There is a point as an avid watcher of apocalyptic dramas, and lordy there are so many in our increasingly despairingly cynical world which seems to be practically begging for the end to come, where you begin to wander if there is anything fresh to say about the great depths and occasional heights humanity will fall and rise to when its collective back is against the breakdown of civilisation wall.
Certainly if given the option to make some kind of statement, however well-worn, most producers will opt for the “humanity stinks like weeks-old fish hidden behind the wall of your worst enemy and will find its just desserts in vicious infighting and mutually-assured destruction” rather than “this is bad, REAL BAD, but maybe, just maybe, humanity can pull an evolutionary ace out of its sleeve and make it through.”
The second option is possibly seen as less dramatically challenging and enticing, and given the current mood of our world-weary populace who see zombies and alien invaders as kindred spirits of putting us out of our misery the more accurate reflection of a likely trajectory, but as Danish series The Rain beautifully illustrates in some quietly-important, emotionally-resonant ways, hanging onto hope and an innate sense of decency need not be a complete fool’s errand, narratively-speaking.
Siblings Simon (Alba August) and younger brother Rasmus (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen) have more reason than most to go down the rotten fish route but surprisingly for a teenager and young boy locked in an underground bunker with very little warning, they seem more willing than most to cling to the better angels of our apocalyptic times.
With their father, the possible creator and/or nullifier of a virus that has fallen in the rain, and continues to fall at the worst possible times, and wiped the vast majority of Scandinavians off the face of the earth, Dr. Frederik Andersen (Lare Simonsen) M.I.A., and their mother dead, killed while battling a desperate interloper who wanted in on the protector, Simone and Rasmus have the seen the very worst of outcomes.
Granted they have waited out the worst of the initial slide into degradation and chaos in a bunker full of food, energy and clean water, a far cry from just about everyone else out there, but like many people, they have lost those nearest and dearest, spending six years with all that grief, loss and deprivation, all with little to no chance to farewell the life they once knew.
For all of that, and perhaps because of that, and their hermetically-sealed time alone, they not only have an innate sense of closeness with each other but a strong sense that holding onto their humanity is an arguable part of surviving out in the world, regardless of how bad it is.
Sure it could be considered naive, and likely is in many ways, and certainly Martin (Mikkel Følsgaard), the leader of a group of young survivors who flush the siblings out the bunker by closing off the oxygen vents, thinks so, but it marks themselves as fascinating outliers in a world where most people have resorted to animalistic fighting to stay alive in between fatal, and what seem to be near-constant showers (you are given the impression it never stops raining in Denmark and all points north).
The other members of the group – Patrick (Lukas Løkken), Beatrice (Angela Bundalovic), Jean (Sonny Lindberg) and Lea (Jessica Dinnage) all seem to fall somewhere on the spectrum of the siblings are naively odd in the extreme, although only Patrick is as hard core as Martin and remains so even after the group’s leader takes a liking to Simone and softens his position, ameliorating his previous tough, take-no-prisoners approach to such an extent that close friend Patrick is aghast more often than he’s not.
Therein lies the central tension of The Rain, which doesn’t so much reinvent the apocalyptic genre (it’s reasonably standard in many respects) as asking some really interesting questions through it, such as whether hanging onto humanity is a foolhardy thing to do and emotional attachment an unaffordable luxury when one downpour could kill the ones you love, and likely you with it.
Refreshingly, it doesn’t belabour these points; in certain key scenes it’s clear enough that there is battle between the “everything’s screwed, give up now” camp and “the wait, it could get better, let’s not turn into monsters” group – Patrick (and to ever-lessening degrees Martin) and Simon being the standard bearers respectively – but unlike some other more clumsily-executed members of the genre (I’m looking at you The Walking Dead), the points are made sparingly and insightfully with minimum fuss and fanfare.
Another point in the show’s favour is the lengths it goes to to demonstrate how strong bonds can prevail even in the most extreme of situations.
Even as they make their way into the world for the first time, their eyes wider than saucers as they glimpse a world-destroyed – unlike other survivors who acclimated, they have to catch up fast – Simone and Rasmus refuse to let their sobering new reality tear them apart.
They want to find their dad, who may still be out there – the number of bunkers are multitudinous and a garbled saved phone message from their dad’s boss Sten (Johannes Kuhnke) would suggest he may be at the headquarters of Appollon, the company behind it all, in Sweden – and that drives the narrative, but in the meantime, Simone’s maternalistic care for Rasmus, and his continued willingness to look out for her, stand as beacons of relational hope in a world well and truly scorched of it.
We also get to see the backstory of Jean who is taken in by a family after collapsing near a farm one day, quickly becoming a big brother to the deaf daughter and friend and helper to the married couple who by virtue of their remoteness have remained aloof from the troubles around them.
Of course, that kind of sanctuary rarely endures in a world gone mad, and Jean finds himself cast aside out of the bosom of the farm, only finding some semblance of belonging when he meets Beatrice (who has a penchant for emotionally-manipulative fantasising) and Lea.
The Rain happily wears its heart on its sleeve in a number of key scenes featuring Simone and Rasmus, and Jean, and even Martin, who’s clearly looking for excuses to let down his guard, begins to re-appropriate some of his lost humanity, much again to Patrick’s chagrin.
Don’t get me wrong – The Rain doesn’t suddenly turn into a heartwarming mix of Hallmark movie and uplifting musical because of its focus on hope, however sliver-like and the endurance of human connection, but it does have a humanistic spine to it, an authentic, relatable one, that elevates the usual grim everyone dies-few survivors go feral-humanity knocked back to the dark ages schtick.
That’s all there, of course, so no massive points for singular originality, but they use all the tropes well, bolstered by this aforementioned focus on hope and humanity and richly-wrought characters, led by Simone who is brought to impressively nuanced life by August, and a driving sense of mystery that propels the storyline forward in well-measured degrees.
At eight episodes too, it’s hardly going to outstay its welcome, and while the finale will likely play out much as you’d expect – episodes five to eight remain still unwatched – getting there looks like it will be a rewarding experience, if only because you get the feeling that humanity might be in with a chance after all, even in an age where umbrellas have become all but useless, and civilisation has collapsed, take most of what makes us us down with it.