Reviewing Runaways is starting to bifurcate me as a person. Like Jekyll and Hyde, I find that I’m having two totally different sets of feelings and thoughts with each episode. On the one side, the comic fan inside of me is thrilled by an excellent show focused on a great core of young heroes. As a critic, however, I can’t stop having nagging negative feelings about the villains, the parents.
Starting with the kids, this cast is just too much fun. Finally, the powers were in full swing this week as a combination of Karolina’s light show, newly 3D-printed fistagons, Molly’s strength, and the Staff One all helped to save Alex from his dad’s gangster past. Seeing the first team-up of these powers was satisfying. Many fans were (or at least I was) jumping up and down in their chairs. This is the kind of powers and action that a comic show should highlight. After building all of them up carefully, it was great to see them in combination.
Furthermore, Runaways does something somewhat unique in that the kids are allowed to enjoy their powers. Many teen hero shows, following the lead of an X-Men trope, use the experience of powers to echo the confusion and uncertainty of puberty. Powers cause existential dread and alienation. But while some teens go through physical changes horrified, others immediately try to get a date or join the basketball team. Our six heroes-to-be are having a blast with them and want to try them out more. Given they are wealthy and wildly spoiled LA kids, it would make sense that their powers strike them as a cause for fun and not just a burden. They can go use them without too much weight of responsibility, the same way they race around in the mini-Coop mom bought them. Watching that infectious joy is a lot more fun than over-serious self-loathing.
Now for the other side of the coin. The parents have gotten less and less villainous as time has gone on, and this is robbing the show of its early tension. In the first episode, Victor Stein and Tina Minoru made my skin crawl. Now, they are just nice folks struggling along in life. Chase is working on his inventor merit badge with Dad while having hug it out moments over his father’s cancer. Meanwhile, remember when Nico and Alex feverishly cleaned up all that snow two weeks ago, fearful of how unhinged her mom would get if she discovered they had been playing with the Staff of One? Apparently, they were over-reacting. That moment happened and Tina did her best Lorelai Gilmore impression. “You know what honey, go ahead and take my magical staff for a joy ride tonight! It’s a special thing that bonds us as mom-daughter buddies.” At no point do I ever feel any real danger from these parents. This is not merely a matter of the writers replacing the cat-and-mouse tension of the source material with a living-with-the-enemy tension in the show. Such a shift is fine, given that its creepy and unsettling, as it was earlier on. Instead, each new revelation is met with parents who respect and support their kids. Quite simply I’m struggling to believe that these parents would turn on their kiddos in the right moment. As such, there is no villain in the show.
This is part of an overall toothless nature to the show’s development. The parents aren’t a credible threat to the children, which they should be, particularly across families. (Isn’t that the whole point of the Hernandez family and Amy death mysteries? To make us believe these folks would kill one another or their own kids?) Nico’s summoning of the staff has gone from self-mutilation to a diabetic test strip. The Wilders had a gun fight in which no character with a speaking role died, followed by a super-powered standoff in which no one was harmed. Alex’s kidnapping was a visit to grandma’s house. Even the central element of the Pride sacrifice has been shifted from stabbing someone to death to putting them in a big alien glow box which causes them to disappear. In all these ways the TV Runaways live in a far safer, more mundane place than the world of the comics. (Ultimately I do respect some of those decisions, particularly with the issue of self-harm, but it is part of a broader softening of the world which I don’t like.)
Putting these two elements together, I feel so conflicted. The tension is just missing right now on the show. On the other hand, I’m having way too much fun with it to really care. Each week, despite my misgivings, I am ready to binge a second episode and sad to have to wait. The characters are just so good. While the parents feel less dangerous, the stories still are relatively compelling. The chemistry in the cast is good. Victor Stein might have been tempered, but I he feels authentically like Chase’s father. Possibly a fuller reveal of the Gibborim will help to flesh out a little more what the overall threat is. If the show can take the solid character work and add some stakes, it will be truly special.
Final Verdict: 3.5 Time Machine TVs Out of 5
- I called it! Karolina is sacrifice-receiving-man’s daughter it seems. Unless they are double faking us out.
- If this is true, can we kill Frank Dean yet and put him out of his misery? What a pointless character.
- A lot will ride on how they pull off the idea of the Gibborim. That could redeem or doom many of the decisions that have been made thus far.
- I like the flashback to start the episode pattern the longer that they do it.
- Just noticed “Timely Coffee” this week, probably a wink to Timely Comics, which became Marvel.
- For now, the Alex-Nico-Karolina love triangle is feeling far more forced than the Gert-Chase-Karolina one.
- So mastering foot rockets took Tony Stark countless trial and error experiments, but Victor Stein can make a TV that shows the future in an afternoon, in between child sacrifices? Ok…
- Continuity error alert! Did anyone else find it jarring to hear Mr. Wilder call for “a van and three armed men” and then he strides in solo with his fancy car? Besides the editing glitch, why in the world would someone that wealthy and powerful be putting himself at such risk? And did he really fire his gun THAT close to his only son? That scene was just off.
- Super disappointed that after all the powers kicked into effect and the bullets were sinking into the shield that we didn’t have Old Lace jump on top of Mr. Wilder’s prison friend and bite his head off.
- Thus far the power VFX are not totally up to movie quality, but they are enjoyable. Old Lace is making up for anything lacking in the other spots.