Friday, July 19, 2024

Runaways Ends an Inconsistent First Season

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The first season of Runaways has been an…interesting show to watch. A frustrating one, really. One bouncing wildly between good and bad, fast and slow. Runaways has struggled throughout the season to find a balance between the good ideas and the bad. After a season of stalling the decisive moment when the runaways actually run away, last week finally hit the point of no return. So what does it do with this pivotal moment?

Best relationship.

Episode Review

Unfortunately, Runaways fell right back into its season-long habit of bringing progress to a dead halt. I just don’t understand it. I don’t understand how they kept making this mistake at every turn throughout this season and I especially can’t believe they did it here, in the finale, after the way things ended last week.

Plainly, this episode did not feel anything like a finale. They could have swapped this into the middle of the season and other than the sailing of the Nico/Karolina and Gert/Chase ships, I could hardly tell the difference. In fact, this SHOULD have been an episode towards the middle of the season, ships included. Runaways certainly acted like that was the intention. There was a strange lack of urgency for an episode that started off so urgently.

The result was a mixed bag of new questions and partial resolution of the season’s plotlines that fell a bit short of satisfying to me. We learn something living is in the hole, but the urgency to stop the drill before it causes whatever cataclysmic earthquake will result just vanishes. The parents do appear to team against Jonah but we spend most of the episode watching them do nothing about it. The runaways spend the episode talking and doing nothing before running away.

Honestly, other than the Nico/Karolina and Gert/Chase scenes, nothing too much resolved or even happened. Instead I felt like I was just watching everyone sit around talking about what to do in the future. Which can work as a finale, but not after a season that made me spend so much time watching characters sit around talking. Runaways needed something more. Something to make this finale pop.

Not to mention this episode once again failed the balance between the parents and the teens. This problem plagued the show since day one. Once again I was left watching the parents decide how to stop Jonah while the kids are left standing around in the woods with no clue what to do.

I won’t pretend it doesn’t make sense. The parents know much more about Jonah than their children do and should have a better idea of what to do. Problem is I thought this show wasn’t about them. And frankly (I know I’ve said this a dozen times by now) they aren’t interesting enough to carry the show at the expense of the supposed heroes.

Now I’m not going to pretend the episode was wholly unsatisfying. A lot of people are rightfully happy about Deanoru and Gertchase. With Karolina and Nico especially it’s always great to see more wlw representation and their buildup towards a relationship, and Karolina’s gradual acceptance of her sexual interests, has been one of the best storylines of the season. They have been two of the best characters of the season for that reason.

It just sucks to see the only real hard resolution for any of these characters revolve around their love lives. If you’re going to involve the parents so much, do like you did last week and focus their inclusion on their children. Base their involvement on their children. Have scenes with Nico that focus on Amy and her parents. What about Molly and what she found out about her parents? Or scenes with her and Gert focused on the Yorkeses. Remember Chase’s reluctance based around his father and his mother? He barely did.

There were certainly some strong scenes in this episode. The best characters (namely Nico, Karolina, and Gert) continue to do good things shining brightly among all my frustration. Gert’s scenes with her dinosaur, Old Lace, were wonderful. Runaways can be pretty good and is from time to time.

The result is the same frustrating dichotomy plaguing the entire season.

Season Review

Yeah, yeah, broken record at this point. But really those examples I gave above are just a sample of how the apparent lack of trust in the teens to carry Runaways hurt the show a great deal in this premiere season, as did the constant mistake of slowing the plot in the aftermath of pivotal moments.

The teens see Destiny’s sacrifice at the end of the first episode. It’s another three or four before they team up with their powers and gadgets for the first time. It’s another three before they come back to take action and another two before they face down their parents finally. And in between the show struggled to really grab my interest. Mostly because it was these in-between episodes that fell back into the worst of the show.

It was here where the focus on the parents really hurt Runaways. So many good ideas were often born of the pivotal moments and ended up unfortunately ignored because of either a focus on the parents or a decision to reset the dynamics between the characters. I would have loved for Molly to find out about her parents much earlier and have multiple scenes throughout the season focused on it. From there Runaways could have subplots about the sisterly dynamic between her and Gert, since they come from different parents.

They could have equalized Nico’s gradual realization of her interest in Karolina with Karolina’s own sexual realization through further scenes of her relationship with Alex breaking down. Chase’s conflicted dynamic with his parents could have been done better, and perhaps made the abuse storyline with Victor more interesting. Alex could have benefited from ANYTHING. He started off as the blandest of the runaways and only became less interesting as the season went along.

