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‘Infinity Train’ season four is the end of the line

“Infinity Train” was an animated anthology series created by Owen Dennis, which aired on Cartoon Network. The show revolved around an otherworldly train of endless cars that unsuspecting people get teleported to when they are faced with an emotional crossroads in their lives. Each train car contained its own unique pocket universe complete with puzzles to solve, challenges to face and kooky characters to meet. One car could be a giant crossword game, another could be a dance competition run by octopi, another could be a wasteland full of Kaiju. Passengers would travel car to car, their experiences slowly working them through their personal problems until they experience a final emotional revelation and are allowed to exit the train. Or they die.

Each season of the show presented us with new imaginative worlds, new passengers to watch grow and new mysteries to agonize over. And most importantly, despite its whimsical nature, “Infinity Train” was never afraid to get very real. Characters dealt with guilt, grief, fear and failure on their journeys, and when the show wanted to be dark, it became pitch black. The third season is where the show really stretched its wings in this respect, and we watched a couple characters make very permanent exits. It was an unapologetically tragic season and the series’s best. But the higher-ups at Cartoon Network curled their lips and decided “there’s no entry point for children in this show.” So, despite Owen Dennis’s eight-season plan, Infinity Train was canceled with its fourth and final season. The world is dark, and the stars are blinking out one by one.

“Infinity Train” season four is not bad, but as a final note to conclude one of the most unique and captivating cartoons of the last decade, it’s a kazoo solo at the end of a symphony. The story follows best friends Ryan (Sekai Murashige) and Min-Gi (Johnny Young), a reckless free spirit and sober realist. The pair’s conflicting dreams and refusal to take responsibility for each other’s feelings get them teleported onto the transdimensional therapy-or-die express. There, they team up with the lackadaisical flying concierge bell Kez (Minty Lewis) and begin making their way through the cars in order to work through their relationship. It’s all very standard for “Infinity Train,” which is a problem considering how all the previous seasons were escalations of the previous entries, providing new twists, new passenger dynamics and new mysteries. 

Season four is just the characters going on their journey, working out their problems and going home, which comes off as a rather piddling finale considering the emotional sledgehammer that was season three. In addition, this is the only season where you can feel the narrative squeezing against the standard 11-minute runtime. In previous seasons, there was always some secondary tension to spur the story along. In season four, the tension comes from the band of angry denizens from other cars who are chasing the group because Kez’s scatterbrained ways slighted them in the past. The tension has nothing to do with the main pair and is quickly wrapped up with a round of apologies in the final episode. Much of the character work in previous seasons was tied to the tension and so was always developed by the end. In contrast, Ryan and Min-Gi’s relationship is never explored to its fullest extent. Ryan and Min-Gi are both flawed, but the show only ever criticizes Min-Gi’s anxious realism while never wrestling with how dangerously unrealistic Ryan’s aspirations of fame actually are. Even Kez, the funniest train inhabitant in the series thus far, is deprived of time enough to fully explore her pathos and flaws. 

And then there’s the queerbaiting. Given the amount of blushing, hugging and hand-holding between Ryan and Min-Gi I think it’s safe to say they were written with a specific kind of relationship in mind. And yet, by the close of the series, they’re still just close friends. Given the inclusive and diverse nature of “Infinity Train’s” previous seasons and the distinctly more comical tone of season four, I think it’s safe to assume that Cartoon Network drew some lines in the sand for Owen Dennis. 

There is a reductive instinct of television networks to obsessively police animated media. Executives assume that, when faced with a mature subject in a cartoon, children will either lose interest or experience a cardiac arrest, so “mature” topics must be dulled or removed. Sometimes such censorship is understandable—references to sex and drugs are often hidden under a cloak of humorous innuendo. And other times, all the gay people are shuffled off stage. Of course, the application of this Hays Code is situational at best. “Adventure Time” dealt with existentialism and death on a regular basis and established a same-sex relationship between two characters (though only at the very end). But the invisible hand of the producer is always looming, ready to slam down if a show goes too far. Children are simply germinating adults—to pander and police their media is to disrespect and deprive them. That’s why the best cartoons are ones that can be enjoyed by adults and children in equal measure, shows like “Avatar” and “Adventure Time” that are more interested in crafting fantastic narratives than anything else. Great storytelling transcends the age of its audience. But unfortunately, the nuances of the animation genre don’t translate into the conference room language of charts and surveys.

Looking back on it all, I am left breathlessly disappointed. Season four isn’t bad by a mile. It still possesses the standard “Infinity Train” creativity, humor, emotional honesty and scattered moments of startling darkness. But the season is haunted by the spectre of all the mysteries and future stories Cartoon Network murdered in their cribs. Hints are dropped in these episodes as to the enigmatic pasts of the train and its major players, but with no hope of future seasons in sight, I feel as if I was one number off from winning the lottery. And all because “there was no entry point for children.”

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