Station Eleven Can Be A Devastating Watch, But Danielle Deadwyler Makes It Worth It

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  • Danielle Deadwyler
    American actress and writer

Welcome to “What’s Good,” a column where we break down what’s soothing, distracting, or just plain good in the streaming world with a “rooting for everybody Black” energy.

This story includes spoilers for Station Eleven episodes 1-3, coming to UK screens on STARZPLAY via Amazon Prime on January 30th.

What’s Good? Danielle Deadwyler as the brooding, guarded, passionate yet subdued, tortured artist and judiciously rational logistics expert Miranda Carroll in Station Eleven. Her character contains multitudes, but it’s Deadwyler’s physicality and precision as a performer that elevates Miranda’s contradicting personality traits from simple quirks to a fascinating dissection of human complexity.

Who It’s Good For: Listen, off the jump, I have to acknowledge that Station Eleven is not for everyone. The slow-burning HBO Max series about a flu-like plague that rips through the world leaving the earth decimated and its inhabitants almost nonexistent may be too real for some. But for me, and the legions of fans obsessed with this show (based on Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel), Station Eleven’s factual parallels may be scary, but they’re also too good to ignore. There’s something cathartic about watching fictional people cope with a terrifying deadly virus that disrupts their rudimentary lives — especially in a world more f*cked up than this one. It’s why people slow down on the highway to see a car crash, or revel in trash reality TV, or why streams of Contagion skyrocketed at the beginning of the pandemic (are we okay? The answer is no). We’re drawn to chaos and in this case, we get to watch the wreck, but also the aftermath, the survival, and the perseverance of humanity, even through tremendous grief.

Deadwyler is so intoxicating to watch in this role, that at times it feels like she’s in a whole different show — one that’s just hers, that doesn’t require you to pay attention to anyone else, just Deadwyler ripping your heart out with every syllable.

In Station Eleven, the catharsis comes through a little girl (Matilda Lawler as young Kirsten) finding solace in a worn-down copy of a rare graphic novel (the titular Station Eleven) and through the novel’s creator herself, Miranda. Art as a vessel to predict, prevent, or just pour out grief is not a new concept. We’ve been self-medicating through art for centuries. In this case, we watch Miranda create quietly, never wanting anyone to see her book let alone obsess over it decades later. Her goal isn’t the glory, it’s doing the work. And even though her creation costs her everything, including the love of her life, an actor named Arthur (played by the perpetually handsome Gael García Bernal), who drops dead during a performance of King Lear on Day 1 of the pandemic before she gets the chance to reconnect with him, but after she gives him a copy of Station Eleven, she leaves, refusing a dinner invite. Arthur and Miranda never see each other again. This gutting storyline not only made me weep, but it separates Station Eleven from the other apocalyptic stories that oversaturate the genre. It’s about love and loss as they all are, but Miranda is such a fascinating character, and Deadwyler is so intoxicating to watch in this role, that at times it feels like she’s in a whole different show — one that’s just hers, that doesn’t require you to pay attention to anyone else, just Deadwyler ripping your heart out with every syllable. She’s not stealing scenes. She is the scene. You’ll like Station Eleven if you’re drawn to disaster dramas but you’re also going to love it if you just want to watch one of the most compelling characters on television played by an actress giving a performance of a lifetime.

How Good Is She? The scene that should be Danielle Deadwyler’s Emmy submission happens in episode 3, titled “Hurricane.” The whole episode hinges on a refrain Arthur repeats, that Miranda then uses in her graphic novel: “I don’t want to live the wrong life and then die.” Arthur says this to Miranda after a fight about their conflicting careers. Shots fired. They’re married now and he’s allegedly having an affair with his co-star Elizabeth (Caitlin FitzGerald), according to tabloids Miranda doesn’t read. Elizabeth calls him “Art” (red flag: when some woman gives your man an affectionate nickname, proceed with caution), and, at a very tense dinner party one night, Arthur reveals that he showed Elizabeth Miranda’s unfinished work. Until then, Miranda has made it very clear that her art isn’t for public consumption. She’s the opposite of Arthur in that way; his work is for show, for applause or box office success. Hers is for herself. This revelation awakens something in Miranda. She stands to give a toast, red wine in hand, and performs a monologue from one of Arthur’s shitty movies and dumps the glass all over the table before fleeing. It’s a dramatic outburst from a scorned woman. We’ve seen plenty of those on TV. But Deadwyler’s delivery isn’t hysterical, even though that would be warranted. It isn’t even overtly angry, which would also be justified. It’s a deliberate concoction of hurt, disappointment, disapproval and resignation. Their marriage is over. Imitating Arthur’s inane work back to him is just twisting the knife. It’s a “f*ck you” for ruining the value of her own art by doing a show-and-tell with his alleged mistress.

