It does raise the stakes that Runaways in its television adaptation shows more of the parents, their backstory, how they ended up here, but even more so that it focuses on the relationship these parents have to their children. It muddies the waters a bit in terms of clearly distinguishing between good and evil, between the correct way to move forward and the wrong one. The flashback we see in this episode, of the Pride’s first human sacrifice to Jonah, the first time they even realised that this was what was asked of them, is a reminder of how people start to become complicit in crimes, and guilty not necessarily for what they have done (most of the Pride’s members don’t even know what is going to happen when Leslie Dean guides a disciple of the church into Victor’s pod), but for how they deal with their responsibility after the fact. When they realise that Tina Minoru recorded them, that they will all face the consequences if any of them go public, they decide to keep stum, to continue doing Jonah’s bidding. Faced with their parents’ crime, the kids have a similar choice: they are the only ones who know about this, who will, by the end of the episode, have irrefutable evidence that their parents are killers. What will they do with that evidence? Will they change their own world forever by allowing their parents to go to prison? And, in that regard, does it matter that some of them, like Nico and Chase, are suddenly finding themselves in a situation where their most withholding, distant and cruel parent is reaching out to them for the first time in their life?
It reveals a lot about the characters if they follow absolute moral ideas here, where the wrongness of their parents’ actions overrides any kind of loyalty or love they may feel for their parents, or if they still feel conflicted about all of this. While Nico and Chase struggle, while Alex seems to drive them forward because he had the clearest experience of a trusted parent doing the wrong thing, while Karolina’s rebellion isn’t even necessarily targeted at her mother, but at everything that her former life stood for, while Gert still seems to be so steadfast in her idealism that she doesn’t flinch (which is such a surprising thing – because her parents remain the ones that are most relatable here in their haplessness, they seem to have stumbled into this the most unwillingly, but in the back of my mind I feel like that the show will reveal something about them that will change this very soon) – everyone forgets about Molly. It’s what they always do, because they are 17 and Molly is younger, because regardless of the fact that she is the strongest, nobody ever listens to her. They forget that their parents are her only connection to her parents, that she doesn’t have the luxury of being conflicted about her parents’ motives because they died years ago, and all she probably has left of them are a few memories. Molly hesitates because she knows that the only way to find out about her parents – about their reason for joining the Pride, and the circumstances of their death – is by keeping Catherine Wilder, who has made a promise to talk to her about them, out of prison. So in this episode, as Nico and Alex are gearing up to steal the footage from Tina’s servers, Molly knows that she is running out of time to get to know her lost parents.
This doesn’t occur to anyone, first and foremost because they are all teenagers, and they all have their own dramas to deal with. I think it’s also important to remember that these six kids were separated for such a long time, and are still figuring out how their individual friendships and relationships fit together. I hope they grow closer as a unit at some point as this progresses, but for now, they seem to operate more as precariously connected cells of interpersonal relationships, with very clear break lines between characters who aren’t so tightly connected. This is most obvious, and frustrating, between Gert and Karolina, who have somehow and unwittingly managed to trap themselves in the worst teen show cliché of all: the love triangle, which, in this case, isn’t even truly a triangle. This situation is all the more frustrating because it brings out the worst first of all in Gert, but then, later in the episode, in Karolina as well.
It starts very promisingly with Karolina and Nico, getting ready for the big fundraiser party. They both go into this scene with all of their family baggage: Nico has just surprisingly reconnected with her mother, who explained to her daughter how the Staff of One works (it’s science so incomprehensible and, well, alien, that it might as well be wicca), while Karolina has realised that her entire life, especially her mother’s religious cult, is a complete and absolute sham. In a beautiful throwback to when Karolina told Nico that she didn’t need all that make-up to hide behind in episode one, Karolina is the one who helps prepare Nico for the party, applying her make-up, helping her dress-up. They are open with each other.
Nico: That was weird, like I was trying to make you glow or something.
Karolina: Were you?
