Hello all! Welcome back to my weekly reviews of Infinity Train. Last week we made our final approach to the endgame of Book 2 with ‘The Mall Car’ and ‘The Wasteland’. This week we finish out the season with ‘The Tape Car’ and ‘The Number Car’.
‘The Tape Car’, Season 2, Episode 9 (Premiere Date: January 10, 2020)
Synopsis – After waiting atop the Train, M.T. and Alan Dracula manage to snag a passing Passenger pod, forcibly evict its Passenger, and take the pod back to its source. The pod arrives at a car that looks exactly the same from the outside as all the others, but upon entering they find themselves in an enormous pod loading bay manned by robots. After passing through a squishy white field where the tapes are harvested from the Passengers’ heads (*shudder*), M.T. arrives in a chamber where some kind of laser tattoos the numbers onto the Passengers’ hands.
Confident that her plan will work, M.T. sticks her own hand between the laser and a new Passenger. To her utter shock, the laser passes straight through her as if she isn’t there. Increasingly angry, M.T. shouts to the robots manning the chamber, hoping to no avail to get their attention. Her rage boiling over, she snaps a pipe off of the wall and smashes the robots and anything else she can get her hands on to pieces. As she prepares to make another swing, she is intercepted by the Steward – whose face pops up to reveal One-One himself.
My Thoughts – I had forgotten just how visually stunning this episode is. We finally get to pull back the curtain and see the Train’s inner workings, and it is worth the wait. Everything is so grand in scale and weirdly elegant in design, from the massive pod bay to the whimsical and unsettling field where the tapes are extracted to the gargantuan doors into the number room. The use of black and neon green is a perfect color choice, giving everything both a mechanical and (along with the white gooey floor of the tape field) an unearthly feel. Combined with the haunting music, all of the visual choices serve to drive home just how alien the Train is. We still don’t know who built the train or how long it has been operating, but it is obvious that it was not manmade – at least not at anywhere near our current level of technology.
The ending to the episode really brings M.T.’s whole journey up to this point to a head. She’s sure of who she is as a person, and she finally has a concrete goal – only to run smack dab into the Train’s indifference to her plight. Not only is the number device unable to give her a number, it doesn’t acknowledge her presence at all, not even when her hand is directly between it and the Passenger. None of the robots operating the facility pay her any heed whatsoever. The complete lack of concern toward her very presence is quite chilling to watch and a culmination of every time her personhood was questioned over the course of the season. It is no wonder that she snaps and begins destroying everything – she enters the car with complete confidence that her wish will be granted, only to discover that the Train cares not one bit. It is a massively demoralizing moment for her, one on par with how Atticus’s transformation affected Tulip in Book 1. Will she be able to rebound from this like Tulip did? We’ll have to wait until the next episode to see.
Episode MVP – It has to be M.T. She really runs the gamut of emotions in this one.
My Totally Arbitrary Car Ranking – Tape Car (A)
My Totally Arbitrary Episode Ranking – A strong A-.
Cast Additions – No major character additions this episode.
Trivia/Stray Observations –
- “You’re not my pet. You’re my friend. You know that, right?”
- “…Which is my sixteenth favorite kind of giraffe you’ll see on the Train.”
- “And by magic I mean algorithmic numerical judgment.” “Just saying it makes me warm and fuzzy inside!”
- “Too bad you’re asleep and will never hear this.”
- “Instead, I’m going to guess what Atticus is doing right now! One, barking. Two, rolling over.” “Three, he’s dead. A pile of dog bones alongside a long-forgotten road.” “Four, he’s only playing dead!”
- “Don’t get excited, it doesn’t look very special.”
- “Fun fact – the Tape Car is the only car where the universe is projected on the outside!” To this day I am still trying to figure out what this means.
- “What, do I need a sad lizard story? Is that it?”
- “Hello! I’d appreciate it if you’d stop breaking everything.”
- Alan Dracula putting his head in M.T.’s lap was very sweet.
- That Passenger that M.T. evicted sure was having a bad time of things.
- I love the sight gag of One-One having a board taped to his hard hat.
- The tapes that the Train uses are apparently meant to be Cartrivision tapes, which are relatively obscure but Dennis was aware of them due to his dad’s work.
- Somehow didn’t notice it before, but at one point M.T. says ‘Uff da!’ Another Minnesota reference!
- Writer Justin Michael apparently wrote the scene at the beginning of M.T. and Alan Dracula hanging out while his cat was curled up next to him, which is a cute case of fiction mirroring reality.
- Michael has said that he considers this episode Book 2’s equivalent to ‘The Cat’s Car’ based on the more haunting atmosphere.
- Each of the writers has a different explanation for what happened to the Passenger evicted from the pod. Some are more gruesome than others.
