The memories we suppress aren’t only the bad ones. When the world is bad enough, the good memories are open wounds. “Goodbye My Damaged Home” is the most emotionally stirring and visually evocative episode of Station Eleven so far, which is saying something for a series that boldly eliminated 99 percent of the world’s population in its season premiere. Kirsten is under the spell of a Red Bandana’s poison dart, trapped in a liminal space populated by whatever her subconscious releases back to her. It’s not unlike what happened when she played Hamlet at St. Deborah by the Water, haunted mid-performance by unbidden memories of Jeevan. This episode consists of discontinuous flashes and pockets of incomplete story that together make a rending portrait of the peculiar two-month period Kirsten spent with the Chaudhary brothers. Outside the walls of Frank’s apartment, the world has ended. Inside, it will have to end once more.
At the outset of “Goodbye My Damaged Home,” adult Kirsten lies among a pinwheel of dead Bandanas on the forest floor. Young Kirsten arrives to pillage the bodies still dressed as she was when Jeevan walked her home in her professional uniform of stiff silk from King Lear, topped with a kid’s colorful ski jacket. Look twice and adult Kirsten is wearing the same thing. “You found me again,” adult Kirsten tells young Kirsten, recalling Dr. Eleven’s vow. Young Kirsten runs into the snowy woods with a vial of the poison’s antidote, compelling the adult version of herself to play a heady round of tag. It’s hard to say who or what’s in charge of which rabbit holes they slip down together. The episode poses an ambitious question: What damage do grown-ups create when they force themselves to forget what they knew as children? And it’s game enough to attempt an answer. Chronological time is ticked off by the inky liquid snaking up the veins of adult Kirsten’s arm from the point where the darts pierced her wrist. Meanwhile, she walks around her past like another body in the room, just as Scrooge walks through his Christmases.
We immediately learn that from the beginning, Jeevan’s impulse was to treat Kirsten as a partner. When the power finally goes out in Chicago, he calmly explains that the next few weeks are all they’ll know of peace. When the spring comes and the snow thaws and survivors run out of food, they’ll fight each other for what’s left. Maybe they’ll fight each other just because there’s nothing left. They have some time to prepare, which means they also have some time inside these last gasps of relative safety. With the city blanketed in pitch black and frost crowding the corners of Frank’s window walls, Frank, Jeevan, and Kirsten could be stranded on a space station, observing the dead Earth from Dr. Eleven’s remote vantage.
We also see scenes from previous episodes, like Kirsten and Jeevan’s arrival at Frank’s, played from alternate perspectives. From the far side of the door, Frank seemed like a misanthrope who maybe didn’t like his brother very much. But in some corner of Kristen’s psyche, she understands his brusqueness. When they showed up, Frank was depressed and addicted to heroin, an award-winning journalist relegated to ghostwriting autobiographies for the rich and talentless. “We’re adults,” he tells Jeevan soon after. “We pretend we’re not scared.” But only if there’s an audience to pretend for. Kirsten gave the Chaudhary brothers purpose at the advent of the apocalypse, something worth doing when doing almost anything seemed pointless.
Despite knowing that it will end tragically, watching this mismatched trio find its rhythm works in the key of a touching family drama. In some other world, the brothers could make headlines for adopting this “little white girl” into their home and hearts. Even after young Kirsten offers adult Kirsten her vial of the antidote, adult Kirsten can’t stop watching. She lets the poison progress up her arm. She lets it take her to the dark, surprising places she doesn’t allow herself to visit when she’s awake.
The warm memories are the most brutal. Young Kirsten and Frank reading Station Eleven together on the floor of the closet she keeps for a bedroom. “You leave one day too late,” adult Kirsten warns her younger self, but she can’t change the past. She can’t even bear to tell her younger self what terrible event awaits. As more institutions fail — healthcare, media, the Internet — they don thicker layers against the cold. On the only Christmas they’ll ever share, young Kirsten sings The First Noel — “On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.” Her voice bells with clarity, the first nice thing that’s happened since before Siya called to warn her brothers about the plague.
Frank and Kirsten have a special connection — perhaps rooted in their shared drive to create. She tells him about her unborn brother. He tells her about the accident that left him limping with a cane. He was on assignment in Sri Lanka with Vanity Fair when he stepped on a landmine. Jeevan flew to be with him. Siya told him to, just like she told him to go to Frank in episode one. Kirsten needed adults, but maybe these brothers needed her, too; they’d always been a trio. Their days are spent on individual projects. Precocious Kirsten is writing a play. Jeevan is the survivalist, tending to the fire they keep in the spare room, scavenging nearby apartments for supplies. Frank is still toiling on his soul-crushing ghostwrite, but he’s distracted enough to hear the beat for A Tribe Called Quest’s “Excursion” in his recordings. They have dance parties as he raps over tracks cobbled together from the errant laughs and sighs of his interview subjects.
