While the first season of Infinity Train was an absolute joyride, the recent news that the creative team’s already hard at work on even more episodes means that there’s much more to Tulip, One-One, and Attius’ story than what’s been revealed so far.
With that in mind, a bunch of us at io9 who’ve been following Infinity Train since it first hit the internet as a fascinating short got together to chat a bit about why we’ve all gravitated towards the series and what we hope to see in the future. Unsurprisingly, we all want to see more train cars.
Beth Elderkin: I’ve been hyped about Infinity Train ever since I saw that mini-pilot a couple of years ago. It promised such a great premise, and a world that was practically begging for exploration—just like the world’s most-adorable corgi king begs to go outside! Of course, the moment you get hyped for something is the moment it will likely disappoint you. But I’ve gotta say: That didn’t happen this time. Infinity Train delivered.
James Whitbrook: Ever since that original pilot aired, I’ve loved the premise of this weird-ass train being one carriage after another of alternate worlds and puzzles. It’s been plaguing me since it came out, wanting to know what the deal was—holograms, puzzle boxes, alternate realities or timelines, just what was Infinity Train’s deal? While the final series didn’t perhaps get quite so exploratory of the concept as I’d have liked it to, it did provide a character arc for Tulip that I really, really appreciated beyond the mystery box approach.
Beth: I agree, James, Infinity Train wasn’t really big on the metaphysical (trainaphysical?), but it dove deep into the interpersonal. It used a big and incredible setting to tell a surprisingly small story, one that I’m sure a lot of kids and adults appreciate for its thoughtfulness and respect.
James: Also, I would die for Atticus.
Charles Pulliam-Moore: The funny thing is that, somehow, I’d never actually heard about Infinity Train until a couple of months back, which is weird given how much of a dedicated following the initial short ended up developing and how much buzz there was about it. We...all watch a lot of television for work, right? So I initially assumed that the series would more or less fall in line with a lot of the other animated series we’ve seen pop up from this newer generation of animators who clearly grew up watching Cartoon Network shows like OK K.O.! and Steven Universe. But then, Infinity Train was just like “no, no, my dear child. We’re doing something different here,” and I’m legitimately astonished at how much I’m into it?
James: Yeah, this is what surprised me a lot coming in too—that steady diet of Steven Universe taught me to expect that oh, this’ll be a lot of set up, there’ll be some character stuff but it’ll be more about “what is this world like, what mystery trauma or secret could these characters harbor to check in on down the line, what’s the wider pitch beyond Tulip?” There is a bit of that by the end when the gang’s reached the Engine Car and we get just like, an entire episode of infodumpery about the force chasing her along the carriages. But really, this first season is just very much Tulip’s story: she’s the child of divorcing parents, has a lot of feelings to process about that specific thing, and goes a long way in doing so by the time she’s ready to get off the train at the end of the season. The train itself…doesn’t really matter so much, yet?
Beth: That said, the show still gives you hints about a wider world that can be explored in the future. For example, when the Conductor shows how far her numbers stretch on her body…the train clearly places a value on a person’s actions. But who is determining those values? Are people brought to the train for personal healing? If so: What happens when someone can never figure out the lesson they’re supposed to learn?
Charles: I imagine they just get stuck, and to be honest...I feel like I’d be perfectly fine getting stuck on more than a few of the train’s cars.
Beth: Spa car please.
James: BOOK ME A ONE WAY TICKET TO CORGINIA. And actually, maybe the crystal car where you have to sing songs from your heart. Maybe as like, a karaoke night staycation away from the Corginia car.
Also, going back to what you were saying Beth, I love the idea of the train as this vehicle—ha—for people all over the world to come and process an emotional crisis. Because it makes me think about what actually ended up being the biggest surprise for me by the series’ end, even from the pulling back of the curtain on the wider lore of the show: Tulip’s not actually on the train any more. What would bring her back, if the train is like some sort of wild, constantly chugging therapist’s office?
Beth: What if…she hasn’t actually left the train? No, that’d be stupid—or genius. I’m guessing she’ll be brought back to help her friends through some sort of a crisis.
