At first,drove me nuts . Three episodes, I hadn’t fallen asleep once, but twice. I wasn’t just frustrated with Station Eleven’s indulgence – I was bored.
A post-apocalypticmini-series set in the immediate aftermath of a deadly and highly contagious flu, Station Eleven is a fictionalized pandemic show — shot, produced and aired over a real pandemic. But in many ways, this pandemic is subordinate and unimportant. Station Eleven is a show on things. About big ideas and themes. It’s a survival show. About trauma. Take refuge in the transitive power of art and the connective tissue of our common humanity.
In other words: urgh.
Right off the bat, it’s a show that spells out big ambitions in no-nonsense terms. It’s a show that opens with King Lear. A show that makes blatant use of Shakespeare as narrative device and framing, but also has the gall to place oneself at the center of a great literary canon.
Again: urgh. the biggest urgh I can collect.
Three episodes deep, I hopped into one of CNET’s many Slack channels to unload on the show with my colleagues. It was self-indulgent. It was boring. He took himself too seriously. It was raised on its own supply. It was fundamentally flawed compared to a show like, say, Yellowjackets – which masked its own themes of trauma under the guise of a cunning and compelling mystery show.
“Station eleven sucks.” I think that’s what I typed. I was wrong. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Just seven episodes later, when the show ended, I crawled back into that same Slack office to tell everyone that – in fact – Station Eleven is one of the best shows on TV that I don’t think I’ve ever seen. my life and that every living human being should make an effort to watch over it.
My favorite moment in Station Eleven occurs in the middle of Episode 9.
Jeevan, one of the show’s main characters, takes care of Kirsten, a comic-obsessed child actress – the titular Station Eleven. A comic that she takes with her everywhere on her travels in the post-pandemic world. A comic that gives him hope in desperate circumstances.
After returning to their home base, Kirsten realizes that she has dropped the comic in the snow. Frustrated, not quite understanding why it matters, Jeevan angrily returns to the desert to retrieve it. During the search, a wolf attacks him, mauling him half to death. As he crawls on his hands and knees, struggling to survive the extreme sub-zero temperatures, he comes across the comic, buried in the snow. In complete agony, he begins to read it, before tossing it aside, shouting, “THIS IS SO PRETENTIOUS!”
It’s an incredibly cathartic moment. For starters, it’s funny! A perfectly timed moment of comedy in the midst of a dark and visceral moment. I laughed. But it is also a recognition, a crystallized moment of self-awareness. The show speaks for itself, directly to its audience. Yes, station eleven is pretentious. This is a show actively struggling with big ideas – swinging for the fences, navigating the value of art in a world filled with suffering.
But station eleven is too self-aware enough to know that’s a lot to ask. Of its audience, of itself as an entertainment product. It is important.
A big request
Why should we care about a TV show? Why should any type of art be important? In a world where I find myself moving away from so-called “prestige television”, Station Eleven has forced me to ask myself this question.
Recently, I’ve been more inclined to consume endless throwaway anime or watch feel-good reality shows like Old Enough and The Great British Bake Off. Considering what we’ve all been through over the past two or three years, it’s been hard to muster the “big brain energy” needed to enjoy a show like Station Eleven. A show that forces us to reckon with big questions and big ideas.
This is precisely why I found Station Eleven so repulsive at first. In the midst of COVID-19, a time of searing political conflict, are you really going to ask me to be on a TV show about a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors performing Hamlet in a post-pandemic wasteland? It’s a big question.
But Station Eleven works because it rules on every possible level. It’s that simple. It’s a well-written show, with great performances and a soundtrack that will haunt you long after you’ve finished watching.
Station Eleven swings towards the fences but hits the ball clean. It takes time to realize its bold vision, but if you stick with that initial slow burn — fight that initial revulsion — you’ll be rewarded with a show that has nuanced things to say about every “serious topic” it dare to approach. It’s a show about families – real and inherited. It’s a show about the legacy of shared trauma. A show about art as refuge. If that pisses you off, I understand. But in a very real universe where we are immersed in the wasteland of our own pain and suffering, Station Eleven is as essential as television.