Warning: contains plot details for The Rising episodes 1-8 .
At first glance, The Rising is just another show about another dead girl. It would be understandable for viewers to dismiss it as one more drama in which a woman suffers life-ending violence at the hand of a man. As the story of a murdered teenager wandering the Earth and trying figure out who took her life, The Rising brings to mind the controversial Netflix adaptation Thirteen Reasons Why, but is tonally closer to acclaimed crime mystery Mare of Easttown. Based on Belgian drama Hotel Beau Sejour and written by The Pact‘s Pete McTighe, it’s set in a closely knit community that keeps everything pleasant enough on the surface, but contains lies, secrets and much worse. However, there’s something different about this series. Its murder victim Neve (Clara Rugaard) is not only present, but also used as more than just a narrative device for the audience. She’s there as an advocate for herself and others.
In episode one, Neve Kelly wakes up in a river and walks home before realising that she hasn’t woken up at all, because Neve Kelly is dead. After a disappointing motocross race, Neve lets off steam at rave in a field by the forest. She gets drunk, she kisses her boyfriend’s female cousin and then breaks up with her boyfriend. No one knows what happen to her after that, not even Neve. But the next day, the whole town searches for her as fears about her safety grow. They are right to be fearful; Neve’s body is pulled from the lake by her ex-boyfriend Joe (Solly McLeod) and her motocross teammates. It’s clear there is foul play involved, the only question is, who among these friends, families and neighbours is responsible?
After her murder, Neve can still be seen by a few people who turn out to have had close brushes with death: her father Tom (Matthew McNulty), Joe’s cousin and Neve’s new love interest Alex (Nenda Neururer), and Alex’s father and Neve’s motocross coach William (Nicholas Gleaves). While Neve’s mother Maria (played beautifully by Emily Taafe) is unable to see her, she is eventually convinced of her daughter’s ongoing presence by her ex Tom, and can occasionally sense her nearby.
The Rising is a look at what happens after a tragedy takes place, when a small town has been rocked, and at what would happen if the departed could witness it all. Neve watches her friends and family search for her, she watches them pull her body from the lake and she watches her own post-mortem. She sees how she is mourned while also mourning herself.
What must it be like to become a memory while you’re still there? Even the smiling, clean-cut picture used of Neve on the news and in the papers, clashes with the edgy, punky Neve the audience meet. That’s what so often happens to victims of violence, and especially female victims. Their rough edges get sanded down into a smoother, more perfect memory, because a tragedy is always considered worse when the victim was considered ‘good’. In Neve’s case, although there is no doubt that she is a good person, she is also stubborn and occasionally reckless. She has sex, drinks and does drugs – she’s 19 and bored in her small town and wants more for herself, and her death is no less tragic for it.
The Rising focuses on women – not the perfect archetypes of the grieving mother, the innocent, two-dimensional victim, or the hard-nosed police officer – but women who are angry and messy and make mistakes, say awful things and are sometimes wrong. Maria’s anger over her daughter’s murder is never shied away from, neither is her confusion about her feelings for her ex-husband Tom or her current husband and step-children. Maria says and does many hurtful things, but she is never presented as a bad person. Grief, pain and anger are things to be moved through, not avoided.
The same can be said for Alex, Christine (Ann Ogbomo), Katie (Robyn Cara) and Diana (Rebecca Root), who all have moments where they fail to be their best self. They lie, make bad decisions or jump the gun in the belief they are protecting someone or doing the right thing while ignoring their own faults and prejudices.
The men, in contrast, are given a lot less grace. While Neve’s stepfather Daniel and stepbrother Max’s images never really falter, Joe and William are given a small redemption arc, but the lies they tell throughout seem more deplorable since they appear to be more in service to self-interest than for the good of anything else. Grief never seems to infiltrate their lives in quite the same way until the very end. Even the men on the periphery use Neve’s death to make jokes, drink, fight and to prey on other young women who might be feeling vulnerable.
However, the sole irredeemable man is Neve’s killer. There is no forgiveness or excusing his behaviour. He’s someone who has never felt good enough and rather than look inward, he takes his frustration out on women he feels rejected by. Neve says it best when she tells her killer that he knows nothing about love. Love requires bravery and honesty, but he is devoid of both.
Neve’s killer represents so many real-life perpetrators of violence against women, men who are entitled and cowardly, with a thinly veiled misogyny. As we’ve seen recently, with the murders of Sabina Nessa, Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry and so many more women in London alone, even police officers have been perpetrators of this pervasive violence and lack of humanity. How would it feel if those victims could hear the jokes about their deaths or see the messages about their bodies being shared as ‘banter’ and entertainment? How would it feel to know that there were people who knew all along that someone meant them and people like them harm, but dismissed it to make their own life easier, or worse, to protect a dangerous person they call a friend?
The Rising addresses an uncomfortable truth; violence is always present but often goes unacknowledged to keep the peace and to protect our own, but at what cost? The series gives Neve a voice after her death not because she is inherently good, but because what happened to her was heinous and her voice deserves to be heard. Neve’s final speech to her killer offers a portion of all things real life women deserved to say to the men who hurt them if only they had the chance, if only their time hadn’t been cut short. And her goodbyes are what those left behind deserve, but will never get. Unlike many other crime dramas about murdered women The Rising attempts to right wrongs and ends, unexpectedly, with hope – for all those gone too soon and those who have to go on living without them.
The Rising is available to stream in full on NOW.