James: There IS that one shot right near the end where she goes past a mirror to get to her dad’s car on the way to programming camp, and very clearly no longer has her mirror reflection—after losing it on the train. So either the Train can affect the real world, or maybe she really didn’t get off and this is still a simulation of what the world could be like for her.
Charles: As easy as it would be for the series to pull a whole “it was in your mind the entire time” situation, I’m deeply invested in the idea of the train actually being able to affect the world in some capacity because the kind of emotional healing the show’s going for loses some of its oompf, I think, if everything ends up just being a psychological construct of Tulip’s.
James: Oh, totally. I think they ultimately found, even in the constraints of it as 10 episodes of TV that are 10-ish minutes long, finding a balance between the train as set dressing and as the mysterious draw of the whole thing—like, how basically every episode after the first opens with Tulip, Atticus, and One-One walking out of a carriage we just never see again…and that’s fine, because that’s not the focus, the mystery of it all is antecedent to the journey of this trio.
Beth: I was amazed at how every single car Tulip spent an episode in was indicative of a part of her emotional journey. The mirror reflection was about her recognizing a part of herself that she was burying inside. The playground car was about childhood fantasy literally crumbling before her eyes, as she could no longer live in the “pretend world” of purposeful isolation she had created for herself. The incomplete car, much like Entrapta’s speech in She-Ra’s third season, was about how things don’t always have to be “fixed” to be okay. Sometimes, our flaws are what make us work.
And the Cat’s car, well, I could spend hours talking about everything beautiful about the Cat’s car. Being surrounded by possessions and things, distractions and clutter. Tulip’s mind was cluttered and overrun. It was clear her Memories Tape was designed to distort, give her a fantasy she could lose herself in. But it felt like the tape wasn’t forcing that action upon her, or anyone else who gazed upon their own memories. We all have a desire to soften the tougher blows in our own lives, and it took a lot of courage for Tulip to face her painful memories and see them for what they really were.
James: Oh man, the Cat. Can we talk about the Cat? I know officially she’s the Cat, but I just took to calling her Janeway because oh my god they got Kate Mulgrew and she was incredible. The voice cast of this entire show was a constant surprise and delight. Ben Mendelsohn! Lena Headey! Ashley Johnson! Ernie Hudson! Like, each episode had another name attached that surprised me so much. I hope this is something an Infinity Train season two will continue, and they just didn’t get all this talent thinking it might be a one and done thing.
Charles: Far be it for me to speak to anyone’s influences, but I’ve been calling The Cat the Get Out Cat in my head since we first saw her car and what the video tapes could do to a person once they started watching them. The entire sequence where Tulip finds herself trapped in the white room with the static screen zooming in on her before it essentially “infects” her made me put down my phone and properly pay attention to the show, because it’s just this unexpected moment of utter panic-inducing horror that felt a lot like a very relatable stress dream.
James: “A very relatable stress dream” is basically the subhead of this entire show, honestly. But yes, the tape stuff and how it portrayed the idea of memory was so well done—so many shows that do that sort of “these are my memories but they’re slightly different” kind of trope that it can be a little boring, but how that episode in particular married not just Tulip’s game-logic approach to her problem solving, but incorporated the actual mechanical ideas of VHS static and rewinding and all that into the aesthetic of those dream sequences was really clever. Outside of the high drama of the final few episodes, I think that episode was the highlight of the show for me.
Beth: Also Corginia, because it’s a place of perfection and beauty. With corgis.
Charles: It’s kind of a cop-out, but I’m in love with the Mediterranean Republic Car that we only get a brief glimpse of as Tulip and One-One are parting ways with Nancy, the woman with a rose for a head. It gives you just enough information to understand that as brief as Tulip’s time in any particular car might be, there are just as many (if not more) instances where she ends up spending a significant amount of time getting to know people in a way that the show’s time constraints make it impossible to fit into an episode.
Beth: Amelia did say Tulip had been there for months. I want to know how that T-Rex was able to play baseball, especially considering how the world of Infinity Train cares a great deal that many of its residents don’t have opposable thumbs. It’s, like, a big deal for them. I think my biggest question coming out of this season is: Who was making the cars before Amelia, and for what ends? Was it One-One? Also, we need to learn more about One-One. I have a feeling there’s a lot more to their story, and that some of it may not be good. I loved them with all of my heart, but there’s something about them that raised eyebrows for me.
