HBO picked up the reins in the continuing trend of post-apocalyptic films and television with the visually stunning and thought-provoking miniseries Station Eleven. This ten-episode saga is neither for the faint of heart nor the viewer who enjoys a well-structured, linear storyline. The timeline is often unclear, and the only firm anchor on what is happening is provided by stunning visual backdrops of post-apocalyptic Chicago and the areas surrounding Lake Michigan.
While based on the 2014 novel of the same name, this release feels apt as we continue to navigate the Coronavirus pandemic and slowly try to discern what a post-Covid society might look like. The plot follows Kirsten and a revolving door of her companions as she navigates life after a devastating flu pandemic wipes out the majority of the Earth’s population. Station Eleven takes ample time (nearly ten hours) and a willingness to be occasionally frustrated by a television show, but ultimately proves to be a more than worthwhile viewing experience.
So What’s it About?
The show finds us in a Chicago theater viewing a stage performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Gael García Bernal, portraying Arthur Leander, is center stage in the titular role before he abruptly collapses on stage. We meet Jeevan Chaudhary, played by Himesh Patel, who rushes on stage from his seat in the crowd upon recognizing that Leander is suffering from a heart attack. A sinister tone is set immediately. What follows is a slow, unobvious descent into a seeming collapse of society brought on by an equally threatening flu pandemic.
While the book was written in 2014, the inspiration was almost certainly drawn from 2009’s swine flu and depicts what could have happened to society had the swine flu been as deadly as we had feared. Much like the novel’s author, the show’s creators dealt with the idea of the survival of art amongst a truly devastating backdrop of a world on the decline.
The plot follows Kirsten — a young actress who studied under Arthur Leander at a young age — at the ages of 8 and 28 as she navigates a post-pandemic world. She is found as an eight-year-old by Jeevan following the tragic on-stage death of her idol, while he slowly learns of the impending demise of civilization from his sister, who works at a local hospital. The two become an unlikely yet inseparable pair after purchasing over 9,000 dollars worth of food and supplies, reminiscent of the March 2020 toilet paper scare.
As a young adult, Kirsten has become one of the stars of a mobile acting troupe, The Traveling Symphony, which operates on a rigid schedule, performing at various survivor settlements on a bi-annual loop around Lake Michigan they call The Wheel. The troupe has been blessing the shores of the great lake with Shakespearean theater without any major hiccups for nearly two decades until a run-in with a shady figure known only as “The Prophet” sends their structured lives into bewildering chaos.
Cast of Characters
Mackenzie Davis plays the lead role of Kirsten. Known for her work in the Terminator franchise, Blade Runner 2049and one of the most critically acclaimed Black Mirror episodes, Davis proved her acting chops in the sci-fi world. Eight-year-old Kirsten is played by the brilliant Matilda Lawler, who is sure to have a bright future in the business. As mentioned, Himesh Patel plays Jeevan Chaudhary, Kirsten’s caretaker, who a group of pregnant strangers eventually kidnaps due to their belief that he is a trained doctor.
Jeevan’s brother Frank, a former field journalist who had been severely injured and had turned to heroin, is portrayed by Nabhaan Rizwan, who made his film debut in 1917. In the pre-pandemic scenes, we meet Miranda Carrol, played by Danielle Deadwyler, the former wife of Arthur Leander. She writes the graphic novel Station Elevenwhich becomes a lasting source of inspiration for Kirsten and a bible of sorts for the show’s antagonist.
Known as “The Prophet” by the survivors around Lake Michigan, the character, played by Daniel Zovatto, is revealed to be the son of the deceased Arthur Leander. He was gifted the comic book as a child, and he twisted its words to essentially brainwash a band of malnourished and bewildered children in the wilderness. The cast is rounded out by stunning performances by David crossLori Petty, David Wilmot, Caitlin FitzGerald, and many others who make the series one to remember.
What Does It Really Mean? What’s the Point?
This show is tense, often eerily quiet, and leaves the audience biting their nails at the edge of their seats in almost every scene. No show in recent memory has had all the makings of a horrible, tragic, and bloody ending before allowing its viewership to breathe a sigh of relief in the final minutes of the entire series. The story arc serves as an inspiration to our society as a whole. Together we have, and continue to weather our own pandemic at every painstaking step of the way, all with the hopes of reuniting with those we have missed, and beginning to rebuild.
The choice to make the ending of the miniseries different from the book might have provided just the adaptation that its viewers needed. In a time of constant uncertainty, it can feel oddly reassuring to spend ten hours watching a tale of a decimated society that somehow weaves its way back to a happy ending. The point of the show was not to say that “it will be both easy, and turn out fine in the end, “but rather to acknowledge how difficult times can be, and that the future can still be bright if we’re willing to work together.
Thanks to a litany of factors, bringing Mission: Impossible 7 to life has cost a pretty penny.
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