'Infinity Train' Season 4 Review: This Imaginative Locomotive Trip Ended Far Too Soon

From the mind of creator Owen Dennis, the animated series Infinity Train sent its viewers on a rollicking soul-searching sci-fi ride in its star locomotive. Propelled into popularity by its 2016 pilot, the anthology animated series sent different sets of characters with their own arcs for each season — or "Book," as the series calls them – with story credits for Lindsay Katai, Alex Horab, Madeline Queripel, and Justin Michael. And while Book Four will serve as the show's finale with the final season arriving on HBO Max on April 15, it doesn't quite feel like a fitting conclusion to the imaginative series.

Book One introduced the bizarre realm of train cars with puzzles, kooky residents, wild adventures, and the hand number tattoos that correspond with emotional growth—or slippage. Human passengers must get their number down to zero to earn their exit door back to the real world. Each car contains its own themed world populated with eccentric train "denizens," sentient anthropomorphic animals, or talking inanimate objects, just to name a few. Humans might get their number down by interacting with denizens and puzzles to pass through the cars. The stepping stones and the slippages matter as much as the destination.

The main human passenger of each season must confront their traumas and fears: Tulip dealt with her parent's divorce, Jesse accepts responsibility for giving into peer pressure (although he's a supporting player in Lake's quest for self-actualization), and Grace and Simon face truths that shatter their ego- and cult-forged perspective.

When observing the shifting of the locomotive's natural order across seasons, there's a budding interrogation of the nature of a train, led by a robot conductor who enthusiastically applies algorithms to track moral progress, that steals passengers, young children included, and drops them into potential life-or-death situations.

Book Two challenged the established formula, indicating that subverting and bending the rules outside of the train's mandates can be one's salvation, as we witness Lake rage against a system that has erased and neglected her. But Book Three — boy, a tough act to follow — tracked a disintegrating found family who oscillated in grudges and affection before they metastasized into resentment, distrust, terror, and dogmatic callousness. It's a tough ride, spending time with toxic protagonists, pitying them because they lacked guidance in their train environment, as well as rooting for their healing while simultaneously being appalled at their smash-and-grab transgressions. Compared to how the heavier Book Three dropped in weekly chunks to breathe between bone-chillingly rising stakes, Book Four benefits from a binge-drop of all 10 episodes on HBO Max.

Like the others, Book Four ("Duet") does welcome questions about the train's ethics through moments of introspection. Whereas human backstories were previously saved as reveals, "Duet" spends its first episode exploring the real-world lives of its passengers and shows their baggage from the get go. Meet Min-Gi (Johnny Young) and Ryan (Sekai Murashige), two aspiring Asian-Canadian musicians who grew up together since infancy. Both nourished a love of music, and Ryan dreams up a plan for greatness and tours. But a fallout occurs and their paths diverge, their disparate existence, yearning, and constant life disappointments unraveling adeptly through the split-screen. Min-Gi has his sights set on college, although secretly he yearns to play his trusty portable synthesizer with Ryan once again. Meanwhile, the electric guitar-strumming Ryan hits the road and finds setbacks. The two young men reunite and become among the human souls spirited away into the Infinity Train to sort out their fallen friendship and individual selves.

Deposited into an unfamiliar pocket dimension, the two young men become acquainted with an impish floating sentient concierge bell Kez (Regular Show alum Minty Lewis), who chatters as chill as an Adventure Time side character and she has some baggage as well. The more train cars the two men and Kez traverse—and happen upon train cars that Kez has previously wreaked havoc on—the more they're constantly looking over their shoulders for vengeful denizens after their blood.

Compared to the imagination of previous seasons to the point of high-octane nightmares, Book Four is more subdued. This season was not intended to be a finale season and feels more at place if it was in the middle. It serves as a cleanser palette to the audacious emotional and physical violence that boiled between Grace and Simon. It maintains its sensitivity for the simple and the nuances of healing rifts (even when they finally seem to recover and communicate, downward emotional plunges are also too easy). Talking things out can be messy and it takes tears. Min-Gi and Ryan communicate, joke, and argue on their own wavelengths as real people do, struggling to achieve emotional synchronization. It's a formula that Infinity Train has entrusted in but its validation of the (seemingly) simple has always been the charm.

Midway, one of the young men contemplates their future and the frankness of the discussion is timely and speaks to the long-existing issues of Asian representation and existence in western media and how it shapes the insecurities of an aspiring Asian artist. (Sit on that certain conversation and replay the first episode, and the rewatch is richer for it.)

For longtime viewers coming in for lore, it drops in at a come-and-go tantalizing rate without upstaging the arc of its main subjects. Without spoiling when it comes, it's evident there's behind-the-scenes drama, though it matters less than the character development. Alas, longevity for the locomotive was cut short due to the cancelation of the series, which was reportedly planned for more seasons. The show's unfortunate cancelation would mean the audience is left hanging over other questions about wayward characters, the few aboard the train with stray story threads, from the previous seasons. (#RenewInfinityTrain and #SaveInfinityTrain might be worth a shot.) But at the very least, you don't have to sweat the worldbuilding mysteries and curiosities as long as characters grow to find better tomorrows. Ryan and Min-Gi are blessed with one of the tidier endings. And as the final line reminds us, life pulses on after people leave the freight.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10