- Supposedly if you look closely you can see that the evicted Passenger doesn’t have a number. The animators didn’t realize it had been left out until the episode aired.
- One of the inspirations for the car is apparently The Matrix. I can see it.
- The writers have indicated that some of the ethics surrounding the Train forcibly kidnapping Passengers would have been discussed in Book 5.
- All the characters in this episode are voiced by Ashley Johnson, Jeremy Crutchley, or Owen Dennis, almost making it a reunion of sorts of the core Book 1 cast.
- The music that plays when M.T. first enters the car is one of my favorite soundtracks in the series:
‘The Number Car’, Season 2, Episode 10 (Premiere Date: January 10, 2020)
Synopsis – Prevented from breaking anything else by One-One, M.T. demands that One-One give her a number so that she can leave. One-One refuses, saying both that numbers are only for Passengers and that M.T. is too good of a ‘helper’ to let go. To emphasize this, he brings up Jesse’s file – only to find that Jesse is somehow back in processing and that his number is still zero. Confused, One-One retrieves Jesse (and also Alan Dracula) from the tape section of the car and starts up Jesse’s new tape. One-One and M.T. watch Jesse’s escape from the car, after which he tells his brother what happened and explains that he still desperately wants to help M.T. get her own exit.
The tape completed, One-One wakes up Jesse and has the number machine grant him his new number – which promptly begins to cycle through square roots, Pi, imaginary numbers, and all sorts of other weird numbers. Realizing that there is a paradox in progress – the Train wants to help Jesse, but the only way to help him would be to get M.T. off the Train (which it considers impossible) – One-One gets stuck in a thought loop, trying to figure a way out of the situation. Jesse and M.T. are glad to be reunited, but at that point Agent Sieve emerges from the reflective surface of the room’s giant screen. He offers One-One a chance to resolve the paradox – by allowing him to kill M.T. One-One initially agrees, but gets distracted by Jesse. Sieve attacks M.T. but his grinder gets stuck in the wall.
At that moment, M.T. realizes a way to finally get her number – by reflecting Jesse’s number with her hand. This proves to be good enough for One-One, who opens up a door for both of them to exit. Thinking they are home free, they rush through. Unfortunately, before M.T. can fully make it Sieve grabs ahold of her ankle and starts to pull her back. With one last ditch effort, M.T. grabs a wad of grass from the ground and throws it behind her. It bounces off of Sieve’s face and passes by Alan Dracula. Shaken out of whatever deer thoughts he was having, Alan uses his laser eyes to annihilate Sieve.
Free at last, M.T. and Jesse find themselves in a park near Jesse’s home. Jesse’s brother Nate rushes up to greet them and M.T., inspired by a nearby lake, introduces herself with her newly picked name – Lake.
My Thoughts – There is a lot to talk about with this episode. First off, the episode really highlights the limits and flaws in the way the Train operates in a more direct manner than we’ve seen yet. One-One may have a quirky and humorous personality, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is a computer. He can’t see beyond the Train’s operating parameters, to the point where he gets stuck in a loop because of it. The Train’s rules dictate that someone needs a number to leave and he follows that rigidly, even though it’s clear that he can pretty much make a door whenever he wants. He also can’t see the obvious solution to the dilemma – let Lake leave with Jesse – because in the structure through which he views the Train’s operations the Denizens only exist to help the Passengers and that is it. In fact, he is more willing to go along with Sieve’s desire to kill Lake than he is just letting her leave.
The fact that Jesse was able to return to the Train at all and cause a paradox through his desire to help Lake also raises some questions about the Train’s history. Is Jesse really the first Passenger to have ever done this? Based on One-One’s confused reaction, that would seem to be the case. Has no other Passenger ever formed a bond with a Denizen as strong as Jesse and Lake’s? Or is this more a function of Lake’s desperation to get out – in which case, has there never been a Denizen before that has expressed a desire to leave? It’s impossible to know for sure, especially as we don’t even know how long the Train has been in service, but it would be a bit strange if a situation like this has never come up before. Also of interest, I noticed that Sieve threw Jesse out of the way when he attempted to block Sieve from getting to Lake. Was this because Sieve just didn’t want to kill or harm Jesse, or are Denizens unable to actually harm Passengers? I’m not sure if it’s ever actually been discussed on the show (unless I missed it).
Ultimately, though, this episode and the season as a whole was Lake’s story. There has been a long-running theory that Lake’s storyline this season was meant as a trans allegory, similar to The Matrix. Due to his general avoidance toward interacting with fan theories on social media, Owen Dennis has never explicitly confirmed this theory, although there are indications it may have been unintentional. Even if this wasn’t the original intended reading of the season, though, it is one that is hard to ignore or overlook. Dating back to her first appearance in Book 1’s ‘The Chrome Car’, Lake constantly found herself being put into categories based on what other people thought she should be – a reflection, a Sliver, a Denizen, a ‘helper’. Everyone felt comfortable giving her labels centered around their own preconceptions, and no one considered how she saw herself. When she finally managed to break out of the confines of the Mirror World, she thought she was finally free to be accepted as her true self. Unfortunately, she wasn’t entirely right.
