Home Feature news How HBO Max's 'Station Eleven' is different from the book

How HBO Max’s ‘Station Eleven’ is different from the book

HBO Max’s beautiful new miniseries, Station Eleven is a solid adaptation of the novel by Emily St. John Mandel. While it makes some big changes, it remains faithful to the spirit of the book, which is an important aspect of any adaptation.

Station Eleven moves back and forth in time, following characters like Kirsten Raymonde (Mackenzie Davis) and Jeevan Chaudhary (Himesh Patel) as they struggle to live through an apocalyptic flu. When she grows up, Kirsten joins the Traveling Symphony, a troupe of performers whose way of life is threatened by a dangerous prophet. Other storylines include the creation of both a Museum of Civilization and a comic book titled “Station Eleven.” There are a lot of characters and stories to juggle, and Station Eleven does its best to bring them all to life in a way that stays true to Mandel’s work and makes good television.

Here are the biggest changes Station Eleven has made so far. The following contains massive spoilers for the novel and the show, so consider yourselves warned.

Jeevan and Kirsten

Just a casual pre-apocalypse grocery store run.
Credit: Parrish Lewis/HBO Max

With its first episode, “Wheel of Fire,” Station Eleven deviates from Mandel’s novel in a big way. In the book, Jeevan helps Kirsten find her guardian in the wake of Arthur Leander’s heart attack. That is the extent of their interaction. In the show, Jeevan offers to help young Kirsten (Matilda Lawler) get home after a performance of King Lear. As the episode progresses, a deadly flu rips through Chicago. (The location is another change from the book, much of which takes place in Toronto.) Realizing he needs to take shelter with his brother Frank (Nabhaan Rizwan), Jeevan brings Kirsten with him. And the three of them prepare to ride out the flu together

This change opens up an entirely new relationship for the show to explore and the opportunity to examine elements of these characters that Mandel didn’t touch on. Kirsten’s time before joining the Traveling Symphony is left vague in the novel (She was so young that she doesn’t remember the early days of the pandemic.) In tying her story in with Jeevan’s, Station Eleven promises we’ll see more of how she was forced to grow up during the apocalypse. It also suggests we’ll see how Jeevan and Frank deal with the responsibility of caring for her.

Aside from this merging of two storylines, the first episode tweaks Jeevan’s character slightly. In the novel Jeevan is training to be a paramedic, so he attempts CPR on actor Arthur Leander (Gael García Bernal). The show makes no mention of this fact or of his time as a paparazzo. Instead, he briefly alludes to working as a reporter or “cultural critic” before admitting he doesn’t have a job, suggesting that Station Eleven may be approaching his backstory differently than the novel.

St. Deborah-by-the-Water

Book readers will recognize St. Deborah-by-the-Water as one of the stops the Traveling Symphony makes on its journey. They visit the settlement early on in the novel to perform and reunite with two former troupe members, Charlie and Jeremy, who stayed there while the former was pregnant. When the troupe returns, the couple has fled because of the sinister Prophet who has taken up residence in St. Deborah-by-the-Water. The show introduces Charlie and Jeremy as they make the decision to stay behind. Their departure has a strong impact on Kirsten, who worries about people leaving her. Considering the timeline, it’s unlikely that the show will cover Charlie and Jeremy’s flight from St. Deborah-by-the-Water, especially since the Prophet hasn’t appeared yet. Or has he…

A mysterious stranger

Kirsten and Alexandra (Philippine Velge) meet a strange traveler named David (Daniel Zovatto) and his ward Cody (Luca Villacis). He hits the Traveling Symphony with a sob story, but Kirsten isn’t buying it. She picks up on inconsistencies in his accounts, rightfully points out that he’s creepy, then stabs him and leaves him for dead.

Despite Kirsten’s best efforts, David lives to be creepy another day. Station Eleven doesn’t confirm whether he’s the show’s version of the Prophet. But based on his strange ruminations about Day Zero pain and his threats to make the Traveling Symphony disappear one by one, it’s a big possibility.

Miranda and Arthur

A woman in a blue dress holds up a glass to make a toast.

Miranda gives a harsh toast.
Credit: Warrick Page/HBO Max

Miranda Carroll (Danielle Deadwyler) plays a big role in Station Eleven, given that she creates the comic from which the show and novel take their name. As well as being an artist, she is Arthur’s first wife. Their meeting in the show differs greatly from their meeting in the books. However, their marriage follows many of the same beats, including Miranda’s realization that Arthur is having an affair with co-star Elizabeth (Caitlin Fitzgerald) and the divorce it spurs. 

