Looking for a post-apocalyptic show that prioritizes character development over shock value? Then look no further than Netflix’s The Rain (which — bonus — just got renewed for a second season)!
I love post-apocalyptic fiction.
No matter if it’s caused by a plague, the undead, a robot revolution, or aliens from above (or some combination of all these) — if it has to do with life in a post-apocalyptic landscape, then I’m absolutely on board.
Yet while I love the genre, sometimes it can start to feel like all the different stories blend together. Sometimes, being a fan of the genre means watching the same tropes and storylines get used over and over again, only with a variety of actors playing the different requisite parts.
And, at first glance, The Rain absolutely seems like your run-of-the-mill post-apocalypse show. It tells the story of a ragtag group — which includes such post-apocalyptic archetypes as the hardened military type, the girl with a mysterious past, the surly consummate survivor — eking out a living in a world ravaged by rainfall that carries a deadly plague.
Yet for all its familiar pieces, both the story The Rain tells and the way it chooses to tell it feels damn near close to revolutionary.
Character driven storytelling
Post-apocalyptic fiction begins with some kind of major, seismic event — something so destabilizing that it throws the entire world into disarray.
And because they so often begin with some kind of big event with high drama and action, so many of these stories then continue to have these big events in order to maintain that same level of drama and action. Which means that many post-apocalyptic stories base their storytelling choices on shock value and plot twists, with characters who merely act as conduits to get from one plot point to the next.
And while that certainly makes for exciting storytelling, I’m not that convinced it actually makes for good storytelling.
Luckily, The Rain doesn’t make us choose between the two.
Because the show isn’t concerned with always upping the drama or increasing its shock value, it actually allows the characters — rather than the plot — to be driving force of the show.
This means that interpersonal problems are dealt with immediately and maturely, without the pettiness or dramatics meant to up the tension that is so often seen in lesser shows. Characters are allowed to develop, relationships are given room to grow and breathe, and the choices people make are realistic and understandable because the plot isn’t always pushing them towards some big, shocking event.
It shouldn’t be as a refreshing as it is, but honestly watching a post-apocalyptic show where the plot is in service of the characters, rather than the other way around, is such a breath of fresh air.
Badass female characters
Sometimes it feels like post-apocalyptic fiction loves the idea of the Strong Female Characters rather actual strong female characters. Anyway, I’d like to do away with this idea of the Strong Female Character altogether, which so often falls into caricature or flatness, and instead demand nuanced female characters.
Which is exactly what The Rain gives to us.
Not only are the women in The Rain front and center in the storytelling, the show puts them front and center, writes them as nuanced and real without constantly feeling the need to call your attention to it and congratulate itself for it.
Simone, who has ascended the ranks of my heart to become one of my all-time favorite characters, shows that you don’t have to choose between being a badass or being vulnerable — you can be both at the same time. She has a steeliness to her that lets you know she is not someone to be fucked with, but also has a really open heart for other people. No matter what, no matter how dire the straits, she never compromises on seeing people as people instead of as pawns. Her strength isn’t based on doing whatever she thinks is right no matter the cost, but instead is always rooted in empathy.
Lea, who took me completely by surprise and emerged as the show’s MVP to me, starts the show literally being so weak that she has to be half-carried. Yet throughout the eight episodes, she’s shown to be a steadfast source of support to everyone in the group. She has this really quiet sort of bravery, softer than Simone’s steeliness, but no less tough. She stares down the barrel of a gun to protect a friend, softly yet firmly makes another group member stand up to do the right thing, and always has a hug ready even to the least huggable group members.
Finally, there is Beatrice, the show’s consummate survivor and the best example of its ability to craft complex female characters. Beatrice, above all, is a survivor — one who uses whatever tools she has ensure her survival. Yet what she realizes — and what we come to realize is the show’s guiding ethos — is that you can’t survive alone. Which means that all her choices — even if motivated by survival — are also based on holding the group together, in making sure everyone survives, and on choosing to make the most humane choices.
Strong female friendships
Not only does The Rain feature multiple, multi-faceted female characters, it lets those women frequently interact with one another and — even more exciting — actually allows them to be friends.
