The holiday season of 2021 seems like an extraordinarily strange and potentially horrible time to release a miniseries based on Emily St John Mandel’s brilliant 2014 novel. Eleventh Station.
Eleventh Station It’s one of my favorite 21st-century books so far, and the combination of magical realism, clock plotting, post-apocalyptic settings, and intricate structure provides enough fantasy turns for the 10-episode HBO Max TV adaptation to enjoy. (The first three episodes start on Thursday. Two episodes follow every Thursday thereafter until the end drops all on its own on Jan. 13.)
But Eleventh Station It is also a book about the world in the period before and after a devastating plague that kills most of humanity. This resonance with the present moment is so strong that in March 2020, days before most of the United States was shut down, Vulture interviewed Mandel about her book’s intertwining with the present. So it might seem foolish to tell a story about a disease so fatal that only 1 in 1,000 people survive it (thick air quotes) “at this moment in history”.
What is more, Eleventh Station He makes several adaptations that alter some essential elements of Mandel’s novel. Two characters who had one chance to meet shortly before the Georgia flu hit the world, are now blissful companions for the early days of the apocalypse, and the book’s main villain has been radically rethought. It was so easy to make a version of this story that these changes made the series toothless and pointless.
However, few works of fiction in the wake of Covid-19 felt as restorative to me as this TV adaptation of leftovers Writer Patrick Somerville and Atlanta Director Hiro Murray. Instead of imagining something bleak, Eleventh Station Mandel’s book takes on and increases his sense of relief after the apocalypse, where humanity comes together, rather than drifting away. I entered the series very skeptically, and left him feeling at least a quasi-optimistic of what humanity could become, even after the ending.
“This strange and awful time was the happiest time of my life”
in book form, Eleventh Station It follows three characters who have a chance to meet on stage at a Toronto theater during a production of King Lear. Kirsten is a child actress, playing one of Lear’s daughters as a child. Arthur is a bustling movie star trying to burnish his reputation by playing one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters. Jeevan is a potential doctor trying to save Arthur’s life after he collapses from a heart attack during a show.
The book then traces three timelines. Leaping forward 20 years into the future to follow Kirsten as an adult, surfing the Great Lakes with the Travel Symphony Theater Company into a world after the Georgia flu kills many. He stays with Jeevan for the time being, wandering around in an apartment with his brother and watching the world from above. She leaps back into the past to track Arthur’s rise along with his many friends and colleagues. Mandel drops short interlaced chapters that tell the stories of various other characters important to the narrative, particularly Arthur’s ex-wife Miranda, whose chapter is my favorite part of the book.
in the form of a TV series, Eleventh Station It changes many things. The most notable change is that Jevan (Himesh Patel)’s encounter with Kirsten (Matilda Lawler as a child, Mackenzie Davis as an adult) at the theater leads him to try to help her find her parents. (In the book, they meet briefly, then go their separate ways.) While he’s trying to help Kirsten, his sister calls to say Georgia has flu in Chicago (the series’ new setting), which is too bad. He and his brother Frank (Nabhan Radwan) take on Kirsten, establishing a relationship between characters who weren’t in the book but are the basis of the series.
There are mods like this all over Eleventh Station, television series, and all serve to emphasize the connections between characters, some more unlikely than others. Mandel’s book is a wonderful meditation on humanity’s resilience and the ways in which art can bring us together, but it’s also the plot of the hour, in which every element of the story has a reason to exist, and they’re all coherent in the end. Well (just like in the book), this technique can feel somewhat magical, as the author reveals all her cards. Poorly done (as has been on many TV shows), the plot of the watch can feel like a writer insisting that everything is connected, in a way that seems false.
Previous Somerville Series – Netflix vehicle Emma Stone and Jonah Hill idiot – Felt a bit like Somerville insisting that everything matters. So I had at least some fear of his situation Eleventh Station, where a lot of things could have gone very, very wrong. But Somerville also learned how to create a plot clock for TV from leftovers Damon Lindelof, the creator, and he brought all these lessons to bear on her Eleventh Station, but without the sometimes somber tone of the previous series. (It was pretty grim, but we’re not here to talk about it.)
A smarter adaptation option is to switch between storytelling modes. The odd-numbered episodes expand the above interstitial episodes into full hours of television. Miranda’s chapter, my favorite in the book and now my favorite episode of the show, makes up the entire third episode, as Miranda (Daniel Didweiler) goes on a long, strange journey to try and get home for the funeral of the love of her life as the world ends around her.
Meanwhile, even-numbered chapters follow Kirsten’s adult journeys with the theater troupe, performing Shakespeare and exploring both the sadness and joys of the post-apocalyptic world. What is the plot of the series that appeared in these episodes more than in other episodes, but the plot will not work without developing the character from the independent single-number episodes. Alternating between storytelling modes gives the show a nice rhythm once you fall under his spell.
Perhaps the best echo of Somerville’s approach to the material is a line that one of the characters says in the series’ trailer: “This strange, awful time was the happiest time of my life.” TV version of Eleventh Station He uses all those improbable connections to express the amazement that humans are forming Which connection at all.
Jevan and Kirsten should never know each other. In a vast world, on a planet teeming with people, they will find each other and form a family bond that has everything strange against it. But they find each other. They do bonds. Even amid the apocalypse, there will be moments of raw beauty and hope.
What if the end of the world was really beautiful?
The unexpected beauty of the end of all things is also reflected in the direction of the series, particularly in the two episodes directed by Murray (the first and third). Murray is one of the great visual designers working on television at the moment, and the first few seconds of the series are a thesis statement for everything to follow.
In the opening series of shots, wild boars root for plant life within a space built and once occupied by humans. A few scraps of paper refer to this theater where Arthur (played by Gael García Bernal) died on stage playing Lear. Murray cuts down the rest of the benches, now covered in green. He then made cuts to those seats on the night of Arthur’s final performance. The theater is now a place of living, where people will enjoy playing a great play. but that Feel Less lively than when its only concern was plants and pigs.
Television has been overshadowed by a series of series that rely so heavily on gray and fuzzy visuals and digital color gradations that reduce much of the image to the mush of dishwater. if Eleventh Station Failed on every other level, it would be helpful to at least watch how you keep up with the trend. Post-apocalyptic sections exploded with a natural color palette dominated by green. The sections in the middle of the apocalypse are stark white, thanks to snow all around, with warmer hues for the apartment where Jevan, Kirsten, and Frank congregate. And the sections set in the past are even warmer, as different characters remember their happiest moments.
Using color allows viewers to instantly know where they are in the show’s timeline, which might otherwise seem overly complicated. The series never manages to be anything visually stunning like those opening shots, but there were several moments in each episode where I found myself deeply moved by the show’s desire to tell its story in pictures, even though the dialogue that Somerville creates and its writers is both poetic and fascinating. It is seldom tiring. (I said it rarely. Sometimes it’s very stressful.)
I can shuffle. I think two episodes of the series are trying really hard to either cram too many stories or spread one too small over an entire hour of TV. (All episodes are about an hour long, though some don’t run as long as 43 minutes.) Dan Romer’s score is often great, but at times, the loud music felt like it was trying to tell me exactly what I should feel. And I sometimes felt like I needed a graph to track the bounce in time, especially on some single flashback episodes.
But these are just quirks. Most of all, I’m happy Eleventh Station It has come to the end of a long, hard year for many of us, because its embrace of joy and gloom and love of snowy expanses characterize it as the perfect miniseries for the holiday season. In one episode, for example, young Kirsten, surrounded by a dying world, performed “The First Noel” by Frank and Jevan, lights twinkling in the background. At the end of the year, in the cold, the dark, and the gloom, we come together to make things warmer, brighter, and more cheerful. So why not do it at the end of the world, too?
Eleventh Station Debuts Thursday on HBO Max. The first three episodes are available that day, with two episodes each appearing on December 23, December 30, and January 6. The final episode will arrive on January 13th. Yes, as mentioned, this is oddly appropriate for watching Christmastime.