The apocalypse in Netflix's new eco-disaster series The Rain happens with frightening speed. One minute, high schooler Simone is joshing with her friends and flirting with a boy. The next, her family's racing down the highway in their car and then leaving it behind to run through the woods on foot. And when the clouds burst open, everything about her life gets turned upside down.
Speed and immediacy are the initial big draw in The Rain. Within the first 10 minutes of the first episode, viewers are quickly given a sense of the scope and emotional stakes of what's happening, on the micro and macro level. The micro gets manifested in the family of Simone Andersen (Alba August), the high-school student whose dad Frederik (Lars Simonsen) rushes to pull her out of her teenage routine before a rainstorm. He's a scientist who can help prevent the millions of deaths that are about to happen, but first he takes his wife and two children to an underground bunker in the woods. Before leaving the bunker for the last time, Frederik cryptically tells Simone that she must protect her younger brother Rasmus (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen) above all else because he's the key to solving the impending viral plague. He promises to return.
Inside the underground dwelling, Simone does what any teenager would do: She checks social media on her phone and sees mass panic amongst her peer group. That panic is happening because people are dying within seconds of getting touched by raindrops.
The Rain, which was made in Denmark, is currently streaming on Netflix - but just a warning, we're going to get into some spoilers here.
One of those unfortunate people is Simone and Rasmus' mother, who dies stopping a dangerously desperate man from barging into the bunker. The two Andersen children watch it happen and grieve inside the secret location, which they never leave for six years. An understandable fear of the outside grows in both Simone and Rasmus, but when supplies start to run out, they agree to venture forth to another bunker to find food. However, they get forced out of their underground home before they even get the chance to do that. The ragtag crew of teenagers who find them as they make a rushed exit have guns, bad attitudes, and intimate experience with how the world's gone to hell. They trap the Andersen siblings and seem ready to kill them.
Simone is able to bargain freedom with the promise of food in other bunkers, and she and Rasmus wind up forging an uneasy alliance with these other survivors. A crucial part of the long arc of this first season focuses on how these cynical-vs-innocent teens haltingly learn to rely each other. For their first few months that they're hidden away, Simone is a kid who has to figure out what the grown-ups would do. Then, she's part of a group of peers all trying to do the same. Trust issues, stoner maladjustment, and suspicion jostle with horniness, spiritual longing, and envy as the kids travel together. The Rain's biggest triumph comes from a deft balance of heartfelt emotion and canny subversion.
Three-quarters of the way through episode four of The Rain, I suddenly realised "hey, I really fucking care about these characters." The emotional journeys of the young people eking out a tense post-apocalyptic existence pulled me in much more than I was expecting because every character is constructed with surprising nuance and balance. The ones you've written off as jerks carry around trauma that engenders sympathy and vice versa. This formula makes you love the teenagers of The Rain but also cautions you to be wary of that love. Not coincidentally, Simone, Rasmus, and all the rest feel the same way about each other, too. Adolescent uncertainty, peer pressure, and hormonal imperatives drive the impulses that push and pull the kids apart.
Absolutely not singing in The Rain.
Tentative leader Martin (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) is a great example of The Rain's approach to character. He's a former soldier who, in other hands, would be a gung-ho, hoo-rah Marine-type - walled-off, stoic, and slathered in machismo. Here, he's constantly struggling with the weight of responsibility and his own wants and needs. The architecture of the eight-episode season is so tight that viewers understand the psychology of his every decision. The same goes for every character and thematic pillar. Anything the least bit familiar - like situational morals coming into play when the world's falling apart - is made to feel compelling and fresh via great execution.
The Rain wisely chooses to prioritise the kids' ornery maturation arcs over mythology set-ups. The breadcrumbs about Apollon - the organisation that built the bunkers the kids use to survive - create curiosity but, more importantly, are always tied to psychological ripple effects moving through the poisonous landscape. There's a fun rhythm to The Rain: find shelter from precipitation, meet new people, endure terrible interactions, and move on. You won't find any of Westworld's self-satisfied ponderousness in The Rain; the show's subplots move with economy and purpose, which leaves room for tonal experimentation, so much so that an episode centered on an anti-individualist cult felt like it could have belonged to a whole other series.
Simone and Rasmus run for their lives.
Imperfect people surviving the apocalypse is well-trod territory now, but The Rain stands out because it locates a dogged, infectious optimism that feels genuine. That's largely owed to the performance of Alba August as Simone. Her appeals to the better natures of both her survivor buddies and the English-speaking paramilitary Strangers hunting them never fail to rivet me to a scene. Simone still stubbornly believes that people can - no, need - to be good in The Rain's ruined world, and it makes you root for her and this excellent series that revolves around her unlikely new family.