Despite finding an ally in the form of Jesse, Lake continued to face two levels of bigotry. The most obvious was the personal kind represented especially by Agent Mace, who hounded her with hatred and constantly taunted her with the term ‘Sliver’ (essentially serving as a slur), telling her that she could be nothing more than a reflection. Beyond that, though, she has also encountered the strong resistance of institutional bigotry. The rigid rules of the Mirror World are, of course, one example of this, but this finale makes plain that the Train itself is another such hurdle. Was One-One intending to be cruel to Lake? No, but that doesn’t change the fact that the system that he perpetuates was built on certain prejudiced assumptions (that Denizens are not people in their own right and exist only to help the Passengers achieve their best selves) that he would rather not reevaluate until he is forced to by the paradox that Lake and Jesse create. These two types of bigotry are faced by virtually every marginalized group but especially ring true for the transgender community today. Lake’s decision in the end to shed her old identity as M.T. or Mirror Tulip and take on the name Lake only furthers the parallels.
Episode MVP – Lake, all the way. Not only is she finally given the chance to push back against all the hurdles placed in front of her, but it is ultimately she who solves the paradox. (In a very clever way, I might add.)
My Totally Arbitrary Car Ranking – No new cars this episode.
My Totally Arbitrary Episode Ranking – An excellent A-. The episode serves as a nearly perfect season finale, but Alan Dracula killing Sieve felt a bit too convenient for my tastes (even if we knew he had the capability).
Cast Additions – No new cast members this episode.
Trivia/Stray Observations –
- “Do be careful, I think you may have slipped and hit a porter.” “Many, many times in a row.”
- “Hey, I know you! You’re the rare foil version of my friend, Tulip!”
- “I’m not Tulip! I’m not foil, I’m not a reflection, I’m not a Sliver, I’m not a Null, I’m not any of the hundreds of names everyone wants to give me.”
- “But why would I, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be!” “No!” “No?”
- “How can I expect someone to grow emotionally without some nice, juicy math?”
- “Field trip to the Passenger farm!”
- “Field trip to the memory-watching machine!”
- “Hot new release! Gimme! Gimme gimme!”
- “Oh, look! You’ve got costar billing now!” “But you’ll probably be paid less because Hollywood breeds gender inequality.”
- “Aw, Train does it again!”
- “Yeah, yeah, we don’t need to hear it. We just watched the high def version.”
- “Excuse me, young man, this Train is for fixing people’s problems, not for hang time with buds.”
- “So we get our exits?” “Um…um…Yeah, sure, whatever.”
- “Wow, that was something, huh? Looks like I’ve gotta get you back home.” Alan Dracula blasts off. “I really broke the mold with you, Alan Dracula.”
- “Hi, Nate, I’m…” “Dracula…Two?”
- “Wouldn’t it be cool one time? Just once!”
- I like that Jesse’s new memory tape is titled ‘Jesse Cossay 2’.
- Lake just cutting to the chase and flicking Jesse in the head to wake him up was perfectly on brand.
- One of the Passenger’s shown on One-One’s datapad is wearing a hat with the Triforce symbol from The Legend of Zelda.
- Something cool that was pointed out on the Wiki that I hadn’t thought about before. When Lake reflects Jesse’s number, the number is the square root of two – an ‘irrational’ number, representing the paradox. The square root of two multiplied by the square root of two is just two, a ‘rational’ number – representing the resolution to the paradox. Mathematical!
- This is the only season finale to follow the ‘The _______ Car’ naming convention.
- According to the writers, one of the main intentions of this episode was to show that One-One isn’t just ‘Tulip’s funny companion’, that he can also serve as a roadblock to progress for characters like Lake.
- The first sight gag that the writers ever came up with for Alan Dracula was him blasting off like he did in this episode.
- Another of my favorite songs from the show is Jesse and Lake’s theme. Here is a retro remix of it that I like a lot:
That’s it for Book 2! This has always been one of my favorite seasons not only of the show (alongside Book 3), but of television period. It is darker than Book 1 with an at times quite tense and claustrophobic atmosphere (especially in the home stretch), but it still manages to retain the series’ sense of humor and never gets too bogged down in gloom. It covers very weighty and resonant themes but does so deftly with entertaining characters – Jesse and Lake are my favorite set of protagonists on the show – and, of course, some wacky and intriguing cars. I’ve greatly enjoyed experiencing it again with you all. Next week we dive straight into our next stop: Book 3, subtitled ‘The Cult of the Conductor’.
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Thanks for reading!