‘Station Eleven’ ~ TV TALK with BILL CUSHING

By: Bill Cushing – Feb. 2022

“I remember damage.” This line is repeated throughout ‘Station Eleven,’ a new 10-episode limited series adapted from the 2015 novel by Emily St. John Mandel. The line comes from the fictional graphic novel named ‘Station Eleven’ that figures prominently in the show’s storyline. The repetition of the line throughout the series emphasizes how much ‘Station Eleven’ is about the way our past trauma makes us who we are and who we will become.

The post-apocalyptic story follows a band of survivors of a global pandemic far worse than COVID-19. The “Georgia Flu” as it’s called, decimates most of the world’s population in a matter of weeks, leaving traumatized survivors to carry on in a world quickly reduced to an archaic society of tribes and nomads.

In the riveting, nerve racking first episode, the story opens in Chicago with the on-stage death of famous actor Arthur Leander at a performance of ‘King Lear.’ Then we’re introduced to Jeevan (Himesh Patel), an audience member at the performance, who takes one of the young actresses in the cast (Matilda Lawler’s) named Kirsten, under his wing. This temporary bit of babysitting becomes full-on guardianship when a fast-spreading, lethal virus pushes Chicago and society to the brink of ruin. Together they take shelter at Jeevan’s brother Frank’s (Nabhaan Rizwan) apartment.

As the show progresses, we are introduced to another thread of the story. This one takes place in a small regional airport, to which several strangers have their planes diverted as the world crumbles. Their attempt to build a civilization of their own, led by a well-intentioned Irishman (David Wilmot), a former actress (Caitlin FitzGerald) and a security guard (Milton Barnes), provides some of the series’ lighter moments, and one of its darkest.

The story is also propelled two decades into a post-apocalyptic future in which very few people have survived. An adult Kirsten (now played by Mackenzie Davis) is part of a troupe of actors known as the Traveling Symphony, who tour the Midwest putting on Shakespeare plays.

The Traveling Symphony (made up of such delightful supporting actors including Lori Petty, Philippine Velge, and Joe Pingue), crosses paths with a man known as The Prophet (Daniel Zovatto) and his cult of young, impressionable followers seemingly at random. However, we will come to learn that he might have more of a connection to the performers than anyone initially suspects.

Slowly but steadily, you learn how the ensemble connects, as well as what happened to Jeevan, Frank, and more characters who faced the flu when it first broke. The show weaves the past and present stories of its principal characters in a way that never feels redundant or overcomplicated.

Carrying the show through at all times is the strong cast, starting with Davis. She gives a performance of heartbreaking openness, wearing every emotion on her sleeve, and the way she presents the role of an actor in this damaged post-pandemic world is comforting. Also giving a remarkable performance is the shows other Kirsten. Lawler’s maturity in the role never feels unrealistic. A highlight of the series is when we get to see the two actresses and two versions of Kirsten play beautifully off of each other.

The 10-part limited series, created by Patrick Somerville (The Leftovers) is difficult to watch at times but approaches its heavy subject matter with a hopeful tone. You might think that watching ‘Station Eleven’ during a pandemic couldn’t be a worse time, but that’s also part of what makes it special. While other television shows and films serve as direct reminders of what we’ve all been going through the last 2 years, ‘Station Eleven’ provides us with a healing and optimistic experience by looking beyond the familiar to explore the unknown.

‘Station Eleven’ is available to stream on HBO Max.