Rain Dogs is immediately recognizable as a great show, playing with genre and tone to great effect, with great performances keeping the whole thing moving.
This recap of Rain Dogs Season 1 Episode 1, “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City”, contains spoilers.
It’s apparent from the first five minutes of HBO’s new dramedy Rain Dogs that this is a great show. And that isn’t hyperbole. There’s a deftness with which the opening half-hour pivots from comedy to terror; elation to pain. Often they’re intertwined, the funniest moments being quietly the saddest, the most hopeful tinged with the most profound sense of doom. It’s about a single mother and her daughter trying to survive a life of British poverty, and a wealthy but damaged felon trying to readjust to freedom, but it’s really about how the tangle of our relationships – parental, platonic, romantic – knit together into a messy tapestry we call life.
Rain Dogs Season 1 Episode 1 Recap
The mother and daughter are Costello and Iris, whom we meet fleeing a flat that bailiffs are breaking into for non-payment of rent. It’s obvious from the dialogue and the tone that this isn’t the first time these two have been in such a predicament. And you can say what you want – people certainly will – about raising a child in this kind of dysfunction, but it’s obvious from the jump that Costello loves Iris and is trying to do her best by her, even if that means jumping a taxi without paying to get her to school, and that Iris loves her mother, even if she does try to buy them a night in a bed and breakfast by spending their only twenty quid on scratch cards.
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What does Brett want from Costello?
This premiere makes the relative poverty of Costello and Iris no secret and has people react to it in different ways. The cashier in the shop where Costello buys the scratch cards is the first to comment on her behavior and throw insults her way, but she also slips her three packet sandwiches free of charge, not even pausing her complaints while she does so. On the other end of the spectrum, though, is someone like Brett, another patron in the store who overhears about Costello’s predicament, kindly offers her a place to stay, ostensibly free of charge, and then tries to force her into sex for the privilege.
“It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” is light on backstory and isn’t in a hurry to explain some of its key relationships. We know Costello is a stripper since she tries to blag an extra shift to pay for the night, but we don’t know why she isn’t gainfully employed elsewhere, we don’t know who Iris’s father is, and we don’t how Costello is connected to Selby, a well-spoken and evidently wealthy convict who is fresh out of prison. Likewise, we don’t know how Selby ended up in prison, where his money is coming from, or ultimately what he wants from Costello, aside from his stated desire to rekindle their friendship.
Where do Costello and Iris end up staying?
“Friendship” seems to be a relative term. Their history doesn’t seem to be romantic, as the premiere is very clear about Selby being gay, but there’s also a degree of pain there since Costello mentions a couple of times that Selby ruined her life – implying her downfall is somehow his responsibility – and Selby is quietly menacing. We see him taunt Costello with cash and later attack Brett, though that’s admittedly to save Costello and Iris from his clutches when she calls to let him know that she has inadvertently wandered into the cupboard of a pervert. He frequents shady gambling dens and sucks off strangers in toilets, slips Iris money at school and tells her to keep it quiet, and has a debt to a fellow inmate for protection on the inside that is surely about to come due at some point.
And yet, at the end of the episode, Selby uses his mahjong winnings to clear Costello’s debt on her flat, so she and Iris have a place to stay. Of course, though, the episode ends with another threat of eviction, suggesting that the cycle isn’t quite broken just yet. As her circumstances worsen, and Costello comes to rely more and more on Selby and whatever strings are attached to his help, there’s no telling what could happen with either of them.
You can stream Rain Dogs Season 1 Episode 1, “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” exclusively on HBO and HBO Max.