One of HBO’s Best Miniseries Is This Post-Apocalyptic Drama


The Big Picture

  • Station Eleven offers a unique and refreshing perspective on the apocalypse, focusing on solidarity and community instead of violence and survival.
  • The show revolves around an itinerant theater group and their efforts to bring art and culture to post-apocalyptic communities.
  • Station Eleven is not just a post-apocalyptic drama, but a story about the endurance and power of art, offering hope in a pandemic-ridden world.

We think we know what the apocalypse looks like. From Mad Max to The Last of Us, works of fiction have, for many decades now, made us promises about what it will be like if — or, rather, when — society collapses, either due to climate change or to otherworldly zombie outbreaks. We feel certain that cruelty and violence will reign supreme as humanity is free of societal norms and left to fight for resources in a non-stop struggle to survive. But the truth is that we can’t really know any of this. For better or for worse, society has remained functional, and all that we think will happen at the end of the world is mere speculation. So what if we dared to imagine a post-apocalyptic world filled with solidarity, beauty, and kindness? To some extent, this is the premise behind Max’s Station Eleven.

Calling a miniseries one of HBO’s best sure means something. After all, we are talking about a platform that features gems like I May Destroy You and Chernobyl, and the name HBO still carries a lot of collective weight. But, indeed, Station Eleven is among some of the most wonderful things in the Max catalog, and a lot of what makes the show so unique is precisely its one-of-a-kind view of the apocalypse and what remains after all is done.

Created by Patrick Somerville and produced by Paramount Television Studios, Station Eleven is based on the novel of the same name by author Emily St. John Mandel. It’s a story that dares to look at the fallout of civilizational collapse and see that civilization will rise again, perhaps not in its original form, perhaps even better than it used to be. While the show doesn’t deny the existence of evil and chaos in its universe — the presence of the vicious Red Bandanas in the woods is a reminder that the world remains a violent place — it puts its focus not on bands of armed men and women desperately clinging to their lives through the power of gunshots. Instead, it turns its gaze to doctors and artists as they try to make a living on what is left. Station Eleven is a show not about bloodshed, but about solidarity and community. It is a show not about the power of violence, but about the power of art.

Station Eleven

A post-apocalyptic saga spanning multiple timelines, telling the stories of survivors of a devastating flu as they attempt to rebuild and reimagine the world anew while holding on to the best of what’s been lost.

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Patrick Somerville

‘Station Eleven’ Focuses on a Troupe of Actors and Musicians

There are many ways to describe what the story of Station Eleven is about. The show, which has been described by Twitter users and journalists alike as theater kids surviving the apocalypse, has at its center an itinerant theater group known as the Traveling Symphony. Led by a woman named Sarah (Lori Petty), frequently referred to simply as The Conductor, the Symphony travels from small community to small community, bringing music and Shakespeare to the survivors of a bizarre flu pandemic that killed a good chunk of humankind. With their persistence and their devotion to art, they are part of a reconstruction effort that has no easy answers, feeding the inhabitants of villages made out of tents or gathered inside deactivated golf clubs. In a world that is in the process of creating new saints and new words, they bring both old and new art in the form of heavily stylized retellings of classic works of fiction.

But Station Eleven is also the story of Kirsten Raymonde. Played as a child by Matilda Lawler and as an adult by Mackenzie Davis, Kirsten is a stage actress studying Shakespeare under Arthur Leander (Gael García Bernal), an actor who dies on stage as the flu hits the U.S., when her path crosses that of Jeevan Chaudhary (Himesh Patel). With her parents and her mentor dead, Kirsten joins Jeevan and his brother Frank (Nabhaan Rizwan) as they brave the first few years of the pandemic locked inside their apartment. Later, Kirsten is taken in by the Traveling Symphony and becomes one of their most beloved performers.

The series is also about Tyler Leander (Julian Obradors), Arthur’s son who finds himself trapped at an airport with his mother and a power-hungry friend of his father who schemes to drive him away after he comes in contact with a survivor from the outside – a plot that mimics the Shakespearean classics that the Symphony strives to keep alive. In a way, Tyler’s story parallels Kirsten in the sense that, while she is taken in by complete strangers, he is cast away by those who should love him. Furthermore, Station Eleven tells the story of The Prophet (Daniel Zovatto), a man who runs a Lost Boys-like commune, stealing children that were born after the pandemic to create a world in which the before has never existed.

