“He is a destroyer.” Difficult to speak of a child. But “The Severn City Airport,” the fifth episode of Station eleven, it is a difficult hour of television.
Set in the titular fictional airport during the collapse of global civilization, this episode is somehow an illustration of how the foci of that civilization manage to reform and rebuild. In this case, you need a leader with the gift of the word, a corporate consultant who refers to himself as “a CEO Whisperer,” none other than Clark, Arthur Leander’s friend and rival whom we met a few episodes ago.
It also requires the power of celebrity in the form of Elizabeth, Arthur’s semi-estranged wife, who like Clark was flying to Chicago to handle the arrangements related to Arthur’s death when the shit hit the fan. (His son, Tyler, is the destroyer in question.)
The third member of the triumvirate around which the airport’s microcosm is formed is Miles (Milton Barnes), an airport security guard who leaves his job within hours of the flu taking down the world, but maintains an air of officiality. and authority to which survivors respond. . Why shouldn’t they? In one of the main plots of the episode, a janitor posing as a Homeland Security officer lures an entire women’s soccer team to accompany him on a flight to Miami. Lots of people want “Back the Blue,” as the fascist slogan on the stickers goes.
In other ways, the community that emerges at the airport after humanity’s destruction by the flu pandemic serves as a bitter parody of everything that came before. Deference to authority, any authority; instinctive hostility towards outsiders, seen as filthy vectors of disease; even a fatal police shooting, treated as the case of an honorable man (Miles) doing the right thing (killing the sole survivor of a plane full of flu victims) at considerable cost to his own mental well-being. (The mental well-being of the shooting victim doesn’t really matter, since he’s dead.)
Too? Clark briefly plays with creating a museum of artifacts from our fallen civilization; yes, consecrate a Nintendo Switch. Also also, and potentially related? Enrico Colatoni, the actor who has played the ambassador to the Museum of Civilization who keeps asking the Itinerant Symphony to pay a visit, appears here as Brian, the ridiculously hairy and accented agent of Elizabeth, who is no younger here. than him when he appears in the narrative 20 years later. No, I have no idea what that means.
But let’s go back to the murder of the obviously immune man reeling in that stranded plane full of flu victims, after a week and a half of what must have been hell in life. Her savior is Tyler, Elizabeth, and Arthur’s very abandoned child. He spends most of his time on the Internet, downloading as much Wikipedia as he can. (There is a funny point where he plays with the idea of eliminating the entrance for capitalism; his mother says that people will just make it up again.) He is skeptical of Clark’s thoughtful notion that the earth should be repopulated.
Then Miles kills the man he guided from that plane, and Elizabeth runs to comfort him, and the angry crowd demands that mother and son be quarantined aboard a private plane in one of the airport hangars, for an entire month. Elizabeth copes with this experience relatively well, it must be said. Tyler is another story. He spends his time obsessively reading and rereading Station eleven, a copy of the one his mother gave him in the midst of an emotionally savage but ultimately lying story about how he spent years burning his father’s letters. (She tells Clark that Tyler could sense he was lying, that his father, in fact, made no effort to remain a part of his life.)
When Elizabeth and Tyler return from quarantine, he is very scarred by the experience. “Tyler processed the quarantine as a kind of personal humiliation,” Clark tells Elizabeth, precipitating a big fight in which she is called by one of the C-listers B-lister Arthur surrounded himself with, and she responds by saying how awful Clark must be. feel for not having a fraction of Arthur’s magnetism. All of this happens through a live mic, and Tyler is listening.
He’s also listening when Clark says “Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret’s routine in which she talks to Arthur about the danger Elizabeth and Tyler now pose to the community. Tyler tells Clark, whose horrified face says it all right now, that he is freeing them all, then burns the plane full of dead people, presumably with himself inside.
But as Elizabeth screams in fatherly agony, Tyler just walks away. And as you probably already guessed, he becomes the Prophet, preaching the nihilistic gospel of Doctor Eleven.
Written by Cord Jefferson and directed by Lucy Tcherniak, this is a dense and rich episode; Seriously, I’ve barely talked about the football team and haven’t even mentioned the nuns, or Clark rejecting Miles’s romantic advances because he’s mourning his dead partner, or Clark spending most of his time trashed with alcohol and MDMA that he found in the belongings of the fake Homeland Security agent. (And that magnificent beard of his!) It’s the kind of thing you point to when you want to say no, the New Golden Age of Television is not over, tremendously moving and clever work is still being done, coincidentally on one topic: pandemics —which now dominate every moment of our waking life. I’m glad it exists.