Even if we’ve tried to go on with our lives, the pain [of the pandemic] is just waiting to pour out of us. Watching Miranda gave me permission to let it out.

It doesn’t matter if Arthur actually cheated on her. The act of showing someone else her work is enough of a betrayal to cause Miranda to leave him — right after she sets the pool house (her studio) on fire. She doesn’t want to live someone else’s life and then die. But when she leaves Arthur, she rewrites her novel and continues to reluctantly love her ex-husband. And after learning of his death, Miranda is devastated. She learns of his passing while she’s at a conference the same time the pandemic starts. The world is already ending and no one knows what to do. So her conference keeps going and she’s got a presentation to give. Through tears, Miranda tells a room full of men in suits, “The man I love died last night and I went to work.” She repeats this line incredulously. There’s a whole dissertation to be had solely on this line and how it encapsulates the way we’ve all been working through grief and heartbreak this pandemic and how capitalism has robbed us of our abilities to sit in our devastation, but that’s another essay. For now, I’ll just say that Deadwyler does an incredible job of letting these emotions sit right below the surface until they spill over in this scene and once again, she makes you cry with every mannerism. Through Miranda, we’re able to grieve what these characters are going through, but also help process the mess we’ve been in for two damn years. Even if we’ve tried to go on with our lives, the pain is just waiting to pour out of us. Watching Miranda gave me permission to let it out.

Station Eleven alone is a showcase of Deadwyler’s immense talent but when you factor in that her last major role was as Cuffy in The Harder They Fall, it’s thrilling to acknowledge her range and impact in two ensemble projects. The Harder They Fall is stacked with powerhouse actors and yet, it’s Deadwyler’s androgynous gun-slinging loyal sidekick who commands the screen in every scene. Between these two roles, Deadwyler has emerged as one of the most exciting talents in the game. It’s not easy to stand out in an ensemble cast, especially as a Black actress, but Deadwyler continues to.

Deadwyler has emerged as one of the most exciting talents in the game. It’s not easy to stand out in an ensemble cast, especially as a Black actress, but Deadwyler continues to.

In Station Eleven, Mackenzie Davis is great as a grown up Kirsten, a child actor turned star of a traveling Shakespearean troupe made up of survivors post-apocalypse, and Himesh Patel is perfect as Jeevan, her unexpected guardian throughout the early days of the pandemic (also shout out to his little brother Frank played delicately by Nabhaan Rizwan), but it’s Deadwyler’s Miranda that will leave you thinking about her every word long after you’ve seen her deliver them.

At its core, Station Eleven is about art and grief. Deadwyler’s performance as Miranda is why awards shows exist. At least, it’s why they should exist. But just like Miranda doesn’t need accolades or praise to do exceptional work, Deadwyler doesn’t need anyone to tell her how good she is in this role. The proof is right there on the screen and it’s a privilege just to see her shine.

What Else Is Good?

• Speaking of, we didn’t really need the Golden Globes to tell us this but Michaela Jae Rodriguez is exceptionally good in Pose, and she was for three damn seasons, even without the Globes’ recognition.
Lisa Bonet and Jason Momoa were very good together, and while I’m sad to see them break up (please respect my privacy during this difficult time), I am also very excited to see who both of them end up with next.
Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary. That’s it. That’s what’s good.

January 30th on STARZPLAY via Amazon Prime

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