A deadly flu wipes out most of humanity and the survives try to cling to hope in the official trailer for Station Eleven, the forthcoming new series from HBO Max about the onset and aftermath of a global flu pandemic that wipes out most of humanity. The ten-episode series is based on the international bestselling novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel.
I won’t re-hash the novel’s entire complicated plot; you can get those details here. It concerns an outbreak of the “Georgia Flu”—a virus that is both highly contagious and deadly—that is sweeping over the world, leaving millions of corpses in its wake. Within a few weeks, the majority of humanity succumbs to the disease. The novel then jumps some 20 years after Year Zero, focusing in part on a group of actors and musicians who travel from 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.
Himesh Patel plays Jeevan a paramedic traineee who befriends a young child actress named Kristen after most of her fellow King Lear cast members die in Year Zero. Mackenzie Davis portrays the adult Kirsten. Gael Garcia Bernal plays doomed actor Arthur Leander (star of the aforementioned production); Danielle Deadwyler plays Arthur’s first wife Miranda; Caitlin FitzGerald plays Arthur’s second wife Elizabeth; and Julian Obradors plays Tyler, Arthur’s son by Elizabeth. Daniel Zovatto is listed as playing The Prophet, which is either sleight of hand on the production’s part or a genuine departure from the novel. (The true identity of The Prophet is one of the novel’s big reveals.)
Showrunner Patrick Somerville seems to have followed that basic outline pretty closely in his TV adaption, based on a teaser and first-look images that dropped last month. While they were intriguing, I noted that HBO greenlit the series in the Before Times (pre-pandemic), and I wondered whether the series could attract an audience fatigued and frustrated with sporadic surges of continuing COVID-19 cases around the world.
The official trailer opens right where the novel does in Year Zero: with Arthur’s fatal heart attack on stage, and Javeen’s befriending of Kristen. We see the scenes of devastation, as health care workers try to cope with all the deaths and those lucky enough to escape that fate struggle with what to do next. At leasts one character (played by David Wilmot) seems ridiculously optimistic. “We have shelter. We have food. This is the best thing that could have possibly happened,” he tells a group of his fellow survivors. (They understandably seem dubious.)
We next jump forward 20 years, as the grown Kirsten and her troupe travel the countryside trying to make sense of their new reality and maybe help a few others do the same. We see overgrown city buildings, and a brief glimpse of an array of now-defunct technology, courtesy of one man”s Museum of Civilization. And there are dire warnings to “beware the Prophet,” as well as “the children who follow him.” The trailer strike some of the same hopeful notes as Mandel’s novel, and the series could be very good. Here’s hoping pandemic fatigue doesn’t deprive it of its audience.
Station Eleven debuts on HBO Max on December 16, 2021.