Review by Sean Boelman
There are plenty of instances in which the media eerily predicts the future, and Emily St. John Mandel’s acclaimed novel Station Eleven is one such case. And now, seven years later, seeing her vision of post-pandemic dystopia in miniseries form, this story will connect with audiences in a way that few other COVID-adjacent projects have.
The series follows several groups of survivors of a deadly flu pandemic as they attempt to rebuild society and reflect on their lives before the world changed. There has been an argument as to whether it is too soon to create media that so closely imitates what we have been going through for the past two years, but the nuanced approach of this series goes a long way.
One of the most impressive things about this series is the way in which it balances its tone. The first episode is pure horror, filling the viewer with absolute dread, and then the rest of the series becomes a mix of post-apocalyptic thriller, family drama, and road comedy. It’s a lot more compelling and balanced than it probably should have been.
There are obviously the basic themes in the series that are common to the dystopian sci-fi genre, exploring the fundamental meaning of being human, but there are also some more interesting things going on in this. The portion of the show which follows the post-apocalyptic band of Shakespearean actors presents some interesting questions about the importance of art.
The character development in the series is also exceptional. There are a lot of characters and storylines to follow in the show, and sometimes it even goes a span of a few episodes before we get to see some of the characters billed as the show’s leads, but there are so many characters with whom the audience will form a connection.
The ensemble of the show is full of talented performers. The main lead of the show is Mackenzie Davis, whose performance is quietly powerful. However, it is the supporting cast that often shines. Himesh Patel is charming, having brilliant chemistry with his young co-star Matilda Lawler. Gael Garcia Bernal also has a small but pivotal supporting turn that is great.
For the show, a beautiful vision of post-apocalyptic America was created. There are plenty of the usual visual motifs, like overgrowth and abandoned man-made structures, but this is a surprisingly joyous take on a supposed dystopia. The result is a sci-fi series that feels visually distinctive in an overstuffed genre.
Station Eleven is perhaps one of the best limited series ever made, handling its complex, intelligent story in a way that is equal parts harrowing and hopeful. It’s hard to watch at times, but that is exactly what makes it so impactful.
Station Eleven streams on HBO Max beginning December 16, with new episodes being released in subsequent weeks.