“I don’t want to live the wrong life and then die,” Arthur yells in the direction of Miranda. As a sentiment, it’s so harmless as to be universal. Who doesn’t want to spend their years on this planet living the right life, whatever that means? Shouted in the course of a fight, though, the words sting. You are the wrong life. You are giving me the wrong life. When I die, you will have wasted my life.
The third episode of Station Eleven is called “Hurricane,” which is a different natural disaster from the pandemic that ends civilization. When Arthur dies, he’ll be mostly estranged from Miranda. If he were to comment on his own death, he might even say he lived the wrong life. “Hurricane” is the story of how the couple moved from strangers through a season of love to cold resentment and, eventually, the tender moment of reconciliation when Miranda hands Arthur a copy of her book. Intriguingly, the episode doesn’t question Arthur’s premise that a life can be the right one or the wrong one. Miranda and Arthur found each other and left each other when they shouldn’t have.
By now, we know better than to expect time to progress chronologically on Station Eleven. In the past, the jumps and reversals have lent context to the preceding scene, like seeing Kirsten locked out of her house, then seeing the same house overrun with long grass. That’s not really what happens here. The chutes and ladders of the timeline confuse more than they clarify; they make it harder to understand why these characters who loved each other couldn’t stop themselves from questioning that love. The time slides around like we’re watching a memory, sifting through the shards, but at the end, I still didn’t understand why they weren’t together. So instead of tracking the episode faithfully, I’m reorganizing the events into their true order.
In 2005, Miranda takes a job with a logistics firm. “I remember everything,” she says during the interview — it’s among her strongest qualities. In 2020, she still has that job, and she’s good at it. She’s smart, capable, and assertive. She gets things from their point of origin to their end point by whatever path they need to take. When her boss, Leon, asks where she sees herself in 20 years, she replies that she’ll be working for Leon or dead. He thinks she’s funny. It turns out to be true.
It turns out she’s been drawing Dr. Eleven since before meeting Arthur, which happens soon after. “You will know your end point when you reach it,” she narrates from his detached perspective, dipping into the spaceman’s voice occasionally across the episode. But Miranda doesn’t recognize Arthur as her end point. When he approaches, she blows him off. He’s late to a birthday party for Clark — the man who will call Miranda to tell her Arthur died — and he’d like to buy the spaceman she’s been sketching as a gift. He’s a famous actor already, but Miranda doesn’t like movies. He offers her $1,000.
Their chemistry is easy, and Arthur talks her into joining the party. On the way, he interprets her work to earn her trust. It’s cheesy, but so is falling in love. “He’s alone, not unhappy. Adrift, a bit exhausted, but his heart is warmer and lighter than they realize because he wears the suit for protection.” Maybe he’s describing himself, but Arthur seems open, so perhaps he’s guessing at the depths behind Miranda’s evasive style of conversation. She’s likable without trying hard. Always just below the surface of his charm is palpable self-doubt. As the party winds down, Miranda tells Clark that the symbol she’s been doodling on a cocktail napkin — the same symbol tattooed on Kirsten’s hand, the shape of the dried reed she finds in the forest — is the drawing of a feeling: “cut and run.” Her father was a boat hand, and she grew up outrunning squalls in the Caribbean. She wakes up on Arthur’s pullout couch the next morning and says she has to go, but she can’t make herself cut anchor.
Instead, Arthur and Miranda get to know each other in the warm hug of a snug house in winter. They trade stories in the ordinary way, making fun of Arthur’s job — he’s making a stupid movie about robbing the Pentagon — and talking about their childhoods, which overlapped on the Mexican island of Holbox where the gulf meets the sea. She says again that she has to go but doesn’t. Miranda has a fierce desire not to be known and a contradictory impulse to take off the suit she wears for protection, at least for Arthur. She spends the night again; she threatens to go again. She agrees to stay ten minutes more and probably another ten and another ten until it’s 2007 and they’re together at some glitzy Hollywood premiere. The actress Arthur will marry next, Elizabeth (Caitlin FitzGerald), approaches Miranda to assure her nothing’s going on between them, but Miranda doesn’t read tabloids.
Later, at the seaside home they share, Arthur tells someone on the phone that their marriage is simply a legal bulwark against the paparazzi but then makes sure that Miranda hasn’t overheard. She spends her time in the pool house, working on Station Eleven, which she doesn’t allow Arthur to see. He feels deserted when he’s home, but he deserts her for months on end making shitty movies. She doesn’t sleep, so they’re not even together at rest. Miranda is a loner, but Arthur is lonely. They fight about hiding themselves inside their jobs. She’s still at Leon’s beck and call, dashing to Perth on a few hours’ notice. That’s when Arthur voices his deepest fear: “I don’t want to live the wrong life and then die.”
It goes from bad to over fast. At an insufferable dinner party, Elizabeth calls him Art (the fucking nerve of this woman) and reveals (Innocently? Slyly?) that Art took her on a pool-house tour, including Miranda’s unfinished work. The guy either wants the marriage to end or considers it already ended. Miranda leaves the table with a flourish, performing an inane monologue from one of Arthur’s films and tipping over a glass of wine. In a kind but pitiful attempt at consolation, Clark tells Miranda this is what Arthur does when he’s scared of love, but Miranda blames the spaceman. “I think that book ruined my life.” She packs her rucksack and lights the pool house on fire — another flourish.
But sometime between that past and the plague, she starts the book over again. Like she promised Leon, she remembers everything. Arthur’s words become Dr. Eleven’s. I don’t want to live the wrong life and then die. She brings Arthur his copy right after Leon beckons her to Malaysia. She even leaves a copy for the son he shares with Elizabeth, now another ex-wife. She and Arthur make dinner plans for when she gets back — “I’ll come back” — but he’ll be dead later that night, and she’ll never be back.
In Malaysia, the flu is moving fast. Her pitch meeting is canceled, and people are wearing masks. Leon, who will soon be coughing, arranges for Miranda to escape on a tanker, the only way out. En route to the docks, she’s clearheaded and methodical in the manner of Jason Bourne. She calls Arthur to tell him she’s made a mistake and she’s coming to find him. There’s still time, on her side of the world, to live the right life. But as she’s about to board the shuttle, Clark calls to tell her Arthur’s gone. She falls and loses the key to the boat, but even if she didn’t, would she really have used it? To aimlessly sail the seas for a year only to return to a coast that no longer holds the promise of the right life? Her survival efforts are half-assed from this point. She searches Instagram for Arthur’s name and looks at a post made by Kirsten.
No one knows how to behave, so they try feigning normalcy. Miranda’s pitch meeting is rescheduled, I guess because even at the end people will feel a compulsion to do things. She tells a table of people whose loved ones are about to die that the man she loved already did. “And I went to work instead.” Now, she’s going to die in the middle of the wrong life, the words from her book, some of which were once Arthur’s, rattling in her ear. “I have found you nine times before, maybe ten, and I’ll find you again.” There’s a knock on her door. When she opens it to Dr. Eleven, it’s somehow not surprising. Time loops itself in Miranda’s work as it does in the show. She left Arthur and brought him her book years later. She said she’d come back, and maybe somehow, in some sense, she will. And I’ll find you again. “There is no rescue mission. We are safe.” But from what? Not the pandemic, but what about the hurricane?
Arthur is in the eye of our storm. He mentored Kirsten, and his heart attack connects her to Jeevan. The book he gives Kirsten connects her to Miranda and the drifter. We hear snippets of the book’s dialogue and see quick flashes of its pages, but we don’t know its story. Dr. Eleven floats in space in the series premiere, but here he is on Earth, offering Miranda solace at the bitter end. We are safe. Maybe that’s what he gave Kirsten when she was alone on the road with him. I found it again, my home. Maybe Arthur, whose whole body smiled when Miranda promised to come back, flipped through the book before he went onstage that night. Maybe he carried Miranda’s words with him, and they gave him peace. You will know your end point when you reach it.