’s going to save her the moment before he steps on her hand, forcing her to let go and fall to her death.
He also brags about it -right to Hazel’s face afterward and there is no coming back from that. And if that wasn’t enough emotion for one episode – Hazel’s grief and anger trigger a transformation into a…turtle.
It’s horrifying to watch. And the shock over her identity is something that lasted the week until the next episode aired.
Grace is just as confused – but assures Hazel that she’s not going to let Simon hurt her. This is the moment where she starts to change – but this part is mostly about Hazel. Her voice actress is EXTREMELY TALENTED. When she panics about being a “train person,” and screams about being scared of the wheels, you can really feel it.
You can hear the grief and confusion in her voice when she promises to be good if it’ll bring Tuba back. Isabella Abiera, who is a child, nails her performance in the Campfire Car episode when she plans an intimate funeral for Tuba, with a rock serving as the body. Her eulogy is short and sweet – but full of emotion. And I sobbed. Outright sobbed when Hazel sang the full version of Tuba’s lullaby.
There’s no music in the background. Just a bit of wind and some birds chirping. But otherwise, it’s just her voice. The visuals of a tiny baby bird being left behind by her mother and two siblings only adds to the melancholy tone of the scene.
It’s so powerful, it’s what gets to Grace – who had shown almost no range of emotions up until that point. And though she had already had her number going down while interacting with Hazel before this — this is when she starts to doubt the lies she’s been telling herself and the Apex for years.
And then we get gut-punched when Grace lies about knowing that Hazel wasn’t human when the poor child turns in front of her, Simon and Amelia. Hazel decides to leave with her “creator” and doesn’t even give her surrogate big sister a proper send-off.
All these emotional moments – and hell, the flashback scenes of Grace’s childhood and her first few months on the train – all make for a really, really heavy season and one that majorly contrasts with how it started.
But, the team showed they were plenty capable of tackling heavy subjects. And damn, did they need to do that this season. Especially with the kinds of characters, they decided to focus on.
Grace and Simon – especially Simon – aren’t good people. In the beginning, they raid a theater car – carelessly maiming and in one case, kidnapping the denizens – before setting the whole thing on fire. Simon intends to use the kidnapped spotlight for his diorama – not caring it ’s obviously sentient.
And during these scenes of destruction – Simon and Grace seemingly flirt. This is part of their dynamic. They’re still people with feelings and relationships – they just don’t care about anyone else.
Aside from Hazel, who is a child, and Tuba, who doesn’t survive, none of the characters who get focus this season are deserving of the title “protagonist,” even the Cat who gets a lot of screentime in this volume when compared to the previous ones – still isn’t an admirable person. Even when she gets more growth.
We learn she was Simon’s companion – until an incident led to them being separated. And he was angry that she never came back. I wasn’t a huge fan of her character in the previous seasons, but she’s grown on me here.
Maybe it’s because I understand her more. Maybe it’s because I like her better when she isn’t trying to purposely slow people down. Maybe it’s because we have the same name. Yep, we learn the Cat’s name, and it’s Samantha.
It’s a bit weird, finding out that this mysterious character shares my first name. I’m still not sure how I feel about it – cause it still seems a little unreal.
While we, unfortunately, don’t learn why Simon was bought on board the train, but considering his number was only 55 when he met Grace – and he had already been on the train for a few months, it couldn’t have been anything too major.
But we do learn about Grace. And man, do I feel for her. She grew up in a wealthy family and her parents were emotionally neglectful, leaving her in the care of nannies and tutors as opposed to spending time with her. Her sheltered upbringing also left her without a way to relate to girls her own age.
And to get somebody, anybody, to notice her she resorts to shoplifting. And it’s this incident that brings her onboard. Without any information to go on, she latches onto the moment she sees Amelia raiding a car for orbs with her number, crawling up her arm and decides, she needs to copy her.
I guess in the back of her mind, she always knew there was a possibility she could be wrong. But when she rescues Simon, and he asks about how she got her number so high – she gets the chance to have what she wanted: somebody to notice her, listen to her, and be her friend.
It’s unclear how long they were onboard the train, but Simon is stated to have been 10 when he boarded and I would say Grace is a couple of years older than him and was probably about 12 when she boarded and I would say both are past being teenagers, though. Simon is probably between 18 and 20 and Grace is between 20-22. They don’t consider themselves adults – but they are.
Simon, especially, still has the maturity of a child.
I don’t know if they were romantically involved – but Simon clearly has a crush on Grace, plus the two of them were all each other had for seemingly years – so it wouldn’t surprise me if they ever went further in their relationship.
