The first couple minutes of this episode of Runaways had my alarm bells ringing (more on that in the One Shots section below). Was a show that started so well really going to devolve into a series with no tension and ridiculous writing? Thankfully, 40 minutes later I was hooked all over as the show used the big Gala at Wizard HQ to jump-start what had become a meandering plot.
Introducing and developing Julian McMahon’s Jonah is the big shift in both the episode and series as a whole. As the parents all become more and more likable, someone needs to step up to bring the anxiety a good antagonist induces. McMahon brings the evil mostly with his arrogance. Obviously, the Pride is afraid of him. He nonchalantly rubs his adulterous flirtation with Leslie Dean right in Frank’s face, because what does he have to fear from such a pathetic little man. The kids also get the bad vibes from Jonah, especially his daughter Karolina. His presence just creates an uneasiness that the show desperately was missing. His motivations are still mysterious, and it makes his actions more difficult to predict. Superheroes need supervillains, and this show decided to take away the parents from that role. Thus far, Jonah has been an alright substitute.
On top of the new villain, Runaways also is finally mixing and matching relationships in a way that causes tension as well. The awkward tirade of Victor Stein on stage sets everyone on edge. (It helps that his cutting bravado returned for a flash too. Self-righteous jerk Victor is just infinitely more interesting than cuddly cancer-stricken dad Victor.) Also, the youthful foolishness of Molly leads to an obvious clash coming up, as self-concerned Wilders start to wonder if they need to do something with the Yorkes’ beloved adopted child. Putting the various families at odds with each other provides the show a little more juice.
The final tension adding piece is the kids getting into romantic triangles. While running the risk of being trite, the teenage melodrama does create for important conflict within the group. Runaways has always been a property about a reluctant and infighting team, and this cast does that dynamic well. Karolina’s personal turmoil borders on a comic trope, the manifestation of powers doubling as a metaphor for the struggle to come out about her sexuality, but that trope exists because its a rich metaphor. Any straying walks through overdone teen angst plots are somewhat forgivable exactly because the characters are teenagers. That developmental stage for people causes these sorts of issues in most teen dramas, from Rebel Without a Cause to Breakfast Club to The O.C.
Runaways writing team deserves credit for never losing sight of the fact that these kids are in fact kids. So when Gert gets some attention from the security guys, she says thanks while also finding it inappropriate for her age. Nico struggles to see her mom cry or to believe that her dad would cheat. Molly makes foolish decisions because secrets are hard for 14 year olds. In all the dialogue and situations these characters are believable and relatable, minus the fact their parents are billionaires. A show like this, or a host of other X-Men teen properties, requires the audience to feel kinship with the characters. “I didn’t have super powers when I was 17, but I felt just as awkward in my own body as if I had.”
It seems like the show is now set for a full fledge acceleration toward the finale. Jonah is causing chaos and seems to be getting agressive in his plans. Frank Dean is finally getting a clue. The Runaways are at odds with one another and their parents are starting to turn on each other. After covering for a bit, the parents will soon realize their kids know what is going on. All of this builds up to a place where some hard decisions will be made. It seems some of the parents will break toward a redeeming place, saying “enough is enough.” Others may make a more evil turn. And for all my complaints about the softening of the parents, that proess of humanizing them makes their ultimate decisions less predictable.
Final Verdict-3.5 out of 5 Star Wars Arcade Machines
- Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. How STUPID was the Staff of One conversation? The Staff isn’t magic, its an invention. How does it work? It does a DNA test. Ok, but how does it make things happen? It just does. So a walking stick with a ring on the end is capable of creating snow, soundproof barriers, mute people, visualizations of heat signatures of cars only by the name of the person riding it, etc.? Yeah. How? Magi…science! There is nothing science fiction, much less science, about this staff, why not just make it magic?
- Karolina’s “Lucy in the Sky” effect will probably always be a little divisive. They look super accurate to the comics, but it is hard to say if that’s always a good thing. They just seem a little off sometimes for TV.
- Does Tina Minoru walk around with sore finger tips all the time? Does everything work on a blood samples? And is it really that secure if the devices can’t tell the difference between her and Nico?
- Alex and Nico discussing the password for Mrs. Minoru was an odd conversation that seems to be a foreshadow. What for? Read a comic.
- Some of the commentators suggested they hadn’t really noticed the Nico/Karolina relationship in the show. This episode made it real clear, real fast.
- Anyone else totally missing Old Lace? We need more dinosaur!
- Setting up Gert to be the flirtatious distraction is an odd choice for the kids, but a brilliant choice for the show. It gave the character a chance to break out of a particular niche. Seeing Gert’s unease between her values and liking attention from operating outside those values is a character beat that provides nice depth to the show.
- I continue to think my final take on the show will hinge on what they do with the show’s central mistery. If the Gibborim are well developed from the comic insanity to something that fits this world, the show will really click. But lesser execution will cause the whole thing to feel a little flat.