Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Aren’t Dead
Episode 4 of Station Eleven begins out in the freezing wilderness. Kirsten trudges through the snow as our past timeline begins to take shape alongside the present day drama with the Traveling Symphony.
In the present, it’s been a week since Kirsten’s run-in with that mysterious stranger and the group are on the move, returning to Pingtree. Kirsten does her best to remind Alex that the world is a dangerous place, imploring her not to talk to strangers.
Now, Pingtree is fronted by Gil and a whole bunch of professors who live across this golf course. There never used to be animosities but since Gil had a second-marriage to a woman mamed Katrina, things have been… complicated.
However, in the midst of all this a stranger appears on a bike. He greets the Symphony and once more invites them along to the Museum of Civilization. Kirsten is the only one who happens to be suspicious, while Sarah gratefully snatches up a CD he offers but lets him know they won’t be going there. “Third time’s a charm!” He says cheerfully as he leaves.
Now, remember that drama with the stranger who Kirsten stabbed at the end of episode 2? Well, Alex finds a letter on the floor while doing cartwheels, telling them to “beware of the mysterious Prophet” and his alleged army of children.
Alex soon takes this to Kirsten, who realizes this is the same man from camp. It also some semblance to her Station Eleven comics too. Now, given there’s only one copy she realizes this links back to Pingtree. How? Well, it turns out the only copy is actually in Gil’s office.
That evening, there’s an interesting little chat with Sarah as Kirsten plays cards with her. The former questions Kirsten’s performance and her haunted look during the evening. “Something had you for a second,” She says curiously, as we see flashes to the night’s events including that stranger.
In reply, Kirsten deflects and brings up the topic of Pingtree and Gil. Kirsten also reveals that Katrina is dead, which is enough for Sarah to split the troupe in half – with half of them heading on up to Pingtree.
More flashbacks head back to the frozen tundra, and specifically to Jeevan and Kirsten out at a cabin during year one. This puts more context to the freezing tundra we saw during the opening of the show. I’m guessing that’s year one of the viral outbreak rather than the first year at the cabin but we’ll have to wait and see.
There’s a nicely poetic statement here that feels relevant for our main story though, with specific reference to the line Kirsten utters: “To the monsters, we’re the monsters.”
In the present, Kirsten reflects on her time playing vulnerable as they all scout out Pingtree from afar. Despite signs confirming it’s a minefield, they all head down to the golf course and notice Gil approaching on a golf-cart. They signal for the group to stop moving as Gil confirms that they’re right in the middle of the minefield.
Why? Well, it turns out the Prophet and his cult actually showed up last fall, taking everything and stealing their children. When Alex rushes down to see them, she gets lucky and manages to dodge every single mine. Gil decides they need to see the Traveling Symphony to bring back the positive vibes. Now, the next scene we cut to is inside Gil’s house.
I’m guessing in that time they all managed to avoid the mines but we don’t actually see that and are left to assume they did.
At dinner, Kirsten listens as Gil tells the story of how the Prophet arrived and, like the pied piper, managed to entrance the kids to follow him along with the venomous words of his beliefs. He told them a ghost story of some description and this appears to have been enough to convince them to join up.
Kirsten’s real reason for being here is obviously to get the Station Eleven comic, which she finds wrapped up in Gil’s office. She’s caught red-handed going through his things, but she lies and claims she’s admiring his large book on the desk. He doesn’t really notice (or doesn’t care, it’s hard to tell!) with the comic behind her back but on her way out, Kirsten tries to convince him to return to the Symphony. Gil smiles and politely declines her offer.
That afternoon, the Traveling Symphony’s play goes ahead again in front of Gil and the other professors. Alex is absolutely buzzing after putting on a brilliant performance and calls out the Traveling Symphony’s rules and regulations.
Interestingly, Kirsten sees a lot of her younger self in Alex, who’s naive and not as battle-hardened as her. There’s some really nice overlapping flashbacks here, as Kirsten’s words echo that of Javeen’s from their time up at the cabin. In the heat of this argument, the truth is finally revealed, as Kirsten admits that she “took care” of the Prophet that night, hence why he never actually met Alex that night.
Alex makes a bold decision and yet again gets incredibly lucky. She grabs a horse and rides off into the woods, away from the Traveling Symphony. Unfortunately, The Prophet actually foretold this would happen, as one of the kids shows up with a mine strapped to her chest. Kirsten chases her downstairs while Gil turns and sees Penelope in her room. She too has a mine strapped to her chest.
It’s a shocking and tense moment, as Kirsten scrambles down the stairs to grab the child but typified beautifully by Sarah playing the piano outside. As the music crescendos, both kids approach Gil and hug him, setting off the mines.
The Episode Review
Station Eleven returns with another slow-paced but no less artistic episode, diving into the ideas and concepts pedaled by the Traveling Symphony. There’s a really nice ebb and flow to this episode, with more consistent flashbacks and a deeper theme around the Symphony’s desire to spread joy through their plays.
The role reversal with Alex and Kirsten – the former stepping up as the lead and Kirsten taking a backseat – is a nice way of juxtaposing the past. The flashbacks involving Jeevan and how they echo this relationship is easily the strongest part of this episode.
There are a few contrivances here (unless I missed something) and that comes from the minefield. Now, we hear that the mines are still in place and scattered around the place. Alex got lucky both times leading in and out of the golf course… but how did everyone else survive? Not a single person stepped on a mine but yet that all managed to get through?
One could argue of course that the kids had mines strapped to them, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they dug them all up, but we only saw two and I’m assuming way more than that were put down by Gil and his team. It sounds like a nitpick but given the emphasis placed on this specific point across the episode, it does stand out.
However, the ending is absolutely shocking and it definitely injects some much needed tension into this chapter. Although it would have been nice to actually tease the arrival of those kids a little bit more and really ramp up the tension, that’s definitely a minor point in what’s otherwise a solid chapter.