But even if they weren’t, and it would surprise me if they never had any type of romantic interaction, their relationship is still clearly toxic and is reminiscent of an abusive marriage. And Simon’s behavior and personality are almost uncannily like young male members of the alt-right today.
Simon is an Incel or How to Make Thematic Allusions to Contemporary Politics
Personally, I think it’s important to consider the time and place a creator is living in when analyzing their work. Now, I follow Owen on Twitter. He’s a pretty liberal guy – and while I don’t know if any of Vol. 3 was produced during the quarantine – most of Simon’s views are like those who deny that COVID-19 exists…though clearly, people with these kinds of politics already existed for a long time.
And they’ve only become more comfortable coming out recently. While I personally see Simon as coming from a military family, as part of his backstory and that contributes to his personality – it doesn’t matter.
Simon is clearly a representation of the beliefs of the alt-right. The fact that he’s clearly a Caucasian guy and the fact that he’s juxtaposed against a Black woman only heightens this for me. While both believe as though they’re entitled to everything the train has to offer, without considering what others may need -they come from different places and interact differently with their environment.
Grace – never really demands anything beyond her basic needs. When the children give her things they raided, she chucks them away. Simon demands a light-person to keep for his room. Grace feels entitled because she struggled to survive. Simon feels entitled because he was told that’s how he supposed to feel.
Which is why he also feels entitled to Grace – and her full attention and affection. He’s friendly towards Hazel, at first but it’s never genuine. He only acts friendly because he knows it’ll make Grace happy. That’s why he also murders Tuba. He knew Grace wanted to separate Hazel from the gorilla, and he’s confused when she isn’t happy.
When they’re in Grace’s memories and when they talk to Amelia, he refuses to even consider everything he believes could be wrong. It doesn’t matter how much proof he is shown. It doesn’t matter that Grace tells him her first memory of the Conductor was actually different from what he had imagined.
He was right. No matter what anyone else thought.
His racism towards the denizens should of course be mentioned, but I doubt I need to expand on why the guy who actually murdered somebody and then attempted to murder his one and only friend after she refuses to kowtow to him, should be enough.
If he can’t have Grace, well, nobody can.
Grace was willing to accept that she was wrong. She was in denial for a long time – but even though she has a point that the Train is dangerous, especially for kids – it was never admissible of her to act like the denizens were below her. And when she gets to know somebody before realizing their true identity – she sees them as human. And then she can’t see them any other way.
And their differences are further highlighted when she takes the time to step around and assist the origami birds, whereas Simon merely crushes them without a care.
While Simon’s story is certainly tragic, because he only acted the way he did because of Grace’s lie, he still had many, many times, to redeem himself. He had many chances – and he not only refused them, but he also got worse. Every time he was confronted with a time to be better – he didn’t just stay the same, he got worse, keeping the fantasy that might (numbers) make right.
And once he turned to murder, there was no going back. I guess that’s why the Ghom killed him. Anyone who has a high enough number or who tries to escape the train is considered to be beyond redemption and it’s just easier to get rid of them than put other passengers and denizens in harm’s way.
There truly wasn’t a point in keeping him on the train if he clearly was never going to get better. Some people just don’t want to be better and would rather live their lives in ignorance, believing they are correct because they can’t bear to be uncomfortable and that they could be the bad guys.
Which I believe is true of many alt-right supporters. They feel victimized and believe they’re owed something by society -they grew up with or were indoctrinated by these ideas that somehow, because of their birth, gender, or country of origin, they’re better than everyone else. And it’s easier to live that way rather than consider life is way more complicated and messy.
I want to see these ideas explored more in the show, and I’m desperate for there to be another volume or another five, as Owen Dennis said he wants to do a total of eight seasons. Which I’m cool with.
But it hasn’t been renewed yet and many writers have been laid off or reassigned to other projects.
I think the staggered release schedule worked in this season’s favor and made me want to tune in weekly even more, as I had been given a lot of time to develop my own thoughts and theories – and digest what had happened.
And that’s the scoop.
Year of release: 2020
Length: 10 twelve-minute episodes
Creator: Owen Dennis
Story by: Owen Dennis, Alex Horab, Lindsay Katai, Justin Michael, Madeline Queripe
Directors: Madeline Queripe, Alen Esmaelian
Check out these resources: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co
Consider donating to the ACLU to help fight voter suppression: https://action.aclu.org/give/now
If you liked this review, read: “The Owl House” paints a promising picture for 2020’s animation game