Station Eleven episodes either tend toward the character or the plot. Episode five — “The Severn City Airport” — was all character. We learned that the Prophet is Tyler, Arthur’s son whom he shared with Elizabeth. The episode nearly functioned like a self-contained origin story, tracing the boy’s arc from neglected son to outsider to evangelist. Episode six — “Survival Is Insufficient” — is a plot episode, and it picks up in the closing moments of episode four. In this timeline, Gil’s death is only a few minutes old. Distraught Alex is on the run, and Kirsten pursues her at a sprint across the minefield. Except it’s not a minefield anymore. The Prophet’s been digging up the mines for bootleg suicide vests, just like he seemingly did with Gil and Pingtree’s missing post-pans.
“Survival Is Insufficient” offers us a couple of ways to understand the intensity of Kirsten’s attachment to Alex, which resembles motherly devotion despite only a ten-year age difference. Kirsten is so blind with worry about Alex’s runner that she doesn’t even notice the shrapnel lodged in her arm. Alex going missing is Kirsten’s worst nightmare, and it’s one of her most dreaded memories. Back when she’d just joined the Travelling Symphony, Kirsten was so absorbed in reading Station Eleven that she allowed Baby Alex to toddle off. It was the event that finally compelled Kirsten to put the book away — a sacrificial model of motherhood sharply contrasted by Elizabeth. That Station Eleven, distorted by the Prophet, is somehow still what comes between Kirsten and Alex is as ironic as it is predictable. The book destroys what it touches.
And the Prophet is prepared to use it to create more ruin. He warned Kirsten that he would kill the Travelling Symphony, and now he’s constructed a harrowing monument to that threat: a graveyard with a headstone for every player. To underline his point, he sets fire to the fork in the Wheel where the musicians and actors part. Sayid, who genuinely appears to care for Kirsten despite his insistence on truncating her name to “Kirs,” tries to talk her off the ledge. The Prophet is not the first Jesus freak that the apocalypse unearthed (though he’s likely the first to employ child soldiers). Kirs needs to have more faith in Alex, he tells her, which is true. Just like she had to let Charlie stay behind at St. Deb’s to raise her baby, Kirsten needs to give Alex room to build her own life. She’s not toddling off this time; she’s breaking free.
Back at Pingree, there’s more to mourn than when the troupe first arrived. Gil is gone. Their missing children are dead, innocent pawns in the Prophet’s vendetta against Kirsten. The only good news is that Alex isn’t missing. She was thrown from her horse and returned to the country club shortly after leaving. Sarah didn’t realize immediately because she’s drinking away her feelings about Gil’s wasteful death. Even though she can barely stand up straight, she fires off the flares that recall the actors and musicians to the Wheel. Kirsten sees them but decides to prowl the forest for traces of the Prophet instead. This means the actors are entirely defenseless when the weirdo from the Museum of Civilization, who reminds me of Mr. Six from the “We Like to Party” Six Flags commercials, returns to extend an even more forceful invitation to the troupe. The force is a guy holding them at gunpoint.
Sarah is hobbled by the march to the airport. She’s retching and weakened. When the actors finally arrive, the musicians are quarantined on the tarmac because, after two decades of insularity, the people at Severn City don’t understand that the flu has burned itself out. Maybe it’s the exertion of the walk or the heartbreak of losing Gil again combined with the tremendous relief of seeing the symphony safe in one place, but Sarah has a heart attack before she can join the happy reunion. Dieter yells for help, but the scene is menacing. Sarah begins to make good-byes.
Somewhere in the forest, Kirsten’s been kidnapped, too. The Prophet’s feral disciples lure her to a field, then threaten to chloroform her unless she recites the prophecy like some kind of demented shibboleth. But she knows it better than they do, even after years spent separated from her copy. And they’ve never read it for themselves. Only Cody — the kid who posed as the Prophet’s son when they all first met — appears a little savvier. When they bring Kirsten back to the hollowed-out factory that serves as their home base, where the Prophet is holed up with his gnarly, infected stab wound, he implores her to bring the Prophet some kind of bathtub penicillin that “came down in a low-orbit drop.” The kids like it when real life appears to align with the prophecy, he tells her. Not everyone is a true believer.
Still, Cody’s devotion is real, and his request isn’t optional. Kirsten meets the Prophet, who tells her the tragedy at Pingtree wasn’t on his order. A renegade minion told the rest of the Lost Boys that mines erase the past. The Prophet created this post-pan army, and, according to him, he’s the only one who can control it. He also tells Kirsten that the Travelling Symphony is being held at the airport. “There’s real evil in the place,” he warns her, blind to the irony of a marauder who tempts impressionable youths from their families calling someone else “evil.” As it so happens, the Prophet wants to head there, too, to retrieve something that belongs to him. He suggests an uneasy alliance of convenience: He’ll help her get to the airport if she helps him get inside.
It’s hard to imagine that this doesn’t end in a violent confrontation, but, again, it’s not really a choice. For all the years he must have spent mostly alone, Tyler hasn’t lost his capacity for observation. He sniffed out Uncle Clark’s evil before it could hurt him. And he knows that when Kirsten tries to stab a man in the kidney, she doesn’t usually miss. From the audience of Hamlet, he could see the way the memory of Jeevan knocked her off her course. His young followers are always watching, but Tyler is more menacing. He really sees.
So Arthur’s son and Arthur’s protégé set off for the airport with minions in tow. Kirsten found a family in the Travelling Symphony, but Tyler’s made one from stolen post-pans. They call themselves the Undersea, a name borrowed from the stranded kids in Station Eleven. At night, they gather around the campfire, and the Prophet recounts Miranda’s story from memory. He tells Kirsten he lost his copy but that, when he was alone in these woods after leaving Severn City, the memory of Dr. Eleven calmed him down, just like the memory did for Miranda in Malaysia. Kirsten’s memory of the text is more authoritative. She suggests that Dr. Eleven and the leader of the Undersea are actually the same person on alternate time loops. Tyler never thought of it that way and doesn’t really care. The book isn’t important to him in the same way it is to Kirsten; he’s not deriving meaning from the story — just inspiration. He considers himself a post-pan, innocent and unburdened, trapped in a pre-pan’s body. He wants to live surrounded by other post-pans, a notion seductive enough to tempt Alex away from the only life she’s ever known. In this way, Station Eleven is mostly his tool for getting their attention.
When the kids are asleep, the Prophet tells Kirsten another story, this one about his father and his father’s ex-wife, not bothering to name them. Arthur used to complain about Miranda in Spanish right in front of her, and she never revealed that she knew Spanish until the relationship was already over. Instinctively, Kirsten sides with the character she doesn’t know is Arthur. The Prophet doesn’t think that matters, but he says so in Spanish, which Kirsten doesn’t speak, unless maybe she does, like Miranda on a time loop. Or maybe it’s Tyler in the blue space helmet, keeping these parentless children from feeling alone. It’s hard to know what to make of their confessional style of conversation, but with every episode, the Prophet emerges as a more complicated character. Yes, he’s a Jesus freak, but what if this particular Jesus freak is right about at least one thing: that the post-pans could invent a better world on their own.
It turns out that the gaggle accompanying Kirsten and Tyler to the airport represents only a fraction of the Undersea. The Prophet’s been building his following for a decade, and they’re blindly loyal, Cody assures her. For example, if he were to die on this errand, the Undersea would rise up to kill the Travelling Symphony in fulfillment of the Prophet’s promise. The post-pans are a family, but they’re also Tyler’s shield. This is an episode about faith and coercion. The Undersea is loyal to the Prophet. Kirsten is loyal to the Travelling Symphony in a way that leaves no room for individual choice. She will always serve the troupe. She can’t fathom a version of love that includes leaving like Gil did. Like Charlie has. Like Alex is considering.
So when the group is attacked by the Red Bandanas — an ill-defined militia who survive by terror and theft — saving the Prophet is Kirsten’s top priority. Most of the Undersea kids run away to safety, but not Cody, who is stabbed in the chest, and maybe not Kirsten, who is hit with some kind of poison dart. She saves the Prophet ahead of saving herself. Saving the Prophet is how she’ll save her family.