A season of two distinct halves provides a decent if uneven sendoff for a show that never quite reached its full potential.
This review of Marvel’s Runaways Season 3 is spoiler-free.
And that, folks, is that — or almost, anyway. With Marvel’s Runaways Season 3, Hulu and Marvel’s television wing have teamed up to deliver the final outing of the second-to-last project that hasn’t kneeled before the executioner and his great ax of cancellation. The largely very good Netflix shows have all been done away with. Cloak & Dagger fittingly poofed out of existence with very little ceremony after just two socially mindful but drab seasons, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a little way to go before it marks the official end of Marvel’s small-screen output. The future for these specific characters, thanks to draconian rights and regulations that govern the adapting of certain characters and stories, remains very much uncertain. The future of the MCU’s television component, on the other hand, is well-known: A division overseen by Kevin Feige will develop tie-in shows on Disney+ with more explicit connections to the films.
That leaves Marvel’s Runaways Season 3 in a bit of an awkward, thankless position, having to conclude a story that hardly anyone actually cares about, up to and including those who own the rights to it. There was always a sense that whatever this final season did wouldn’t be enough to leave Marvel TV with a lasting legacy, and as it turns out, that assumption was entirely correct. But I’m fairly pleased to say that despite all of this and the complicated foundations set by an uneven first season and a grossly overlong second, Runaways Season 3 does an admirable job of things. I enjoyed its ten-episode run here, and I suspect the various young (and older) actors did too.
It’s very much a season of two distinct halves, though. The first one is a holdover from the first two seasons; the culmination of two interwoven plot strands which revealed that the parents of our heroes were all part of a sinister organization known as Pride and that Pride was having its strings pulled by a luminescent extraterrestrial who had been laboring for millennia to get himself and his family back to their homeworld. This story was close to collapsing under its own weight by the end of the second season thanks to a series of incredibly ill-advised decisions, rejections, betrayals, disagreements, and so on, and it’s no better at the start of Runaways Season 3 since Victor Stein (James Marsters), Stacey Yorkes (Brigid Brannagh) and Tina Minoru (Brittany Ishibashi) are all now housing the various members of an alien royal family.
While this allows the involved actors to play against type and creates a sense of mystery around which of the other characters might be harboring the notoriously sadistic alien son, currently missing, this entire arc feels reiterative, mostly concerning the various characters separating and then coming back together rather than just dealing with the task at hand in a sensible way, which probably could have been accomplished in one or two episodes. Runaways has always had overlong episodes and season orders, and while the reduction from 13 to 10 installments here definitely helps, there’s still a sense that a couple more could have been trimmed away with nothing lost as a result.
Luckily the back half of Marvel’s Runaways Season 3 is much more daring and energetic, dealing with the overtly supernatural machinations of Morgan le Fay (Elizabeth Hurley), whose witchcraft and comics-accurate cleavage are both deployed to great effect in an arc that challenges the runaways to confront their relationships and their own worst fears and memories. This is the show having a lot more fun than it usually does, both with its storytelling and its formal conceits, and despite perhaps one too many trips to a surreal dark dream dimension, the final five episodes of the show might be the best in its history.
This also excuses a much-talked-about crossover cameo from Cloak (Aubrey Joseph) and Dagger (Olivia Holt) that gives a last-minute jolt of energy to a familiar setup, and despite some extraordinarily clunky writing intended to explain it all, there’s enough humor and personality in the exchanges that you can forgive their obvious utility. It all builds to a time-traveling finale that walks back some of the story’s bolder choices in favor of a happier, less ambitious outcome, but perhaps, given all that has happened with these teen-focused small-screen shows, that’s for the best.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.