Because while post-apocalyptic stories will often have multiple women in its cast of characters, so often those women’s stories will be more tied to a man rather than to one another, or else they’ll be mostly indifferent or antagonistic towards each other. If they do happen to get along, they’re mostly separated from each other.
Not so in The Rain.
The show starts out with Simone and her younger brother Rasmus, who have been trapped in a bunker for six years. After some initial tension, they join up with a group of five survivors — Martin, Patrick, Jean, Lea and Beatrice. The two established women of the group — Lea and Beatrice — accept Simone into the fold right away. In fact, they choose to follow her and see her as a leader almost immediately. There’s no invented tension or even suspicion, and the three women support one another constantly throughout the show.
And even when The Rain very briefly dabbles in a love triangle, it never overtakes the established relationships between the women of the show. Since the show isn’t constantly attempting to play up the drama, these emotions are dealt with maturely, with everyone acting like adults and staying grounded.
Again, it shouldn’t be this way, but to watch a show where the women are all awesome in different ways and all get to be awesome together is such a refreshing thing to get to witness.
Your next OTP
Just as Simone has skyrocketed into the upper tier of my all-time favorite characters, Simone and Martin have likewise leapt the rankings to become one of my all-time favorite OTPs.
In a short eight-episode run, these two move from enemies to co-leaders and friends to lovers. Their first meeting has Martin pulling a gun on Simone, prepared to leave her and her brother, Rasmus, trapped in a bunker. But then Simone pulls such an amazing power move (one of MANY, I might add) and from there, we see a mutual respect develop between the two.
They fall into a natural partnership that is based on this very obvious level of respect they have for one another, with neither of them jockeying for a leadership role but instead looking to one another for advice and support.
And while the dynamic of Martin as the hardened cynic and Simone as the hopeful optimist is one we’ve seen over and over again in post-apocalyptic fiction, the arc and development that these two have feels so very different from we’ve seen before.
And it’s mostly because this show is not trying to hammer it into your head that losing your humanity is a pre-requisite to surviving in the post-apocalyptic world. In some lesser show, Simone’s arc would be about her learning that she’s too soft and naive for this world.
But instead, the arc is that Martin doesn’t need to be hardened and cynical to survive. What he learns by being around Simone and caring about her is that it’s possible to keep hold of our humanity and one another, even when the world tells us we shouldn’t. And that is such a beautiful thing to see in a post-apocalyptic tale.
A hopeful story
So much of post-apocalyptic fiction centers around this question of: “What will we kill in order to survive?” And while that is certainly an interesting question, so often watching a story attempt to answer that question feels like this relentless march through death and despair and destruction.
What’s more, in the process of answering this question, post-apocalyptic stories will often fall to forcing their characters into progressively worse scenarios and into making progressively inhumane decisions, so that the question of “What will we kill in order to survive?” always gets answered in the same way — whatever we need to.
And perhaps there’s an argument to be made that this is a more realistic answer, but it also eventually ends up being a really boring one, too. It’s no longer all that shocking when we know the characters will always choose the path of most violence.
What sets The Rain apart from so many of its fellow post-apocalyptic stories is that no matter what, the show never loses its faith in hope and humanity.
The Rain, like all of its post-apocalyptic brethren, plops its characters into this really dreary post apocalyptic landscape and forces them to try to survive in extremely tense conditions. Yet instead of tackling the question of “What will we kill in order to survive,” The Rain instead attempts to work through the question of: “What do we need to save in order to live?”
And that question is equally as interesting, and yields just as much tension and drama and soul searching — but also happens to be uplifting, so that watching the show feels like fun rather than work. It also allows the story to build these really amazing, complex characters and relationships, and then lets us watch them treat each other well — even if that means watching them make mistakes, own up to those mistakes and apologize.
Over and over again, we get to see these characters act in these really mature and grounded ways because the show isn’t always trying to ratchet up the drama. We get to see them choose empathy and humanity over cynicism and despair. We get to see a story that believes the best way to survive in a cruel, desperate world is to hold on to our own humanity while we likewise hold on tightly to one another.
So if you’re looking for a post-apocalyptic show that trades on hope rather than nihilism, that believes in the human spirit, and that prioritizes character development over plot twists, then do yourself a favor and spend the weekend (or, if you’re like me, one single night) binge watching season 1 of The Rain.