We’re watching “Station Eleven,” a 10-part mini series that Patrick Somerville adapted for the screen. Somerville was the show runner (and writer) for “The Bridge,” (2013-2014) followed by two years on “The Leftovers” (2015-2017) and “Maniac” in 2018.
When I first obtained my condo in Chicago in 2003, I took an evening class in Writing the Novel at the University of Chicago. Patrick Somerville was the instructor. He was, at that time, a noted “metrosexual” serious fiction writer.
The class had been meeting for some time, so I had to have permission to join the already-assembled group. When I entered, I was asked to tell the group something about myself. The group was largely female and consisted of very highly-educated women— doctors and lawyers who, apparently, wanted to write a novel. (I had already written a novel at that time, “Out of Time,” so I had a bit of an idea what I was in for.)
Looking around at the assembled group, I decided to hit them with my best shot. I told them that I was “an active, voting member of the HWA,” which stands for the Horror Writers’ Association. I figured that would get their attention, although not necessarily in a good way. It was true at that time, although I have moved on to ITW (International Thriller Writers) since then.
Patrick Somerville was very interested in hearing about HWA. I think that, even then, he was planning his escape to L.A. to write for Hollywood. He was never very chummy with me. He would hang out with the women who were always smoking and, sometimes, someone would bring a bottle of wine to class. I still remember there was a woman doctor in the class who was writing a novel set in a nudist colony in pre World War I. Odd. We would have to read parts of our writing to the class and there did not seem to be any “real” writers in the class—unless you count me, and I’ll leave that up to you. We read and discussed “The Plague” by Albert Camus and it was a totally worthless exercise in learning (or teaching) someone how to write a novel.
Now, Patrick Somerville is involved in a partnership with David Eisenberg called Tractor Beam productions for film and TV production.
Right now I’m watching actors act out a scene in a high rise that could well be the Hancock Building in Chicago. “We gotta make moves. Never, ever, ever can we fake moves.” Rapping. This sudden deterioration into rap music is but one of many signs that this series has jumped the shark for me. I think the vast array of writers responsible may be part of the issue, but the biggest crime is the jumping around in time that leaves you wondering if the dead character is supposed to be a “flashback” or “imaginary” (see the new “Dexter”) or what, exactly, is going on. (Where is Ridley Scott’s linear approach when you need him?)
It was going along swimmingly with this log line:“A post apocalyptic saga spanning multiple timelines, telling the stories of survivors of a devastating flu as they attempt to rebuild and reimagine the world anew, while holding onto the best of what’s been lost.”
Well, class, I think we can all relate to that theme, at this point, 3 years into Covid-19.
The early episodes of the series, sketching the arriving pandemic were good. “What would you have done, if you knew the flu was coming?” asks the small girl. The character says he would have come home earlier and spent time with his mother, who died from the flu. “I would have made the choice I wanted to make—you know?”
The little girl who asked the question said she would have said good bye to Arthur Leander, (portrayed by Gael Garcia Bernal, who appears in only 4 episodes) and notes, “I didn’t get to say good-bye to anyone.”
I had a passing ships-that-pass-in-the-night relationship with Gael Garcia Bernal, who showed up at the premiere of a film he had directed and starred in. I had never seen such a huge crowd for any celebrity in Chicago before or since! The largely Spanish-speaking audience packed the theater to the point that they were seated on the steps leading down to the stage. I finally got up and left so that the audience would have an extra “real” seat.
Himish Patel, who was so good in “Yesterday,” plays Jeevan Chaudry in “Station Eleven.” He and his brother Nabhaan Rizwan as Frank Chaudry, and a young woman (Mackenzie Davis as Kirsten Raymonde) and a small girl (Matilda Lawler as Young Kirsten) are fighting for the apartment in what may be the Hancock Building. The group was re-enacting a play written by Young Kirsten, before going out to see if there is anything left of Chicago. They are either going to starve to death in 90 days or freeze to death in what looks like a very cold Chicago winter.
I wonder if the Chicago location was chosen by Patrick Somerville because of his past association with the Windy City? I’m even more surprised to read in the credits that principal shooting was in New York City, but there definitely are some real Chicago exteriors, as well.
Like most of the things I’ve mentioned, there was a lot of jumping around in time, which made it very difficult to figure out what was going on. Still, the use of the Cubs stocking hat and the exterior Chicago locations is welcome to a Chicago quasi-native.
Frank has just been dispatched in the plot by an intruder. But young Kirsten is being told to go forth with Jeevan and that look like what is going to happen. They are leaving the high rise for the first time in a long time.The music is ponderous and moody, but the exterior shots of Chicago, with “The Present” typed on the screen, are what remains in my mind. The female lead has apparently stayed behind (Kim Steele wrote this episode based, as all episodes are, on the book by Emily St. John Mandeville).
The biggest thing about the future after the Apocalypse is preserving respect for the Bard, apparently. Odd that Shakespeare is so cherished when it is possible to graduate from a Big Ten university these days with an English degree, but without having taken a single Shakespeare class, I’m told.
“I stood looking over the damage, trying to remember the sweetness of life on Earth, but I couldn’t remember.” (oft repeated in several episodes)
“We don’t even know if it’s like it was before.”
“There is no before. Or after. The past is safe; everything else changes.”
And from that post-Apocalyptic scene, the dead character Arthur Leander (as King Lear) enters the dressing room to be with Clark (David Wilmot). This makes it really difficult to know where we are in time, since Arthur has been dead.
“You say I only hear what I want to” by Alanis Morrissette is playing in the background. This is part of a traveling troupe of actors who keep culture alive by traveling the countryside performing Shakespeare (and other plays).
Sarah, as portrayed by a truly ravaged-looking Lori Petty, is a composer.
Elizabeth Colton, as portrayed by Caitlin Fitzgerald, is one of the better-known actresses in the series, as she played Libby Masters in “Masters of Sex” (2013-2016).