The first three episode of Runaways, posted all at once on Hulu, provide an excellent foundation for the series with complex relationships, a smattering of superpowers, and plenty of mystery to keep the story moving forward.
The first episode, “Reunion,” focuses on six teenage kids who used to be friends but who have grown apart. Alex, Chase, Molly, Gert, Karolina, and Niko all used to get together when their parents met up for “charity” meetings of a group called Pride. Niko’s sister Amy was the center of the group but Amy seems to have died two years before this under circumstances that no one will talk about. What’s especially great about the dead-sister hook is that it’s clear how much all of the characters loved her and had specific individual relationships with her. The episode takes place on the second anniversary of Amy’s death and Alex, the son of a former gangbanger, tries to get the six surviving friends together when the parents have their meeting. They all have their teen issues and refuse to come. Gert is an outspoken social justice warrior, Molly just started her first period and has terrible cramps, Karolina has been brainwashed by what is essentially the Marvel version of Scientology, Niko is depressed and angry, and Chase is a straight-A jock golden child desperately seeking his father’s approval.
The second half of the first episode has all the kids get into a tough spot trying to do their own thing. Molly’s menstrual cramps turn out to be the manifestation of super-strength which makes her fall asleep after she uses it. Gert offered to help Chase with his Spanish homework but Chase blows her off and goes to a party with his Jock friends. Karolina tries out rebellion and ends up at the same party where she takes off her church bracelet and turns pink and sparkly then passes out. Chase saves her from being raped by his friends and takes her to Alex’s house. Molly is Gert’s adopted sister and Gert sends her into the basement to feed all of their parents’ laboratory animals because she isn’t home. Molly finds a dinosaur in the basement, freaks out, and asks Gert to take her anywhere but there so they too end up Alex’s house. Then Nico, in her despair on the anniversary of her sister’s death, also heads to his house. Once together they start doing traditional dumb teenage things like stealing liquor from their parents and accidentally find a secret passageway. They follow it and walk in on all of their parents in the middle of a cult murder ritual. The way that all six of them get back together and even how they find the secret room has excellent causation and the events all flow logically into the next. There’s so much going on in this episode that it would be easy for it to feel disjointed and odd but it hangs together fantastically and provides just the right amount of intrigue to kick off the story.
The second episode replays the first from the point of view of the kid’s parents so we get to see what they’re up to and what their possible motivations might be. They all have their projects and they all speak cryptically about their goals and their secret cult meetings. I thought the “Rewind” was a nice touch as it showed that the parents are all fully realized characters in their own right rather than just monolithic authoritarian evil. Alex’s parents are former gang members who are now in real estate. Gert and Molly’s parents are dorky scientists. Chase’s dad treats him horribly and his mother is cowed into submission. Niko’s parents are somehow wealthy and still dealing with the death of their daughter Amy. I didn’t quite catch what was up with them but Tina said she had to be at the office early and they apparently invest in research. Since we saw their crazy ritual first, seeing everything from their point of view is a nice way to humanize them. Given that this is the MCU, I imagine they’ve all got some kind of ancient alien technology or something but who can say? At any rate, leaving all of their (seemingly) occultist pursuits a mystery is an excellent way to build tension and while it gives the parents their own goals it also gives the kids problems that they have to figure out. That’s a nice way to have conflict and plot development baked right into the premise.
One of the things that always makes or breaks a Marvel series for me is whether they pay attention to their world-building and logistics enough that the weirder sci-fi elements hang together effortlessly. The MCU gets all of its superpowers from science–even its weird magic–and so far all of the parents are scientists or involved in science and all of the kids have bizarre powers that I’m thinking come from weird experiments or something. I love it, and I like the mystery of it here at the beginning because it means we get to figure it all out as they do. I’m intrigued by why these kids are special (Molly, particularly, has the most obvious traditional superpower so far) and if their parents really did do something to them what their motivations could be.
These three episodes are also a gorgeous love letter to Los Angeles and are well-designed and beautiful even beyond the establishing shots. You can tell they put in the work to make this look as nice as humanly possible. I also appreciate how well the relationships between the characters are built out. They don’t just tell you they all knew each other, they show the devastation they all feel at the loss of their friend and how it pushed them all apart. We don’t see the relationship that they had before but it’s clear how well they used to get along without them ever hammering directly on the point. The group dynamics and interpersonal interactions are all very well-written. The teenage struggles and coming-of-age tone here strikes just the right balance between innocence and experience. They all are trying to find themselves but are also dealing with extra problems (like weird powers) and their parents apparently being murderers on top of it. Frankly, it’s the kind of tone I was hoping for from The Gifted but that that series has never managed to achieve. The only traditional MCU piece really missing from this so far is a lot of action but there’s enough from Molly and from all the investigating that it doesn’t feel like a lack.
So far, I like this show much more than I anticipated I would. I didn’t really have any expectations going into Runaways but I was a little worried that it might be shallow and melodramatic considering the focus is on a group of teenagers and teenage protagonists lend themselves easily to cheap drama. Instead, all of the characters are well-rounded, the plot has enough conflict on all sides to keep things interesting, and it’s light-hearted without being frivolous. It has elements of darkness and struggle that add nice depth but, especially coming on the heels of Punisher, it feels like a jaunt. I greatly enjoyed these first three episodes and I’m excited for more.
Season 1, Episodes 1-3 (S01E01-03)
Runaways streams on Hulu on Tuesdays.
Dana is a digitization archivist by day and a masked pop culture avenger by night. She spreads the gospel of science fiction and fantasy wherever she goes.
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Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor