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Technology Station Eleven teaser is intriguing, but will show run afoul of pandemic fatigue?


Technology

Technology Station Eleven teaser is intriguing, but will show run afoul of pandemic fatigue?

A major flu epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population in Station Eleven, a new series on HBO Max.In early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in its infancy, there was a sudden spike of interest in watching the 2011 film Contagion. Ditto for 1995’s Outbreak. Chalk it up to morbid curiosity. When feeling…

Technology Station Eleven teaser is intriguing, but will show run afoul of pandemic fatigue?

Technology

A major flu epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population in Station Eleven, a new series on HBO Max.

In early 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in its infancy, there was a sudden spike of interest in watching the 2011 film Contagion. Ditto for 1995’s Outbreak. Chalk it up to morbid curiosity. When feeling threatened by an actual pandemic, some people lean in to that fear and uncertainty with their media choices rather than seeking escape—perhaps as an evolved response mechanism for dealing with threats by learning from imagined experiences.

That would seem to bode well for the success of Station Eleven, a forthcoming new series from HBO Max that depicts the onset and aftermath of a global flu pandemic that wipes out most of humanity. HBO greenlit the series—which is based on the award-winning 2014 novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel—in the Before Times. The network just dropped an intriguing teaser, along with a few first-look still photographs.

Timing might be a factor here. Granted, there was an uptick in readership for Mandel’s novel last year, in keeping with the morbid curiosity hypothesis. But with COVID-19 cases still sporadically surging around the world and fatigue and frustration mounting, has the taste for apocalyptic pandemic scenarios (other than zombie movies) run its course?

(Spoilers for the novel below.)

Mandel has resisted describing her novel as science fiction, largely because it has a contemporary setting that features current rather than future technology. But sci-fi at its heart is about more than gadgetry; it’s about imagining possible futures, and by that standard, the novel certainly qualifies. It opens with a Toronto production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. The lead actor, Arthur Leander, has a heart attack mid-performance and collapses onstage. Paramedic trainee Jeevan is in the audience but is unable to save Arthur; instead, he comforts one of the child actors, a young girl named Kirsten.

Technology Jeevan (Himesh Patel) befriends a young girl, Kirsten (Matilda Lawler), as a deadly flu spreads rapidly.

Enlarge / Jeevan (Himesh Patel) befriends a young girl, Kirsten (Matilda Lawler), as a deadly flu spreads rapidly.

HBO Max

Just after the play, a doctor friend calls Jeevan and warns him to get out of the city. An outbreak of the “Georgia Flu”—a virus that is both highly contagious and deadly—is sweeping over the world, leaving millions of corpses in its wake. Within the next few weeks, nearly the entire cast of the King Lear production succumbs to the disease, as does the majority of humanity around the world. The novel then jumps some 20 years after Year Zero, where a now-grown Kirsten travels with a group of actors and musicians from town to town, staging concerts and Shakespeare’s plays.

But not everyone has responded to this new reality with that kind of positive idealism. The troupe soon runs into trouble in a town controlled by a mysterious cult figure known only as The Prophet, who wants Kirsten to be another one of his “brides.” Kirsten’s fellow troupe members begin to mysteriously disappear, and she embarks on a personal quest to find them. There are a lot of characters, each with their own narrative arcs, complications, and flashbacks to Year Zero and the lives everyone led before, which turn out to be linked in surprising ways.

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