Shows built around mysteries live and die on the successful reveal of their mysteries.  Or films, as J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson could tell you two weeks after the release of The Last Jedi.  Abrams of all people falls prey to this trap, particularly with Lost about decade ago.  Setting up a tantalizing mystery is relatively easy but paying it off without a definite plan can be far more difficult.  Runaways, at its heart, is a show about a central mystery.  How was the Pride formed and why is it important?  The writers had a particular degree of difficulty because they were challenged to provide some of the backbones of the original comics, while also providing some new hooks to bring in those who have read the source material.

One way Runaways has attempted to bring in mystery is via a few deaths.  One such death is the demise of Molly Hernandez’s parents and the other in the second Minoru girl, Amy.  As the series has progressed, both of those mysteries are paying off in satisfying ways.  Amy’s death is clearly tied up in everything else that has gone on.  It seems that Jonah, or maybe Kincaid, shows up in her room to kill her.  Why they want to kill her is still a mystery.  Also, the Hernandez parents appear to be ahead of the pack in their planning.  Hopefully, they will provide Molly with some good information.  Both of these storylines also work because they play directly into the current situation surrounding the parents and Victor Stein.

Speaking of the parents, it is time for everyone’s favorite game show, “Who will get in the death box?”  In many ways, this was a fun scene in that real danger was involved, guns and death boxes and fistagons all around, while also playing out all of that time spent establishing relationships.  All of the little digs and jokes work because these characters have had time to grow and interact on the show.  Also, some of the mid-season softening of characters is rolled back, as Victor’s abuse and Tina’s Machiavellian tactics come front and center.  Nothing like a pointed gun to make everyone start to air the dirty laundry.  All of the character decisions made sense and played on the characters’ strengths, like the Yorkes’ comedic impulse and Geoffrey’s tough, no-nonsense brutality.

One concern is that the ultimate meaning of all these theatrics is still a little fuzzy.  The mythology hasn’t been well explained yet.  They need Victor alive to do the sacrifices, but clearly, his dead fingerprints are enough to work the boxes.  And the sacrifices are over, or are they?  So it has something to do with the school being built and LA collapsing?  And then when the box gets destroyed by Tina, Jonah kind of says, “Ah well, we will do it another way.”  Not understanding these mechanics destroys some of the tension of the story.  Why did the last 20 minutes matter if there are other options?  Did Jonah just want to see who would get voted into the death box?  Why all the urgency to get someone in the light coffin?

Another major elephant in the room is the way the show will or will not handle one of the kids’ defection.  Readers of the comics know that one of these kids is an all-time Marvel Benedict Arnold.  I won’t spoil that surprise, but I have enjoyed the way this series toys with my expectations.  There are plenty of moments that suggest that the TV show is following suit, but it would be very easy for the writers to use that expectation to create a false narrative, only to change the eventual turncoat or remove that idea altogether.  (I wouldn’t mind seeing all six kids together for a long time.)

Having the six turn on each other some is also a beneficial thing to the series.  Tensions amongst the team is a hallmark of the comic series and those scenes had real resonance in this episode.  In particular, Alex Wilder is proving a strong foil to several characters.  His back and forth with Nico shows some great, raw emotion.  The tussle with Chase also touched on some deeply rooted differences between the characters.  Chase’s broken relationship with his dad is being used well to create problems in his personal life which overflows to the team and threatens to get the Pride off the hook.  He and Karolina are both struggling with codependency issues that make sense in their homes of abuse and cultism.

For viewers, the good news is that the show seems to be pointed at a definite conclusion, which also will be a springboard for the future.  The questions inserted into the pilot have answers planned in the finale.  That shape of the season has given evidence that it is headed toward a fascinating and satisfying end.

Score: 4.5 hidden clue backpacks out of 5

ONE SHOTS:

  • Molly’s reaction to a VHS tape, “WHAT is this?” is about the fourth time I fell in love all over with her character in this episode.  She gets many of the best one-liners in the show.  Everything from “bite me Stacey” to “Gefilte tastes like diapers” makes me happy.  She has that lack of filter that can make teens so annoying and awesome.
  • Given how little spine Janet Stein has shown, it was nice to see her lay out the reality of the situation.  The Pride has run for years on her ability to keep volatile Victor in line.  While everyone else in the group took good advantage of their interactions with Jonah, she’s been left paying the bills emotionally.  That’s somewhat true of Robert too.  Their affair makes more and more sense as the characters develop.
  • I’ve been fussing about the need for more Old Lace, so this might sound a bit hypocritical.  Old Lace’s scenes teeter precariously between awesome and terrible based on the nature of the scene.  The puppeteer stuff is solid.  The CGI stuff is super wonky.  Maybe the dinosaur could just walk through doors and save us those awkward roof scaling sequences?
  • A little moment I loved was when Molly almost breaks the window, then just unlocks it.  That shows how impetuous she is, while also not portraying her as a total idiot.
  • For me, I’d like a little more consistency with Kincaid.  It’s not that I dislike his character.  It is just a bit jarring to have him appear and disappear so willy nilly.  Is he important or not?
  • I’m guessing that Chase’s phone had an easter egg or two.  They just didn’t pop out to me.
  • I’m more and more fearful that the Gibborim are going to become merely the Majesdanians or Jonah only, or the Majesdanians and Jonah is one.  I want giant weird animal deities!
  • One final request, let the tape Molly finds give them directions to a secret lair.  I want them to have a cool hideout.