|Episode No.||1, 2 & 3|
|Episode Title(s)||“Reunion”, “Rewind”, “Destiny”|
|Air Date||November 21, 2017|
Marvel’s Runaways is the live-action adaptation of a comic book series of the same name by Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona. It’s weird.
Well, first, here’s some context.
I must admit to not having read the comics or followed the show’s production. And thanks to Ready Steady Cut’s decentralised management structure I had no idea who was supposed to be covering the thing until I found out it was me. By that time the first three episodes had been released exclusively on Hulu, and I had to watch them back-to-back in the middle of the night. So the show’s weirdity kind of stunned me.
I was expecting certain things. Like a lot of young-adult fiction, Runaways follows a mismatched group of archetypal high-schoolers. And it’s a Marvel show, so, y’know… superpowers. But in Runaways, the kids’ parents all belong to a secret ritualistic murder cult. And one of the characters can communicate telepathically with a Velociraptor.
So, yeah, like I said – weird.
Okay… we’re doing three episodes at once?
Unfortunately. Ordinarily I’d like to look at each of the first three episodes in a bit more depth, but they were all released at the same time, I watched them in one sitting so they’ve kind of blurred together, and I’m a busy man. So this will be a special one-off bumper recap and from then on we’ll cover Marvel’s Runaways one week at a time. That cool? Cool.
So what happened?
Thankfully for me, nobody actually did any running away. The first three episodes of Runaways were mostly used to establish the particulars of the story and introduce the huge cast of teenagers and parents who factor into it. Which is handy, really. Not only is the story odd and unusual, but it’s also big and unwieldy.
The first episode, “Reunion”, focused mainly on the teens. There’s Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz); big-haired, black, nerdy, and their nominal leader. Part of the fun of Runaways is discovering how each kid fits into the group, and the show’s been really patient about that. After three episodes, I only know what two of them really contribute, and even then I don’t know why. Alex is smart, but that’s all Runaways has given us about him so far.
Let’s start with what we do know, then.
Okay, good idea. Gert (Ariela Barer) is a purple-haired feminist who isn’t anywhere near as insufferable as you’d expect. Runaways smartly recognises that her social activism is hollow buzzword twaddle. She’s parroting stuff she hasn’t experienced or doesn’t understand the context of. But she can communicate telepathically with a dinosaur, which is what she brings to the table. Her adopted sister, Molly (Allegra Acosta), self-infantilizes and acts like she’s eight despite having her first period, but she’s super-strong. Like, Hulk-strong. I don’t know why, and neither does she. It’s part of the show’s charm.
Elsewhere, there’s Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin), a handsome, white jock, which is kind of a superpower on its own; Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner), a pretty, blond do-gooder who’s devoted to her mum’s made-up, new-fangled church; and Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano), an Asian goth, the mysterious death of whose older sister has slowly driven a wedge between the once-inseparable teens.
Marvel’s Runaways sounds a bit complex.
It is – heavy, too. But this isn’t a plot-driven show. The character dynamics, and how these young girls and boys deal with each other and their adolescence is what Runaways burns for fuel. Which is why the show isn’t interested in immediately living up to its title. It lets us see what’s under everyone’s respective roofs first. It understands the single most pressing concern of any teenager: Meeting the parents.
Never fun. What’re the parents up to?
They all have their own complex backstories and high-flying professions, as well as singular and different reasons for being in cahoots. But they’re all part of a shadowy organisation called “The Pride”.
After the teens stumble on their human sacrifice in the first episode, the second, “Rewind”, lets us see the same sequence of events from the perspective of the parents. The Wilders, Catherine (Angel Parker) and Geoffrey (Ryan Sands) are affluent African-Americans. She’s a hard-charging attorney; he’s a real estate magnate with a gangbanger past that won’t leave him alone. Nico’s parents, Tina (Brittany Ishibashi) and Robert (James Yaegashi), are executives who’re struggling to keep their own marriage together. It doesn’t help that Tina’s a witch, or that Robert is having an affair with Chase’s mother, Janet (Ever Carradine).
Janet, by the way, is the typical belittled spouse of her reclusive, abusive, time-travel-obsessed genius husband, Victor (James Marsters). Gert’s parents (Brigid Brannagh; Kevin Weisman) are wacky bioengineers who work for the Minorus, and would much rather create telepathic dinosaurs than participate in ritual sacrifice. The sacrifices are instead procured by the Deans, Leslie (Annie Wersching) and Frank (Kip Pardue), who nab stray, homeless teens under the cover of their Scientology-style religion, the Church of Gibborim.
This sounds incredibly confusing.
Don’t worry about it – I’m condensing three episodes of development here. Just take my word for the fact that the show handles its various moving parts with assuredness and intelligence. It isn’t anywhere near as confusing to watch as it is to read about.
Okay. What about the third episode?
“Destiny” devotes more or less equal time to the children and their parents as the former investigate what they’ve discovered and the latter try to cover it up. The teens know, the parents suspect them of knowing, but neither party wants to show their hand just in case they’re wrong.
As well as discovering that their lives have been lies, the teens also have to grapple with being suddenly thrown together despite having been previously driven apart. They have crushes and jealousies and resentments. They’re dealing with the discovery of powers and legacies that complicate their social problems. This feels like more than a tokenistic acknowledgement that developing weird superpowers works as a metaphor for puberty, although it obviously is that, too.
When are these characters going to run away?
I don’t know. But I don’t think it matters, really. The fourth episode airs tonight, and there are only ten in the season. They might not abscond until close to the end. But Runaways is the rare show which seems to benefit from a glacial pace. Exposition and character development are crucial in our understanding of these well-rounded characters. Information is drip-fed to us, mysteries are slowly, carefully revealed, and our desire is not to see the characters run away quite yet, but to see them interact and grow and develop their relationships each week.
Tune in. I liked it a lot. It’s teenage drama that tells a tale of murder cults and Wiccan magic and mutant superpowers, but has the good sense to ground its outlandish elements in the simplest dynamics of ethical and personal dilemmas and kids and parents keeping secrets. I can relate, and I’m interested to see where it goes from here.
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