In the novel, Miranda and Arthur both come from Delano Island, Ontario. They connect years after they’d each left the island, when Arthur is an established actor. Miranda leaves an abusive relationship to be with him, all while continuing to work on her comic book about Dr. Eleven. The show gives them a restaurant meet-cute, where Arthur asks Miranda questions about her art. 

Even though the events leading up to their marriage differ between the books and the show, both versions of Miranda and Arthur share a similar dynamic. You can immediately understand how protective Miranda is of Station Eleven, a sentiment that remains throughout their marriage and culminates in Miranda’s rage when Arthur shows Elizabeth her drawings.

Miranda in Malaysia

Station Eleven expands on Miranda’s pandemic experience in its third episode, “Hurricane.” In both versions, Miranda is in Malaysia when the pandemic hits. In the show, she attempts to escape from Malaysia on a tanker but stops when she learns of Arthur’s death. She remains stuck in her hotel with her pitch partner Jim (Tim Simons), whose attempts to remain casual about the situation mask his true horror. The results of this change are harrowing, giving us a clearer picture of hopelessness in the face of an unstoppable illness.

The Prophet

Station Eleven‘s fourth episode confirms that David, who we met in episode 2, is the show’s version of the Prophet. There are a few key differences between book-Prophet and show-Prophet, though. In the book, the Prophet has already taken up residence in St. Deborah-by-the-Water, where he convinces the survivors of the pandemic that they’re special. He also takes child brides, cementing his status as a monster. He even requests to marry Alex from the Traveling Symphony.

The show’s Prophet also tries to take Alex away, only this time with discussions about how people born after the pandemic — post-pans — are special and free from trauma. It’s essentially the opposite of his philosophy from the book. Show-Prophet’s cult is made entirely of the children he’s lured from their homes, and he gets points for not being gross and marrying them. However, he loses all those points by using the children as his personal army, resulting in many of their deaths.

Going to Pingtree

When Kirsten recognizes the Prophet’s philosophy as being similar to that of Station Eleven, she gets the Conductor (Lori Petty) to bring the Symphony’s actors to the settlement of Pingtree, where she left her copy. Everything that happens at Pingtree, from meeting Gil (David Cross) to the Hamlet performance, is a show-only occurrence. Station Eleven takes this new sequence as an opportunity to explore Kirsten’s worries about abandonment via her conversations with Alex. It also emphasizes the importance of art and theater brings people in these dark times.

New characters in Severn

A man speaks in front of a crowd.

How to survive the apocalypse in an airport 101
Credit: Ian Watson/HBO Max

Episode 5, “The Severn City Airport,” follows a group of survivors living in an airport through the early days of the pandemic. Among them are Arthur’s friend Clark (David Wilmot) and second wife Elizabeth, as well as Arthur and Elizabeth’s son Tyler (Julian Alberto Garcia). The episode adds some new characters to this storyline, including airport employee Miles (Milton Barnes), whose engineering skills become necessary for keeping the airport community afloat. Another addition is a custodian posing as a homeland security agent in order to gain authority over other survivors. These two new characters are effective ways of showing how people react differently to the apocalypse, either helping people or taking advantage of them.

The trouble with Tyler

The Severn episode reveals that David the Prophet is actually Tyler, Arthur Leander’s son. In the book, Tyler becomes convinced that the pandemic happened for a reason, and he and Elizabeth leave the airport and begin assembling a following. The show complicates things quite a bit, starting with a possibly infected passenger making it off a stranded plane. Tyler tries to help him, but the man gets shot, and Tyler and Elizabeth end up in quarantine. His limited trust of people quickly devolves, until he fakes his death by setting fire to the stranded plane and pretending he’s inside it.

This new departure drastically changes the course of Tyler’s story. He’s headed out into the world to survive alone, convinced that his own mother doesn’t care about him. These thoughts emphasize his connection to the comic Station Eleven, which he uses as a prophecy in the present.

We’ll update this post as more episodes of Station Eleven stream on HBO Max and potentially deviate further from Mandel’s novel.

Station Eleven is now streaming on HBO Max, with new episodes every week.

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