On premise alone, After the Rain is a contentious series. Following a potential budding romance between 17 year-old former track star Akira Tachibana and her 45 year-old divorced boss, nearly every discussion of After the Rain is prefaced with the admission that this show won’t be for everyone. It’s a series that’s approached with varying amounts of faith, with good reason.
Kondo’s reaction and response to Akira’s repeated romantic confession at the end of Episode 3 leaves much to be desired, but is still toeing that very fine line — albeit less deftly than in previous episodes — rather than crossing it outright. With so much talk around what the series is doing, or hasn’t done yet, I want to draw attention to an example of a similar situation handled near-perfectly, with sincerity and genuine attraction from both parties: the relationship between Audrey Horne and Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.
Despite Akira’s blunt nature, I highly doubt we’ll see her climbing into Kondo’s bed naked and waiting for him. After many flirtatious encounters, this is what Audrey does to Coop, making her feelings as direct as possible.
At first glance, Akira and Audrey have little in common. Audrey is the daughter of the Twin Peaks real estate mogul Benjamin Horne who owns, among other things, The Great Northern Lodge where Coop is staying. The series immediately establishes that she’s rich, somewhat sheltered, and completely bored. One of Audrey’s opening scenes show her mischievously pouring coffee over the hotel concierge desk. The next moment, she’s ruining business deal for her father by giving potential buyers the impression that Twin Peaks is dangerous (and it is, just not in the way that she leads on). This costs him millions of dollars, leading to a stunted argument between her and her father that reveals the distance between them.
Not only is Coop dashing, genuine, and undeniably attracted to her, but he listens to her. It’s natural that Audrey would become infatuated with Coop and that this infatuation would drive her to over-the-top actions like infiltrating a brothel on her own.
“You’re beautiful, intelligent, desirable— but what you need right now, more than anything, is a friend.”
-Special Agent Dale Cooper to Audrey Horne, Twin Peaks
Whether it was Coop’s actor, Kyle MacLachlan, shooting down a possible Coop/Audrey relationship or the influence of his then-girlfriend Lara Flynn Boyle (who played Twin Peaks‘ Donna Hayward) Coop let’s Audrey down gently but firmly. He does so in a way that’s the most painful in that moment — affirming his attraction to her and concern for her safety — but leaves no room for error. He is rejecting her outright as a romantic partner, but confirming their friendship.
The ages of Coop (35) and Audrey (18) are closer than Kondo (45) and Akira (17), but there is still a noticeable gap in both age and life experience. When Coop first introduces himself to Audrey, he is visibly struck by her beauty but doesn’t respond to her advances and introduces himself as an FBI special agent first. Kondo is not only divorced with a son, but he also becomes Akira’s boss after she begins working in his family restaurant.
In both series, there’s an emphasis on Akira and Audrey’s outsider status with their peers, isolating them from young men their age. Audrey wasn’t popular like Laura Palmer, and early conversations with Donna Hayward have no animosity but also showed that Audrey didn’t let many people in and was generally considered a bit odd. Even after Coop’s rejection, Audrey is then involved with John Justice Wheeler, a young business associate of her father’s, continuing the theme of looking for a romantic partner outside of her high school and her town. After the Rain presents Akira as someone who separates herself from her peers. Again, they don’t dislike her, but the series is quick to note that Akira doesn’t fit in, especially after she lost the one thing providing her direction: her ability to run track.
There is also the sense from both young women that their attraction to Kondo or Coop is genuine but also spurred on by other factors in their lives. Audrey finds purpose in helping Coop, and this later channels what was a rebellious streak against her father into shrewd business acumen and activism. Their relationship also improves by the end of the initial series. Akira falls for Kondo when he offers her a cup of coffee during a rainstorm. At that time, Akira is at her lowest point post-injury and even in the present time of After the Rain, is nowhere near getting over how the injury has brought her life to a halt. Her feelings for Kondo are as real as anything else, but he’s also a substitute for repressing her emotions regarding her injury.
Akira’s thoughts are noticeably barred from us as an audience. After the Rain makes her feelings clear through cinematography, not inner monologues. This paints a picture of Akira as someone who is unaware of how she’s trying to fill the void left from the track team with feelings of attraction towards an older figure who showed her kindness. By contrast, Kondo’s thoughts are clear, showing the difference between the awkward, purposefully daft personality he uses to try to keep Akira at arm’s length, and his true feelings which are more muddied. He indulges himself in thinking of how the situation would be different if he was younger yet, unlike Coop, his insecurities keep him from properly rejecting Akira like he should.
Again, it’s difficult to talk about After the Rain without caveats as the series edges ever closer to that line. However, the emotions from both Akira and Kondo are worth examining, and Twin Peaks provides an excellent blueprint of how that exploration can be handled with care and sincerity.