Instead all the potential fell aside because we needed to watch the parents just as much, if not more. And it’s a damn shame.

Basically everyone except Karolina suffered because Runaways never decided what the heck it wanted to be. This is true of the parents as well. Since the show constantly bounced back and forth between the parents and teens, Runaways tended to fall back on uninteresting clichés and stereotypes that did them no justice either. Then they don’t always handle them well, such as the Stein abuse story, which often crossed over into victim-blaming.

Putting a focus on the parents is not a bad idea in theory, especially since they appear to be central to taking Jonah down. Runaways just went too far with putting the focus on them at the expense of the actual heroes of the show.

Nothing is more frustrating than a story that varies wildly between good and bad. With good, even with flaws, you typically receive a rewarding experience for your time. With a show that’s just bad, you can at least bask in salt and have fun, assuming it isn’t an offensive bad. Shows that swing back and forth like Runaways can be so frustrating because you can’t really reward yourself either way. It’s hard to just get a feel for what exactly it will end up being.

And let me be clear, since I’ve been so negative so far; Runaways has plenty to like and I’m glad people are taking to it.

Karolina Dean stands out among the show’s positives, and not just for the representation of a young lesbian character discovering her sexuality. While that’s certainly important and validating, it matters more that her character was portrayed so well. Her journey to realization of her powers and sexuality were not only tied effectively to each other, but to the overarching plotline. She was the best example of what Runaways can do right and has done right.

When things happened around her, typically it was either for the good of her character, the story, or both. Sometimes I couldn’t be sure if it was the writing or just the actor playing her, but even when plotlines involving her went sour, like the love triangle with Gert and Chase, she managed to rise above and remain an interesting part of the show.

The same is true of her eventual love interest. As much as I love Molly, I’m walking away from the season thinking Nico was the best character. While improvements could have been made to make clear her growing interest in Karolina (not to suggest there was nothing), otherwise I feel like she was handled pretty fantastically. Like Karolina, she often benefited from her personal issues being tied so intimately to the main plot. Her sister’s death sparked the reunion with the others and her determination to find the truth gave them focus.

Short partner spooning.

Gert and Molly were unfortunately underutilized in my opinion but were both individually compelling just about every time they appeared. Their constant sisterly support was nice to see between adopted sisters. I’m used to that dynamic being used to create tensions. Gert was fascinating because she was allowed to be so many different things. She was both the insecure nerd and confident. Her appearance was unconventional while also attractive to others. She was allowed to have real flaws in her personality without them overshadowing the likable things about her. Gert was allowed to be a complicated teen, probably the most complicated of the group, and shine for it.

In general, the teens were well developed. The main exception is Alex, which is really unfortunate since he played such a leadership role. I may have problems with Chase’s character and the decisions made involving him, but they mostly relate back to the show’s issues with progressing the plot and not him. I actually enjoyed the direction they went with him by the end.

It was also awesome to see such a diverse group of young protagonists who were allowed to be complicated, messy, and interesting protagonists without ever coming across as anything less than good heroes to root for. I haven’t read the comics but I feel like they represented everything superheroes are supposed to. Runaways always benefited when the plot moved around them.

Which ultimately is the problem. All but one of the runaways was consistently compelling yet they were so often sidelined in their own show. Most of the reason for the one that failed to be compelling was due to lack of opportunity. The story suffered considerably and I can’t help but wonder if maybe the actors weren’t trusted to carry the show for ten episodes, so they relied on the parents.

Runaways was just renewed for a second season, and I’m hoping they put a little more trust in these characters moving forward. I want to see Runaways be better. I’m just not sure how much confidence this first season inspired.

Runaway Thoughts:

  • I’m so disappointed that Old Lace didn’t play an active role in any action during the finale.
  • You have to admire the attempts to keep the dino off screen as much as possible, though. Budgets, man, they can hurt you.
  • Vaughn’s reaction to Molly ripping the door off was amazing. I’d probably react the same way to a girl that young showing that strength.
  • I’ve never seen anyone keep their keys in the sun shade, yet I see it in every movie or show.
  • So, Karolina’s a mole now, right? This finale clearly hinted at it. At least that’s what I took away from the scenes with Jonah and the text message.
  • I really didn’t like Tina at first, but the second half of the season improved my opinion a lot.
  • So who is Jonah trying to resurrect? Leslie’s father? Some even more ancient light being?

Images courtesy of Hulu

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