The Traveling Symphony
Episode 2 of Station Eleven begins during the second year after the outbreak. Kirsten awakens by the side of a convenience store and heads out. It doesn’t take long though before she stumbles upon a woman called Sarah. She offers up some water and as the pair sit together and talk, she’s encouraged to join this caravan, known as the Traveling Symphony.
This sets the scene for us jumping ahead 18 years, so we’re now 20 years after the outbreak. Kirsten rides up on her horse to see a new, enthusiastic guy called Dan arriving and auditioning to be part of their band. Now, it seems like everyone serves a purpose here, with the caravan moving from place to place to instill joy and happiness.
In order to prove his worth, Sarah and the others encourage him to recite President Whitmore’s big speech from Independence Day. This allows him to join the caravan. The tone here is utterly bizarre, shifting from tense and bleak across to a more light-hearted and easygoing.
That directly contrasts Kirsten though. She’s haunted by what’s happened in the past, with specific flashes of Frank and Jeevan telling her to run…from something. It’s not initially clear in truth, as we continue to see more of this caravan and their day to day exploits around teasing glimpses of a more interesting past timeline.
Now, it would appear that these guys have been on the move for a long time but with one among them heavily pregnant, Kirsten isn’t best pleased when Karen, the midwife, makes the call for them to stick around and hang tight.
Kirsten comes across as pretty unreasonable here, shrugging off this expectant mother and warning that there could be wolves about. Now, we know absolutely nothing about these people, and the world itself is still largely unknown. Instead of actually learning who these boys and girls are, we instead cut to… another performance, this time of Hamlet.
To be fair to Station Eleven, Javeen is still knocking about and the pair do share some nice moments, interspersed through the episode. However, given the intense focus on Javeen during the first episode, the sudden, jarring switch to focus on Kirsten instead feels like it comes out of leftfield.
In the midst of this, we cut back in time to the apartment once more. Kirsten has not been eating and with no reply from her mum, a horrible message comes in, “The body of the owner of this phone is located in the morgue at Lakeview Memorial Hospital. Do not come here.” This confirms the worst, as Kirsten is forced to relive this horrific ordeal.
Back in the present, the performance ends and a man approaches Sarah and Alex. He invites them along to the Museum of Civilization but they reject the offer, deciding to stay where they are for now.
As another song breaks out, in the midst of this we do hear about a certain prophecy that seems to be doing the rounds. How this ties in with Kirsten and the Traveling Symphony though, remains to be seen.
The Episode Review
If you were on the fence with the first episode, this one may just be enough to fall off completely. The idea of a Traveling Symphony and a caravan looking to instill hope into a hopeless world has a beautiful sense of poetry to it. I love it, and coming from someone who hasn’t read the book, it could be a winning formula.
The trouble is, it comes off the back of exactly zero characterization for anyone. Who is Karen the midwife? What happened to Sarah beyond the tidbits of exposition early on? Who is she? What drives her? How is she head of the Traveling Symphony?
We’re immediately thrown into this new world, 20 years forward, with a whole group of strangers. Even Kirsten is a shadow of the girl she once was, just as likely to pull a knife on someone as she is to perform King Lear or Hamlet. She also seems to be the only one wary to outside threats, which seems odd given the harsh circumstances these guys have had to endure.
The problem is, this show is so intent on being artistic and showing how slick its visual design is, it’s tripped over the basics like storytelling and character development. At its worst, some of these people we’ve met are empty shells needing desperately to be fleshed out.
To be fair, across the coming episodes that could change and it’ll be interesting to see where the show goes over its coming chapters. This episode though feels like a weird mishmash of ideas, and a tonal shift across to quirky and lighthearted doesn’t do this one any favours. Let’s hope episode 3 is an improvement.