We can follow all of these characters as guides as we try to sum up the story of Station Eleven. However, perhaps the correct way of explaining what the show is about is to say that it tells the story of a comic book by the name of Station Eleven, written by Arthur’s ex-wife, Miranda Carroll (Danielle Deadwyler). A sci-fi tale based on the experiences of its author, who lost her family in a hurricane, Station Eleven is the thread that connects Kirsten, Tyler, and The Prophet. All of them have read Miranda’s work growing up, and while some view its words about damage and memory as a hard-earned comfort, others see it as a prophecy for a world to come.

‘Station Eleven’ Is a Show About the Endurance of Art

Through its titular comic book, through the works of the symphony, and through initiatives such as the Museum of Civilization, Station Eleven forges itself as a show about art, its power, and its endurance. It is telling that the story’s main characters are all connected not just by a work of art, but also by an artist: Leander himself, a node in which all pathways intersect. Even The Conductor calls back to him when she criticizes his performance after Kirsten tells her that he was his main Shakespeare coach. Art, Station Eleven tells us, pervades everything, and brings us together. It also serves as a mirror for our lives, a way for us to make sense of the things that happen to us and our often too complex feelings.

All of this is very nice, but it wouldn’t mean a thing if Station Eleven wasn’t itself a beautifully crafted and potentially enduring work of art. The captivating stories and the unusual approach to the apocalypse aren’t the only elements of the show that stand out. The performances are all carefully thought out, creating well-rounded characters that feel like people we could meet in our daily lives. The transition between Lawler’s sullen 8-year-old Kirsten and Davis’ angry adult, constantly afraid of even the slightest of changes, is seamless.

Likewise, the character’s interactions with The Prophet, her natural antagonist in his utter denial of the past, and Jeevan, her reluctant guardian, are lifelike and enthralling to watch. Comparisons have been drawn between Kirsten and Jeevan’s relationship and the dynamic between Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsay) in The Last of Us, but Station Eleven subverts the stoic dad trope, placing Kirsten as the self-disciplined one that Jeevan relies on to remain alive and sane. Despite only appearing in a handful of episodes, Deadwyler and García Bernal also deserve praise as the artists who connect the wheel in which the rest of the characters are trapped.

The show’s cinematography and mise-en-scene are also worthy of compliment. The transformation of run-of-mill settings such as an airport, a golf club, or a department store into the Museum of Civilization, a village, and a birthing center feels bizarrely effortless. The places of the world before seem completely strange to our eyes, and yet retain some of their familiarity. The contrast between the images of the bustling cities and the nature-devoured landscapes that pop up in the first couple of episodes, directed by Hiro Murai and Jeremy Podeswa, is breathtaking. And the visuals of the Shakespeare plays, all made with supplies found on the road or lost in the woods, are gorgeous and inventive. Finally, the decision to divide the story into multiple timelines creates a nice puzzle for viewers to solve, little by little forming an overarching plot out of seemingly disjointed episodes and characters. It also adds to the series, reinforcing the idea that everything is connected, even if it doesn’t look like it.

‘Station Eleven’ Is Intrinsically Connected to Our Own Pandemic World

The Prophet, played by Daniel Zovatto, looks at someone off screen in the woods in Station Eleven
Image via HBO

Finally, it is impossible to discuss Station Eleven without addressing the elephant in the room: the COVID-19 pandemic that was raging on when the show first dropped, in 2021. The number of people killed by the then-unknown disease was already in the millions when the show came out, and the pandemic might have been one of the main factors why the show failed to reach a wider audience despite its raving reviews and award nods. The show got nominations for writing, directing, and acting (Patel) at the 2022 Emmys, and yet it has never soared as high as its potential suggested. It’s understandable: in a world falling apart in the face of a deadly flu-like disease, the last thing people wanted to see was a show about an apocalypse brought on by, well, a deadly flu-like disease.

And, in our current scenario, in which we are still reeling from a pandemic that might not yet be over, few have dared to create works of art that chronicle our collective trauma, and even fewer have succeeded. Even with those terrifying early days of incomprehensible contagion and death behind us, we still use subterfuges to speak about the pandemic, relying on shows such as the aforementioned The Last of Us to process our experience.

In that sense, Station Eleven, which began shooting months before the coronavirus hit the West, is one of the strongest stories we have about the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only does it offer us a setting very similar to the one which we experience, with people trapped in their homes as millions, including those that were supposed to heal us, die with little to no understanding of what’s going on, the show also promises us that we will come back on the other side. Because, in the end, this is what makes Station Eleven such a valuable show, a veritable must-watch in our pandemic-ridden world: it’s a series that gives us hope. Hope that we will endure and that our creations will endure no matter what befalls us. Hope that we will still have beauty, art, and love even after all the terror. In retrospect, perhaps we really should have watched it during the height of the pandemic.

Station Eleven is available to stream on Max in the U.S.

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