A year has passed since its premiere and the effects of Station Eleven linger on.
Told with urgent sensitivity that understands that on the road to nowhere the best possible outcome is not traveling it alone, the miniseries, adapted from the novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel, bottles the sensation of renewed hope in the face of despair. While the shoot of the show began, uncannily enough, before the COVID-19 pandemic, it aired last year, at the tail end of 2021 and into 2022, when we were entering the second full year of our lives altered. The timeliness of it and the stark resemblance to some of our most recent history from crowded emergency rooms to full-to-the-brim shopping carts paint a dire mood of pit-in-your-stomach anxiety.
This by no means should be a happy show. And to say it’s happy is a bit of a misnomer because that too would diminish its impact—many people die, both characters we know and, perhaps even more devastating, all that we don’t. The flashbacks paint how severe the turn of the world’s axis was. What happiness is borne from this beautiful, reflective, inspiring series is in the relationships forged through tragedy, the gratitude shown for art and how it keeps history alive, and the display of how being good doesn’t always mean doing the right thing because you want to, but simply because you have to.
As their paths are about to split once more, Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis) says to Jeevan (Himesh Patel) at the end of the series, “you walked me home.”
With the recent purging of HBO titles with seemingly no home to go to and no physical media to support them with, it’s easy to worry about the continued existence of Station Eleven. There are so many reasons to hope it stays in place, especially as it is designed for revisits. As we find ourselves adrift in the many outlets and their end-of-year coverage (ours included) and the dearth of awards with the SAG’s upcoming, it’s hard not to think of the significant weight of this series and the impact it had on viewers. The finest show of the year, having premiered its first episode a year ago today, Station Eleven lays its cards out on the table early, in the decay and disarray of a world thrust into severe metamorphosis. Early and only increasingly so from then on the series declares itself one with an open, apparent heart, that looks to interrogate humanity’s need for communal celebration.
Station Eleven is catharsis by way of art. As we move throughout the new world, nearly eradicated due to the virus that moved too quickly for science to keep up, those who survived found communities. Forging bonds keeps us alive, be it through the sheer force of numbers or the relief of conversation. From Kirsten finding her theater troupe to the Severn City airport group who’ve made relics of their technology, or Tyler’s (Daniel Zovatto) cult of rogue children, all anyone in this world is trying to do is to maintain the spirit of communal society, even as their clothing wears thin and their songs change.
Detailing the intricacies of humanity isn’t so much a revelation—because what is storytelling if not an excuse to revel in the interiority of others’ lives—but showrunner Patrick Somerville’s ability to weave wonders out of tragedy is tremendous. In recent years there’s been something of an uptick in “nice” shows that sand down the ridges and rough points of the human condition to try and lead by example and, while some of them work, there’s a tendency for them to read ingenuine or perfunctory, containing too much self-satisfaction to be considered sincere. Station Eleven, meanwhile, is full to the brim with characters who are selfish, vain, aimless, or spiteful, and still, it manages to understand the complexity of humanity when both pushed to the brink and in times of stability, because these characters didn’t change because of the pandemic, but their greatest strengths and most grievous weaknesses were greater highlighted because of it.
Despite this, there is more optimism in this series than many of its contemporaries of the past decade not because it preaches goodness and makes sure to underline just how the characters are wrong, but because it demonstrates our capacity to grow and persevere. We get acts of small kindnesses such as how Jeevan, Clark (David Wilmot,) and Arthur (Gael García Bernal) all interact with a young Kirsten (Matilda Lawler.) We see the unity of art and theater as the troupe travels and a performance by Tyler at the end that unravels him and earns him forgiveness. It’s Kirsten’s valued possession, Tyler’s salvation, and the graphic novel by Miranda (Danielle Deadwyler) that tethers them to one another. It’s in Miranda’s final act of heroics, as she observes her own death in the distance and still manages to prioritize the lives of others in one of the most stunning sequences captured on television this year.
Miranda is 40 years old, speaking in the seclusion of her hotel room she’s barricaded with a co-worker who, initially, she seemed not to tolerate. They’ll die together. First, she speaks to the pilot of an airplane awaiting notice of a rescue mission to be told what to do with all the passengers on board. She tells him there is no rescue mission. She tells him that along with the two of them, all the passengers are already dead—they’re ghosts. As she weeps, Deadwyler delivers a searing, soulful performance, she recounts how when she was a child she watched her entire family die during a hurricane when her flooded home was struck by a live wire. She would have died too, but she’d been sitting on the counter, coloring.
Her art saved her then and now, because of her experience and the life she’s lived; her art has technically saved all of those in the airport. Little do they know, she’s given them the chance to climb atop the countertops as well.
If not its healer, art is at least the world’s unifier. The series aims to level us with the realization that so much of what we share with others is found in what we love, art being a tremendous unifier of it.
There’s a quote in Twin Peaks: The Return where David Lynch tells someone to “fix your hearts or die.” As we watched Tyler perform Hamlet in front of those he both abandoned and was abandoned by, Dan Romer’s score swelling to its emotive, commanding crescendo, there’s a swell of emotions that wash over us as he faces his trial of purification. His heart, having been hardened, is stripped bare when faced with the combination of facing his past through stories ingrained in him. Be it the form of his release or in Jeevan’s maturation in steadying his own in increasing states of chaos where he’s good simply because it’s what’s right.
At the end of the world, we carry on. Art and history are so intrinsically tied and we remember places, times, and people through their passions, what they did and what they lived to recount. Miranda lives on because of her art, Mark lives on because of Miranda’s intellect, and Kirsten survives because Jeevan walked her home.
After giving the pilot the news of their impending demise, Miranda asks him if he has a family. It’s a small one, and he wasn’t able to reach his wife but had to leave a message.
“What message did you leave?” she asks.
“That I’d be home soon.”
“I’ve been adrift in the strangest galaxy for a long time. But I’m safe now. I found it again. My home.” – Dr. Eleven
Featured Image Courtesy of HBO Max