Imagine that: Karolina basically asking Nico if she was flirting with her and Nico definitely not categorically denying it. It’s like you can see Karolina’s face light up, like she sees an opening, a possibility that she hadn’t even considered before. What if she can use all this chaos and destruction of the world she thought she knew and finally be open with the girl that she has just realised she’s been in love with this whole time? Because realising you’re gay is twice hard, depending on your circumstances – realising it for herself was hard for Karolina, because of everything she was ever taught about herself, but it’s even harder to share that new part of her with other people, especially those whose judgement she values so much. It’s so scary, because how terrible would it be to be rejected not just for a feeling, but for who she is, as a person? And how much worse would it be to be rejected in that particular situation she is in now, with everything out of balance and no certainty, with everything else changing?
Nico: What I saw you do the other night, it should never make you feel afraid, or ashamed.
Karolina: It’s just; everything in my whole life has been has been for my mom and the church, then I learned what I thought was the ultimate good is somehow part of the worst thing imaginable. What if what I do is connected to that? What does that make me?
Nico: You know who you are. I know who you are. And neither of us is our parents, or the messed up shit they’re doing. Although nothing is more messed up what my mum is doing now. Actually being nice for the first time in years.
Karolina: It’s funny, you were always the rebel one, now you’re fairly close to your mum, I was always the momma’s girl, and now...
Nico: And now what? You’re the rebel?
Karolina: No I’m serious. Gert was right. I was the perfect church girl. I never did anything disobedient, or different, or what I wanted. And now that I know that I’m like a total freak, maybe I’m free. To be who I am. And to be honest who I want to be with.
Imagine being in Karolina’s shoes, having found out not just that her mother is involved in a murder cult, not just that she is gay, and in love with her best friend, but also that her actual superpower – her ability – is sparkling like a literal rainbow? It’s a beautiful power, an awesome one, but also one that is impossible to hide. Once she takes off that bracelet, she has no way of pretending that she is like anyone else on this planet, because she is obviously different. More than that, the particular way in which she is different may fit in with what her mother has been doing this whole time – so maybe there is something wrong with her, something evil inside of her. Nico does the kind and gentle thing here which she can do because she must feel similarly – after all, her mother’s weapon cannot even distinguish between Tina and Nico, and they are much more similar than Nico is comfortable with. She knows exactly what Karolina needs to hear, and it’s so much the right thing to say that Karolina almost comes out to her. I’m convinced she would have been brave, she would have dared it all, if Molly and Gert hadn’t burst in without knocking.
It’s one of many crimes Gert commits against friendship in this episode, but the far worse one is what she does later in the episode. Let’s assume that there is an alternative version of this episode where Karolina managed to be brave without any alcohol fuelling her, where she looks Nico in the eyes and tells her that she loves her – it’s a moment that is stolen from her, a grace she isn’t given (it would have been hers, regardless of Nico’s reaction). Instead Gert, later at the party, takes her aside, but not enough for them to be in private, and asks her point-blank if she is into Nico. She doesn’t sit her down. She doesn’t even express her support except as an afterthought, like saying “I still love you, whoever you are” isn’t the most important thing she can say to her right now. Instead, what she does say, and what Karolina hears, is Gert’s desperation to hear that Karolina isn’t in fact competing for Chase’s affections with her, with, to be clear, Karolina has never ever done. It’s unforgivably unkind of Gert, and a betrayal of all the values she holds so dearly – which doesn’t mean that it isn’t relatable, that people don’t something betray their own values when they are desperately in love with someone who doesn’t reciprocate their feelings. There’s a lot at stake for Gert, but at the same time, she of all the characters has a whole ideology about supporting other women, one that doesn’t seem to count for anything when her actual friend Karolina needs her love and support. I find this even more painful considering that Gert knows how much bullying Karolina suffers at school for being a “church girl” – but instead of being supportive of her, she joins in the chorus.
