Striking The Right Tone With Station Eleven Was A Challenge For Director Jeremy Podeswa

One of the best shows to come out of HBO Max so far is "Station Eleven," the 10-episode mini-series that covers before, during, and after an apocalyptic pandemic. It's a show that jumps around to a whole bunch of different characters, many of them strangers to each other, and gradually shows us how they're all connected. But for director Jeremy Podeswa, who directed the second episode ("A Hawk from a Handsaw"), the ninth episode ("Dr. Chaudhary"), and the finale ("Unbroken Cycle"), the hardest part was getting the tone right.

"It's a delicate kind of thing because when you're dealing with emotional terrain, you can't exhaust the audience emotionally," Podeswa said. The finale in particular was a tough balancing act, as it featured a lot of emotional payoffs to storylines that have been going on for a while, and it was easy for one of them to get overshadowed by the others. "You have emotional scene after emotional scene after emotional scene and it's like, you want them all to land and it's almost impossible to do that."

Podeswa described the emotional beats in the finale of "Station Eleven" in particular as less of a rollercoaster, and more like a series of waves. There would be moments of intense emotion, followed by general levity, followed by intense emotion again, this time a little stronger. The goal, as he put it, was to "manage to be emotional without exhausting the audience and without them feeling manipulated."

Where to place what

That's probably why "Unbroken Cycle" feels like such a strong, satisfying conclusion to the show, even if certain storylines weren't as compelling as the others. The finale has Tyler (Daniel Zovatto) and his mother Elizabeth (Caitlin FitzGerald) make their amends, a sweet moment that's undercut by how Tyler has spent a lot of the past two decades as a cult leader with a bunch of child soldiers. "Station Eleven" seemed aware, on some level, that the storyline between Tyler and his mother (expanded and changed significantly from the book) was a little too messy to work as a closing note of the show, so they resolved it early on.  

Afterward, there are still over twenty minutes left in this episode, showing us how Miranda (Danielle Deadwyler) saved everyone at the airport's life in her dying moments. It's another scene that's exclusive to the show, one that sort of brilliantly adds to the book's theme of strangers' lives intertwining in unexpected ways. In most shows, this would be the most emotional moment of the episode, but here it's soon followed by the reunion of Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis) and Jeevan (Himesh Patel), who've been separated for nearly 20 years. It's what audiences were most invested in, so they saved it for last. 

Podeswa doesn't even know how they managed to make it as emotional as it did, but it didn't hurt that "the script was so strong and the actors were so incredible." In the end, he concluded: "It's just honest, genuine, real emotion and I think people have been responding to it and that's kind of great."