Over five nights, the kooky, off-kilter Infinity Train premiered on Cartoon Network, following in the special-event-series footsteps of Over the Garden Wall and Genndy Tartovosky’s Primal. By the end of night five, Tulip, an aspiring game designer with a very analytical personality, discovers the secrets of an endless, puzzle-filled train, figures out what went wrong with it, fixes that, and finds her way home. The story was complete.
Except it wasn’t. “Book 2,” airing this week in another five-night, 10-episode rollout keeps the concept fresh by introducing a totally new character. Paired with a seasoned veteran of the train, the central mystery of the show shifts, sprinkling in new passenger Jesse’s backstory as the train barrels forward. But does it work?
Two nights in, Book 2 is already a sophisticated evolution of the first season, focusing on the way different characters interact with the fixed world.
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Book 1 of Infinity Train and slight spoilers for the first four episodes of Book 2]
Infinity Train’s first season was one of the best shows of last year because Tulip was a savvy protagonist; she used her skills and knowledge in an unknown environment to figure out what was going on and solve the mystery of the train. And by pinpointing just what was wrong with it (a brilliant scientist hijacked it for her own selfish purposes), she not only came to terms with her issue, but laid the foundation for future stories
When Book 2 begins, we know how the train works: it appears to people going through a personal crisis, usually one involving their own character flaws. Each passenger gets a glowing green number on their hand. Actions that help them work through their crisis bring the number down; shying away from their problems or playing into their flaws raises their number. Once a number reaches zero, the passenger can exit.
With this in mind, making the central plot point of the second season revolves around the “how?” of the matter would be redundant. With a new character on board, the central question becomes “why?”
By the time we meet the train’s newest passenger Jesse at the end of the first episode, we’ve seen instructional videos for new passengers made by Tulip’s robot pal, One-One. Book 2 starts off following MT, Tulip’s mirror counterpart whom she lets go free in the first book, who is now on the run from the Mirror Police. She knows how the train works, and theoretically, how to get Jesse off. The real mystery of the season involves figuring out why the heck he’s there in the first place.
The first three episodes don’t reveal the exact situation, but the difference between Jesse and Tulip is evident immediately. Tulip was analytical, evaluating each car before making her moves. Jesse, meanwhile, is carefree and easily delighted by each train compartment. He doesn’t really seem bothered by the fact he’s on a magical train, jumping to take selfies with the deer he meets and immediately accepting information from a literal talking cloud. At first it appears that One-One’s instructional videos have put him at ease, but Jesse’s not one to question things. In fact, as he reveals more about himself, it becomes clear that Jesse is the type of person who usually just does what’s asked of him with little to no protest.
Tulip’s logical-to-a-fault personality the kind of characterization we often see in male protagonists — think Sherlock Holmes or Spock — while Jesse’s friendly people-pleasing personality is basically that of a Disney princess like Frozen’s Anna or Cinderella. That alone provides an interesting contrast between protagonists, made all the more obvious with MT’s gruff and cynical personality. But while Tulip’s approach to analyzing the cars ended up aiding her in accepting her parents’ divorce, Jesse’s number absolutely refuses to go down. After getting off the Family Tree car in the second episode, his number has gone up.
The more we learn about Jesse, the more his fatal flaw becomes apparent: giving into peer pressure and not standing up for himself. In the fourth episode, Jesse and MT (and silent deer pal Alan Dracula) find themselves in the Toad Car, where the only way to exit is to kick a sitting, talking toad. After a bit of a fight, MT yells at Jesse to just kick the toad, which he doesn’t want to do since the toad begged him not to. It’s the only way off the car, though, so he raises his foot to do it — and notices his number starts to go up. If he does what he wants to do (not kick the toad), it drops back down.
Not wanting to risk it, Jesse doesn’t kick the toad, standing up for himself — and also trapping the two of them on the car for the time being. As the pair hunker down in the empty car, Jesse watches a video that captures the moment right before the train appeared for him, revealing what brought him here: he refused to stand up for his little brother when the popular kids bullied him.
By the end of the fourth episode, MT and Jesse have made amends and are off to the next car. They both have a slightly better understanding of why he’s here in the first place, but figuring out just how to make his number go down will continue to be an uphill trek. After all, so many of the cars’ challenges involve listening to the directions of others, which doesn’t exactly allow Jesse to say no and stand up for himself. The dynamic between MT, Jesse, and Alan Dracula is already different than that of Tulip, Atticus the Corgi, and One-One from Book One, and thus their challenges have evolved to be tailored to their unique conflicts and personalities.
Two episodes of Infinity Train Book 2 air daily this week on Cartoon Network, starting at 7:30 pm EST.