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3 Reasons Why You Should Watch ‘Station Eleven’

The pandemic-themed show that’s not really about the pandemic.

Credit: HBO Max

When the nominations for this year’s Emmy Awards were released recently, the HBO Max series ‘Station Eleven’ was absent from several major categories, most notably Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series. This was just another reminder of how the show missed out on the wider mainstream success it deserved. Here are three reasons why you should watch this critically-acclaimed show.

The Story

‘Station Eleven’ – which is adapted from the 2014 novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel – is ostensibly about a pandemic. It follows a series of characters and their interconnecting stories at the outbreak of the pandemic, in the immediate aftermath, and twenty years in the future. The main storyline is about a woman named Kirsten, who in the future is an actress with the Travelling Symphony – a group that travels through the world that remains and performs Shakespeare and classical music for the survivors. The show begins with two unrelated events that occur on the same night: the ‘Georgia Flu’ pandemic spreads rapidly across the world, and the famous actor Arthur Leander dies from a heart attack while onstage in ‘King Lear’. The show follows the lives of characters deeply connected to Arthur, such as his ex-wife Miranda and his friend Clark, and also those of people connected to him on this fateful night: child actress Kirsten and audience member Jeevan.

If you’re looking for a pandemic thriller in the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Contagion’, you won’t find it here. ‘Station Eleven’ isn’t concerned with what the virus is, its effects on patients, or the immediate collapse of society. The pandemic is merely the setting for several different character dramas. The show is much more interested in investigating these characters and their relationships – how they react to their new reality, and how they relate to one another within it.

While the show is mostly faithful to the novel’s characters and plotlines, its most successful element was actually invented for the show. The writers chose to put Kirsten and Jeevan, two characters who meet briefly in the aftermath of Arthur’s death, together for the first year of the pandemic. The result is a beautiful, heartbreaking story of two people reluctantly thrown together in a crisis, who form a bond that stays with them for the rest of their lives. This relationship is at the core of the show, and it’s the key to what the rest of the story is truly about: in this new world, the characters’ relationships with each other are what matter.

Credit: HBO Max

The Talent

‘Station Eleven’s cast is made up of both well-known and up-and-coming actors. Kirsten and Jeevan are played by Mackenzie Davis and Himesh Patel, both of whom excel at capturing the many layers and complex emotions of their characters. Patel was just nominated for an Emmy for his performance, which is arguably the best work of his career so far. Gael García Bernal also features in a supporting role as Arthur. Bernal is the most famous actor in the show, and the audience’s familiarity with him is cleverly used to inform us about Arthur’s fame within the world of the show.

One of the show’s stand-out performances is that of Danielle Deadwyler, who recently gave a fantastic performance in the Netflix film ‘The Harder They Fall’. Deadwyler’s character Miranda has less screentime than most of the other main characters, but she makes the most of every second of it, particularly in the Miranda-centric episode ‘Hurricane’. She is one of the most sympathetic characters on the show, and Deadwyler brings so much depth and heart to her performance that we’re rooting for her no matter what.

And the people behind the camera are no less impressive. ‘Station Eleven’s showrunner is Patrick Somerville, who is best known for his writing on HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’. Somerville’s passion for this story and all of its characters is felt throughout the show, as is that of all the writers – you’d need to be passionate about it to attempt creating a show this expansive and complex! Also, the beloved director Hiro Murai – who is famous for his compelling work on ‘Atlanta’ – is an executive producer on the show, and he directed two episodes: the pilot (’Wheel of Fire’) and the aforementioned character study ‘Hurricane’. Murai always brings his attention to detail to his work, and the careful balance he strikes in the first episode between the chaos and the quieter moments sets the tone for the rest of the show.

Credit: HBO Max

The Message

One of the best things about ‘Station Eleven’ is its message: that “survival is insufficient.” It’s very interested in the importance of art and how it gives us something to live for. Just look at the perspective of the show – it’s not focused on how people get the essentials they need to live in this post-apocalyptic world. It’s about the Travelling Symphony, who provide the survivors with something from their past lives that they’re missing, who give them something to look forward to. Similarly, it is Miranda’s graphic novel (also titled ‘Station Eleven’) that connects several of the stories across time and space, and it plays a crucial role in many of the relationships in the show.

It is through art that the characters connect with and understand each other, which feeds into the second part of the show’s message: the importance of community and our relationships with one another. The show follows several different communities in the post-pandemic world – all of whom are still alive because they have other people to rely on and share their time with. Across its ten episodes, ‘Station Eleven’ is telling us that humanity can make it through anything, so long as we look out for one another. This is, of course, a message that is always relevant.

Credit: HBO Max

These three reasons are merely a fragment of what makes ‘Station Eleven’ such a fascinating and captivating show, and one that is definitely worthy of your time.

To find out about another great show you’re missing out on, click here.

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I'm an Irish college student studying English. I love analysing and reading about films and TV shows, and, of course, writing about them too.

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