When the producers and writers of Runaways revealed that they would be retelling the events of Episode 1 in Episode 2, just from the perspective of the parents, my first thought was, “That’s interesting and risky.”  Now that the episode has come out, the execution proved both of those things to be true.  The second episode does, in fact, go to some new, unexpected places, but also does so at risk to the overall flow of the series.

Starting with the risk, this episode disrupts the flow of Runaways.  The first episode built tension well and made viewers wait for the characters to finally all gather as a team.  It then finishes with a great cliffhanger.  Instead of continuing the momentum, the brakes go on hard in episode two.  We return to that morning and go through another tedious introduction of another dozen characters.  At this point, a salient question is just how Hulu and the producers think of these series.  Do they plan them to be binged or do they think of them as a weekly TV show?  The redundancy of this episode is heightened by the fact that most viewers are watching it a mere seven seconds after episode 1, not a full seven days.  Early on in the episode, I was lamenting the squandering of the tension built in the previous episode.

Over time, however, there was a payoff.  Just as happened with the kids, the day slowly gives viewers a lot of character background.  The two Runaways‘ parents I mentioned being underdeveloped in Episode 1 get more attention, filling out the cast.  One of the great challenges of this series will be providing enough space for all 16 regular characters to get adequate attention.  Offering the stories in parallel episodes is an ok approach early on, but combining them will be necessary later on.  44 minutes episodes just don’t provide enough space for so many characters.

In particular, a lot of attention goes into the Wilders.  The writers are setting up the Pride as having two kinds of evil parents, the reluctantly evil and the truly evil.  The Wilders show distaste for what they are doing, as do the Yorkes.  Tina Minoru and Victor Stein are obviously within a more super villain vein.  Frank Dean likely will become either an advocate for the kids as he snoops around the Pride or will be the show’s redshirt.  Providing this differentiation helps in many ways.  First of all, modern audiences want context to their villains.  Whether it is Vincent D’onofrio’s Kingpin or Michael Keaton’s Vulture, Marvel has developed some sympathies even for evil characters and Runaways is working a similar trick with some of these parents.  They are clearly stuck in their ritual sacrifice situation and want to be rid of it.  Secondly, this narrative development allows for better angst in the teenagers.  Chase should hate his dad.  He’s an abusive monster.  But humanizing most of the others creates a natural tension in the kids’ minds.  Their parents might be evil, but they are their parents.  In the same way that Thor understandably has affections for Loki, these characters’ decisions will be more complex if their parents are not merely mustache twirling comic villains.

The subplot of Pride Academy and Geoffrey Wilder looks to be a 50/50 prospect at this point.  Building on the character’s past and roots might provide a deeper portrayal of the character.  Understanding how these parents get to their current place in life will be a major plus to the show.  Such a plot could also just become a major distraction to the overall thrust of the show.  When background stories come to the foreground they can just feel like a detour.  This story walked such a tightrope in this episode.

One other thought on the parent pairs is the way that they tend to be dominated by one parent or the other.  The Wilders’ focus mostly on Geoffrey (almost all Catherine’s lines are to or about him), Tina Minoru is obviously the queen of her family, Victor Stein literally beats his family into submission, and Leslie Dean’s disdain for her husband is his main plotline.  The Yorkes avoid the dynamic, but only by collapsing into a single character.  (Try to name one thing that is true of one of them that isn’t true of the other based on their characterization so far.)  This dynamic of couples having one individual who “wears the pants” in the relationship is a bit tiresome.  It would be nice to see these other couple halves raise up to a little more prominence.  In the end that is likely.  The lesser spouses telling off their opposites will be a satisfying moment down the road.

A few signs of the producers’ soap opera sensibilities are on display and it is slightly worrying.  The whole “Who is sleeping with Janet Stein?” subplot seems likely to crash and burn.  Also, the extension of the Deans into cult leaders was interesting, but Frank seems terribly unlikeable.  One can almost understand why he is ignored and patronized by Leslie.  Will this plot go anywhere other than “Days of Our Lives” melodrama?  When the kids are overly dramatic and angsty, they get a pass because that’s just kind of how adolescence works.  But when the parents show the same maturity level it makes the whole thing a little too soapy for me.

In the end, the episode still continues to build a great foundation for the character.  In two episodes, the show manages to build 16 relatively rounded characters.  That is a truly difficult feat.  The plot elements about the weird white guy at the Church (Karolina’s grandfather?) and the unsuccessful death of Destiny are great starts to new interesting stories.  Everything is now in place to put the foot on the accelerator.  With the constant nods to new elements like Old Lace, hopefully the show will truly take off now that the core story is in place.

Final Verdict: Four out of Five Homemade Bries

ONE SHOTS:

  • Typing this review I realized that Frank Dean is played by Kip Pardue, who was Sunshine from Remember the Titans!
  • As someone with an unhealthy obsession with Ten Things I Hate About You, it was awesome to see Larry Miller in the MCU, just Larry Miller-ing about.  If Wonder Man every shows up in the MCU, Miller MUST be his agent!
  • This show has worked hard to have very few MCU connections.  It’s working fine so far, but at some point, it will start to grate on fans.
  • The tone of the show is great.  There is a general creepy factor that fits a story about a group of parents who kill teenagers in their basement pagan temple.
  • Brookly Wallace on MCU Exchange has mentioned to me that it is weird to her that the Runaways don’t, well, runaway.  For now, I like the tension of someone trying to live in a house with someone they think is a murder.  That can create an awesome suspenseful environment.  Also, I’m guessing the “Journey to the Center of the Earth” book shot that opens the show is a hint that the season will end with them discovering a tar pit cave hideout.
  • If I had to pick a favorite performer from the parents, I’d take Annie Wersching.  She was Jack Bauer’s best love interest on 24 (in my opinion) and on Runaways she is perfectly threading the needle between total villainry and sympathetic protagonist.  I still can’t decide if she will break really bad or if she will eventually become remorseful for what she has done.