It’s no one’s fault that Shangri-la can’t last. As supplies whittle and temperatures plunge, little arguments erupt, especially over the plan to leave the apartment on day 60. Jeevan starts talking to himself like he’s talking to Siya. He wants to leave sooner, but Frank isn’t finished with his book and Kirsten wants to stage her play. More crucially, Frank and Kirsten aren’t done being their old selves. They’re not ready to live for survival alone.
What a person remembers can be wildly idiosyncratic. Adult Kirsten recalls telling Jeevan that if she knew the flu was coming, she would have said good-bye to Arthur. “Say bye now” is Jeevan’s flippant response, but isn’t making posthumous good-byes exactly what the kids stranded at Severn City airport found so healing? The episode brims with such echoes and coincidences, some powerful, some designed to convey the simple notion that our lives are invisibly, impossibly connected. Kirsten names a stray cat Luli, just like she’ll later name her horse. (A name with additional significance for book people.) Frank’s neighbor across the hall was Sarah, the next and last adult to offer Kirsten a home. Landmines. Time recursions. Home. Damage and jobs. It’s the plot of Station Eleven really. Every episode is Station Eleven.
Frank reads Miranda’s book, too. He loves it and tells Kirsten he relates to every character, an intriguing admission now that we know Kirsten believes at least some of the characters — Dr. Eleven and the leader of the Undersea — to be the same person. The play she’s been working on is Captain Lonergan’s death scene. Only the death scene. She’s been writing for over a month. She’s built elaborate costumes from what she finds discarded, just like she’ll do for the rest of her life. It occurs to me that the Travelling Symphony are the only adults in the post-pan world who retain anything of childhood. They play. Without a props department, they turn golf gloves into body armor the way kids fashion caterpillars from pipe cleaners.
If real time in year 20 is notched on Kirsten’s necrotic arm, the episode’s internal timeline is pegged to the day of Kirsten’s play. She casts Jeevan as Dr. Eleven; Frank is Lonergan. “This strange and awful time was the happiest of my life,” Frank says as the captain, borrowing Miranda’s poignance. He stares deeply into Jeevan as he delivers his monologue: “You’re the only friend I ever had.” Captain Longergan dies by the knife of the rebel leader of the Undersea, played by Kirsten, a red ribbon unspooling theatrically from his pretend wound. They’re still doing the play — one day too late — when a stranger enters. He wants to take possession of Frank’s apartment — the one they’re about to leave — but Frank won’t let him. “It’s my home,” he says, the lyrical language of Dr. Eleven so nearby I hear it in almost everything. The stranger stabs Frank to death, and Jeevan kills the stranger. Frank dies in Lonergan’s costume, but he’s Eleven, too. I found it again. My home. Maybe everyone is each other.
Adult Kirsten cries as she watches what she didn’t see as a kid locked in a closet a hallway away from the danger. Maybe she still doesn’t know that Frank never intended to leave that apartment. By his estimation, Jeevan can’t keep both Kirsten and Frank alive out there; Jeevan disagrees, but, even in Kirsten’s memory, the Chaudhary brothers argue about it outside of English. Then again, Kirsten doesn’t speak Spanish, like Miranda didn’t, like Tyler doesn’t. Maybe there’s an understanding that exists beyond language. Even if Jeevan and Kirsten left one day sooner, Frank would have likely died; if they didn’t do her play, they’d have shared one less day together.
As she and Jeevan leave the apartment, Kirsten wraps the knife that killed Frank and takes it with her. They both cry. This is their world ending again. They made a new world out of almost nothing: six carts of groceries, four cold rooms, and some mutual instinct to care for each other. Now, they’ll have to do it again. Again. That’s another word that feels like it comes from deep inside Dr. Eleven’s mouth. In the book, Eleven and the Undersea leader journey together for a time, maybe even as the same person on different time loops. Young Kirsten begs the adult version of herself to come with them across Lake Michigan, but instead she stays behind to say a posthumous good-bye to Frank and the home she found again. Again. The deeper we get into the series, the more literal Station Eleven rings. This ode to longing gave a small set of people a framework to find meaning at civilization’s frayed edge.
Jeevan and Kirsten head east, the direction Frank liked to face in the mornings when the sun rose prismatic over the water. From this point forward, the direction of his grandfather’s broken compass will control their fates.