Station Eleven and Will the Pandemic Change Pandemic Fiction?

We recently tried watching a few episodes of the HBO show Station Eleven, which is based on a book of the same name. While the show ultimately wasn’t a good fit for us, it was fascinating to see how the pandemic in the show evolves compared to how we’ve seen the actual pandemic unfold in real life over the last few years.

In the first few episodes, Station Eleven cuts between a pandemic as it begins and 20 or so years later when the cities of the world are already somehow completely covered in overgrown ivy. When the news of the pandemic hits, most people either instantly get sick (to the point that planes are crashing) or start running (from where and to where, I’m not sure).

I’m not exaggerating–there’s a scene where two people are talking in a hotel, and someone walks up to one of the people, hands them a gas mask, and that person puts on the mask and literally runs away. This is the same day that news of the pandemic broke.

Granted, in Station Eleven, the virus has a 99% mortality rate. But it’s the speed of the virus–and peoples’ reaction to it–that comes across to me as dramatically outlandish.

I’m saying this as someone who has taken the real pandemic very, very seriously. I’m double-boosted, and I always wear a mask when I’m in a public place. I took it seriously from the start, but when news started to break that nursing homes in Seattle were reporting infections in early 2020, I didn’t put on a mask and start running (again: where are they running to in Station Eleven?!). Instead, I simply stayed inside.

The author of Station Eleven wrote the book before they knew how the real-world pandemic would spread and how people would respond. But it is interesting to me that the way I view pandemic fiction is forever altered by experiencing an actual pandemic over the last few years. I’m curious if creators will adjust their approach to fictional pandemics or if it’ll always make for better drama to have viruses instantly spread worldwide (and for everyone to take them seriously, which we also now know is not how people work). What do you think?

Also, while the show didn’t hook us, I do want to give a shoutout to the costume design, which is something I never really noticed on film. It’s brilliant in Station Eleven, especially when actors in the traveling theater stitch together costumes from garments they find in their travels (see photo).

3 thoughts on “Station Eleven and Will the Pandemic Change Pandemic Fiction?”

  1. We watched it a few months ago. What I found facinating was that they started filming just before the real pandemic hit, then put production on hold for a year before continuing. I do wonder how that changed the feel on the sets and any of the script at that point.

    My wife loved it, I was a bit mixed on it. I didn’t think it was quite as outlandish as perhaps you did 🙂 For example, the supermarket shopping with multiple trolleys right at the beginning and then basically staying locked in for a few weeks/months….. seemed pretty on point unfortunately!

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  2. I have not read or watched this. But I think you might enjoy reading The Electric Kingdom, which was published in early 2021 and answers your question for at least one author. He addresses (among other things) the isolation issues our recent pandemic created. It’s also a book lovers’ book, and IMO a very entertaining read.

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