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Home » On My Screen » Finding Hope in the Darkness: The Hopepunk Brilliance of Station Eleven

Finding Hope in the Darkness: The Hopepunk Brilliance of Station Eleven

I was predisposed to love the Station Eleven limited series because the Emily St. John Mandel novel of the same name is Lottie’s favorite book, and we would get to watch the first several episodes together while she was home for winter break (after leaving our home in Austin to make a new one for herself in New York earlier that year). 

But the show blew my mind way more than I expected, with a post-apocalyptic drama that stands as a sterling example of hopepunk storytelling.

The TV landscape is often dominated by bleak, nihilistic visions of the future. This series dared to strike a different chord. Station Eleven offers a narrative that, while unflinching in its portrayal of the challenges and horrors of a world ravaged by a pandemic, never lost sight of humanity’s resilience, the power of art to heal and transform, and the importance of community in the face of adversity.

For writers and storytellers, particularly those drawn to the hopepunk subgenre, Station Eleven is compelling television, and an exquisite example of a story that deftly balances darkness and light to find moments of beauty and connection amid our ruins.

Defining Hopepunk

Hopepunk arose as a response to the prevalence of grimdark and dystopian narratives, particularly in the sci-fi and fantasy realms. Where grimdark stories often wallow in the bleakness and brutality of their worlds, reveling in anti-heroes and moral ambiguity, hopepunk acknowledges the darkness, challenges, and inherent struggles in any story world, but without stopping there.

Hopepunk stories seek light from within the shadows. Moments of kindness, compassion, and resilience that affirm the best of what makes us human.

The hopepunk genre is about the power of optimism, empathy, and community. Featuring characters who don’t surrender to cynicism or despair in the face of adversity, because they choose to fight for a better world instead, by building connections, forging alliances, and working to create something meaningful and enduring despite overwhelming odds.

Hopepunk stories are not naive or blindly optimistic, nor do they ignore the harsh realities of their worlds or their characters’ flaws. Instead, they make a conscious choice to focus on moments of light, celebrate triumphs, and excavate hope in the most unexpected places.

Station Eleven never shies away from the brutality of our collapse, the devastating losses, or the struggle to survive in a post apocalyptic-world. But the series also shows us the resilience of the human spirit, the power of art and storytelling to offer us solace and meaning, and the importance of building and maintaining community amid unimaginable adversity.

The Collapse and Its Aftermath

The Georgia Flu that ravages the world of Station Eleven arrived onscreen as a chilling echo of our own recent pandemic. A swift and catastrophic collapse of civilization in the wake of this devastating virus is depicted with unsettling realism. The series exposes the fragile underbelly of our modern world as the institutions and systems we take for granted crumble like sand castles in the tide, leaving survivors to navigate a bleakly treacherous landscape.

The post-apocalyptic aftermath is brutal and desperate, from the ruthless violence of the Red Bandanas to the grim realities of scavenging for resources. Yet even in this harshest environments, glimmers of hope and humanity persist.

From the Traveling Symphony to the Severn City Airport, survivors find ways to come together, creating bonds and alliances in a world where the old rules no longer apply. Communities born of necessity and shared trauma become the foundation for a new kind of society — one valuing cooperation, creativity, and the preservation of what matters most.

The Traveling Symphony

This troupe of actors and musicians who roam the end of the world to perform Shakespeare and classical music for scattered communities of survivors exemplifies the hopepunk ethos. More than craved entertainment, the Symphony represents a vital link to the past, a means of preserving the art and culture that define us as a species.

If survival is a daily struggle, then storytelling and performance are more important than ever, according to the show. The Symphony’s performances provide a respite from the bleak reality of post-apocalyptic life, reminding the characters that beauty and meaning can still be found in the world.

For members of the troupe, the act of performing is a way of affirming their own resilience and adaptability in the face of unimaginable adversity. The Symphony’s commitment to their art, and the idea that something as seemingly frivolous as theater still matters in a world on its knees, become a symbol of hope throughout the series.

Character Arcs and Resilience

Station Eleven has rich and nuanced character development. Through the use of interwoven narratives of characters like Kirsten, Jeevan, and others, the series explores the myriad ways in which individuals adapt, grow, and find resilience in the face of Earth-shattering upheaval.

Kirsten’s journey is especially compelling, tracing her path from young actress to hardened survivor and member of the Symphony. Through her eyes, we see the transformative power of art and storytelling, along with the ways in which her childhood experiences and connection to the Station Eleven graphic novel shape her identity and sense of purpose post-apocalypse.

Jeevan’s arc is equally powerful, showing his transformation from aimless and self-centered bystander to compassionate healer and leader, his story underscoring the idea that crisis and adversity can surface the best in people, and even the unlikeliest of heroes can rise to the occasion when the situation demands it.

From Clark’s leadership at the Severn City Airport to Miranda’s quiet strength and creativity, these individuals embody the hopepunk ideal: that even in the bleakest of circumstances, we have the power to adapt, find meaning, and forge ahead.

The Importance of Art and Connection

Station Eleven is a love letter to the power of art and human connection. The Station Eleven comic, created by Miranda and treasured by Kirsten, symbolizes the enduring impact of storytelling.

Art serves as a means of preserving humanity and fostering empathy throughout the series. From the Symphony’s performances to the music and stories shared around the campfires, creative acts become a way of affirming the bonds between survivors, maintaining a connection to their past and each other.

The power of human connection finds new significance in a fragmented and hostile world. Station Eleven shows us the importance of building and nurturing relationships, of finding commonality and understanding even with those who seem vastly different from ourselves. It’s through these connections — Kirsten’s bond with Jeevan; Clark’s unlikely friendship with Elizabeth; the found family of the Traveling Symphony — that hope and resilience can root and flourish.

Lessons for Hopepunk Storytelling

For writers and creators looking to explore the subgenre, Station Eleven offers a wealth of lessons and inspiration, like the importance of balancing darkness and light in post-apocalyptic narratives. Though the grim dangers of its world are clear and present, the series consistently unearths moments of beauty, humor, and hope amid the ruins.

Station Eleven’s protagonists evolve and adapt in response to their circumstances, instead of being static figures. By focusing on their inner lives, struggles, and triumphs, the series creates a powerful emotional connection with its audience.

Showing the ways in which survivors come together, support each other, and strive for a better future makes Station Eleven a roadmap for narratives that inspire and uplift, even in the darkest of settings.

Notable lines of dialogue:

“Survival is insufficient.”

Kirsten

“First, we only want to kill you a little bit. Second, you don’t sound very afraid. Third, give us the girl and the dog or you’re fucking dead.”

The Conductor

“To the monsters, we’re the monsters.”

Kirsten

“If you are the light, if your enemies are darkness, then there’s nothing that you cannot justify. There’s nothing you can’t survive, because there’s nothing that you will not do.”

Elizabeth

“Civilization is a story we tell ourselves about what we used to be, where we came from, and what happened next. We have a duty to tell the truth about ourselves, ugly as it sometimes may be.”

Gil

“There is no before.”

Tyler

“When it’s your whole world, you’re never ready for the end of it.”

Young Kirsten

There’s a story famous in my publishing studio about my co-author Dave wanting to end our Z2134 zombie trilogy in the grimmest way possible. It was one of the few occasions where I refused his take outright, insisting that every Sterling & Stone story needed a “daisy in the sidewalk,” regardless of how bleak or frightening that world might be.

In a world that often seems shrouded in darkness that we should understand more than shy away from, Station Eleven offers a radiant daisy in the sidewalk.