Netflix’s original content drawers overfloweth already, so one might wonder why, exactly, anyone needs a new series about an apocalypse-triggering virus. Yet the streaming service’s genre sense is strong, and with a fresh new take, executives aim squarely for both binge-watching adults looking for a bleak fix (in manner of multiple Stephen King titles and the films like The Road) to distract from daily troubles, but also the targeted younger crowd, which is receiving Netflix’s first original young-adult series with The Rain. And it’s a heavy one — there’s little hope to be found in this Danish production, at once gritty and polished, and beautifully lit despite the grim subject matter at hand.
As the title suggests, the series revolves around deadly downpours in Scandinavia that cause instant agony and a speedy demise for anyone caught outside. This, of course, means that the show revolves around a familiar theme — humanity’s struggle to survive — so the show must find a way to separate itself from all the other post-apocalyptic entries. On that note, The Rain doesn’t fully succeed, but the writers chisel these characters with such detail and pace the handing out of valuable nuggets only as needed, so audiences will be hooked.
What stands out here, really, is that these are young characters are forced to grow up far too fast and act with a singular, brutal purpose when they would have likely been at college, switching majors and figuring out who the heck they are. Yes, these characters still must square away that last goal, even as they do make some head-scratching errors. They are all vulnerable in some regard, and all must still contend with “trivial” human emotions like jealousy, shame, and love along the way. Yet unlike the CW’s The 100, these characters aren’t sifting through the apocalypse while inexplicably obsessed with hooking up with other attractive teens. There’s some hooking up, but The Rain is almost exclusively about survival while seeking to explore exactly what it means to be human.
The action begins quickly with teenage Simone (Alba August) being tasked with caring for her 10-year-old brother, Rasmus (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen), for six years as they hide in an underground bunker after their father (Lars Simonsens) abandons them, claiming to be the only one who can fix the rain. As Simone slowly discovers, she’s not only responsible for Rasmus’ survival for the most obvious reason (dad’s kind of a flake) but also for reasons that grow increasingly (yet not altogether) apparent by season’s end.
Yet one can’t survive in a bunker forever. The insulated pair eventually emerges and finds that the mere act of stepping in a puddle means a death sentence at the hand of Martin (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), who leads a band of survivors that, at first glance, appears to be filled with stereotypical, token characters. Beatrice (Angela Bundalovic) often rebels against orders, Patrick (Lukas Løkken) carries a chip on his shoulder from his juvenile delinquent days, Lea (Jessica Dinnage) is the one-time party girl, and Jean (Sonny Lindberg) is the quiet intellectual. It’s apparent, from the very first meeting of the siblings and the survivors, that the virus isn’t the biggest threat in the outside world but these (and other) humans.
One by one, the core cast is fleshed out through flashbacks. It’s a clichéd method but effective in swiftly demonstrating (over only 8 episodes) how these characters continue to adapt in the face of adversity … and the inner demons they must still confront.
Most startling is the transformation of Martin, who shifts from a hardened soldier who accepts no risk and executes at the first suspicion of infection to someone capable of nuance again. After a terribly rocky first encounter, Patrick lets the siblings tag along, but only because Simone’s handprint is hardwired into the area’s security systems. Soon enough, however, Patrick’s black-and-white code is tempered by the influence of Simone, whose maternal feelings for her brother help take the series somewhere else, far beyond a peril-filled group road trip from bunker to bunker. The siblings’ entire vibe eventually persuades the group to rediscover their former selves again and adjust their crisis-spawned value system while finding support in each other.
Granted, The Rain‘s characters have little choice but to get along, but in the end, one gets the feeling that — if given the opportunity to select who they’d run with after the apocalypse — they’d still choose each other. After all, these young adults learn that they can depend on the rest of the group, and all little mistakes can easily turn into big ones that threaten the survival of the entirety, but in comparison to the grown-ups in this show, they really are the future. Especially when it comes to Rasmus, for Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen is impossible not to watch as his character loses his illusions and learns that, unlike his father, he might eventually be the one to save (or destroy) them all.
Of course, there are missteps. One episode where the group finds temporary shelter with a cult doesn’t fit with the rest of the season. Likewise, the scientific organization known as Apollon — the mysterious employer of the sibling’s estranged father — demonstrates inconsistent motives in their quest to halt the virus. Perhaps this issue will be sufficiently fleshed out if a second season materializes, or maybe the company will continue to play like a knockoff Umbrella Corporation of Resident Evil fame.
As a slight last concern, the series is available as recorded in Danish and furnished with English subtitles. However, the default setting for the show arrives with English-dubbed dialogue — a change that arrived after Netflix saw increased viewing numbers with Dark (2017). As a result, the final product has moments where mouths are moving in different manners than the audio would suggest, but it’s never enough to take one out of the experience.
The Rain is a solid entry into the dystopian realm, and it forces its young adult (and teen) characters to go without those precious years where one is allowed to screw up in life and receive second and third chances. The season finishes with a glimmer of hope, yet any problems that are solved are swiftly replaced with even more confounding dilemmas that require action, hopefully, in a future season. Until then, this series that will leave you clicking on “next episode” even before the credit music begins.