James: That’s a thing I wanted to ask you both—if we’re seeing the train as this sort of conductor for navigating a personal trauma, processing it, going through some healing around it, and then moving on (well, off the train), do you want a future story to be about Tulip herself, or about one of the other characters? Or an entirely new character who boards the train?
Charles: I feel like the series might end up going with the train as a vehicle for processing grief and trauma, but it’d be much more fascinating, I think, if the train was exactly what it’s been presented as so far: this weird ass thing that exists and is weird and...that’s just it. Because that makes the larger world Infinity Train exists within that much more off-kilter, and opens up potential for other characters to interact with the train in ways that Tulip wouldn’t. Out of all the actors who’ve popped up in the show so far, I was most hyped when I heard Reagan Gomez-Preston’s voice—partially because we stan the Pizza family in this house—but also because, I...want [Tulip’s best friend] Mikayla to get on the train.
Beth: To answer your question, James, I’d like to see Tulip return to the train to help her reflection self—which would not only give us a chance to be with Tulip again, but to also get this interesting Mirror World “for want of a nail” situation of who Tulip would’ve become under different circumstances. I don’t want another season of “somebody discovers a weird train and learns its weird rules,” we’ve already done that. I’d like Tulip to come back, but for the rules to have changed on her. Plus, regarding Mirror Tulip, how do you help someone heal who isn’t technically a person? How do we define her humanity, and deal with the trauma of her life and move forward? Plus, we’d get more time with those weird Mirrorverse good cop/bad cop robots, and they were fantastic.
Side note: If we are leaning into this “Infinity Train is a therapy train” thing, I’ve gotta say that being plucked from my normal life to wander through a dangerous train that I cannot escape from until I float through a tube and turn into cloud ash is just as traumatic as my normal life shit, if not just a tiny bit more.
James: I’d definitely be interested in seeing Mikayla get on the train, and that being an avenue for Tulip to return—not just because yes, Reagan Gomez-Preston is great and the Pizza kids on SU rule, but because I really appreciated that a lot of the way Tulip approaches the Train and different carriages is influenced by her love of programming and video games. It was a neat angle on “hey the protagonist likes video games, just like you!” character trope that often just… doesn’t really actually impact them as a character—speaking of Steven Universe, I love Steven, but the way the show uses his interest in games is that it’s an ancillary, at best childish hobby, which is fine.
But having Tulip’s character be driven by that sort of ability to recognise gamification and logic puzzles in a way that felt very driven by her interest in games and programming was fun. Mikayla explicitly acknowledging that she doesn’t really care about that kind of thing other than her friend’s deep interest in it, and then having her flung onto the train, makes me interested in seeing what her approach the train would be like instead.
Beth: —or what cars she would get, as I think she would get cars that speak to her abilities and how she resolves conflicts and other situations. Tulip’s were more about programming-style logic puzzles, left-brain thinking, maybe Mikayla’s would focus on something like interpersonal communication, or creativity. Hard to say, we don’t know her…yet. I would totally be down with a Mikayla-focused season, so long as they figure out a way to short-hand the information we got in the first season.
Charles: James, yes! Exactly that. I kind of think of it like the Metroid rule, almost, where you end up having to retread ground you’ve already covered but with new insight and abilities. Coming back to the train from Mikayla’s perspective would be interesting if only because it’d give us a chance to see how someone else deals with the puzzle of it all. Tulip’s analytical mind and world view give Infinity Train this overarching sense of being an epic math problem that Tulip’s working her way through. But, if Mikayla were to hop on the train and begin to breeze through cars in a different way, it’d end up making everyone have to reconsider just what kind of place the train (as a whole) is.
Beth: Interesting idea! There’s so many places the train could go. I’m excited to see what happens next.
James: Also, while we wait for season 2, now I really want to play a Metroidvania style Infinity Train game to pass the time.
Beth: James, kindly return to your seat.
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