It’s even more painful because the scene felt like the exact opposite of a scene in a different show, one that I always thought was perfectly executed: Hanna and Emily, in the beginning of Pretty Little Liars, are in a similar spot. They were estranged for years and they have recently reconnected over trauma. When Hanna realises that Emily may be gay, she is kind and gentle. She is supportive. She is the greatest friend that Emily could possibly hope for, and this follows her through seasons and seasons of the show. Gert does none of that, she does something incredibly selfish, and for once, because Karolina is in that particular mood, because her entire world is crumbling, Karolina does something cruel back. She doesn’t even do anything as much as finally give in to something, because it’s so easy to do. Chase does have a crush on her. He has been low-key chasing her this whole time. She goes up on the roof with a bottle of vodka, and she wants to be alone, but she never really is alone. It’s a concession. She falls off the ledge and Chase can’t catch her, but she saves herself because it turns out that she isn’t just a glowing rainbow stick – she can also fly. It’s a completely exhilarating moment for her, because as much as she feels different from everyone else for all of these reasons – for being gay, for being in love with her best friend, for sparkling – she can also freaking fly. It’s an overwhelming moment of joy, so much so that when Chase kisses her, she doesn’t bother explaining that he’s read this whole thing completely wrong. Her world is crumbling, and for once she goes for an option that’s easy. The scene doesn’t leave any doubt that she doesn’t particularly feel like kissing him back, that she just doesn’t have it in her to hurt him in that moment. But Molly sees, so inevitably, someone will get hurt.
It fits in so perfectly too that Gert excels in this episode where she is also the worst. She enters the fundraiser with so much apprehension and insecurity (Molly, being the greatest as always, tells her that she looks amazing and is impressing everyone), but then later manages to dazzle not one but two security guards with how smart and funny she is – it’s not what she wants, but it’s also a perfect demonstration of how low self-esteem, or having suffered bullying, can fuck people, and especially teenage girls, over twice: Not just with the embarrassment of the moment, with making an environment hostile, but also the self-doubts that are so hard to shake later on, when they taint any accomplishment and win. Nico tells her to just be herself to distract the security guards, and that’s exactly what she does, and it works like a charm on them. She doesn’t tear herself down, she doesn’t really hesitate because she knows what’s at stake, and she is awesome.
So much more happens. Alex and Nico manage to retrieve the footage from Tina’s office, but not before witnessing Tina having a breakdown there (they don’t know that she is crying because Victor has just revealed that Robert is having an affair with his wife). Tina Minoru has seemed desperate to save her marriage, she has tried to get her daughter back, she has tried to find intimacy with her estranged husband, but everything is falling apart for her too, even now that they’ve made another successful sacrifice and brought back Jonah. Karolina’s dad, after failing to go ultra, is doubting his whole life as well, a beautiful parallel to his daughter, and this is also a reminder that Karolina is the sole member of the Runaways with the luxury of having a parent who isn’t involved in the Pride (except things look fairly dark for Frank Dean, now that Jonah has come back to meet his biological daughter, and his deleted memories of his wife sleeping with Jonah are resurfacing). Most importantly, after revealing that his wife is having an affair and collapsing in front of the entire assembled crowd at the fundraiser, Jonah injects Victor with a mysterious substance (it’s ALIEN, all this magic very involved technology is ALIEN TECHNOLOGY practically indistinguishable from magic), which seems to heal him but also delete the horrifying abusive streak that has terrorised his whole family. If this is an intended side-effect on Jonah’s part, or something else, we will soon find out. And in the end, the fact that none of the other kids ever listen to Molly, or pay her much attention, proves to be their greatest weakness: desperate to get to Catherine before she is arrested, Molly accidentally reveals that she was indeed present when the Pride attempted to sacrifice Destiny.
I still feel like Victor and Tina are the worst, but I did enjoy that little moment when Tina showed Nico how to use the staff and giggled about her daughter’s wish being for her to be quiet. They are similar but not the same.
Gert: Dating is so heteronormative.
It does speak to the show's ability to make all of these characters loveable even when they're at their worst, but oh boy, does Chase not know how to read a situation, or rather, probably every experience he's ever had and everything he's ever been told has led him to completely misinterpret everything Karolina does. Watch her face in the limousine, and while he kisses her. He's going to have a very rude awakening soon.
This is once again hard to write about with spoiling anything, but I do wonder if the show is building up to something here: first there’s Tina telling Nico that “you never really know what is going on in someone’s mind, even someone you love” – a comment that is meant to be about Amy, about knowing why her older daughter killed herself (we know that there’s a good chance she didn’t), but one that could also be an ominous prophecy about things to come for Nico. And then there’s Alex, somehow figuring out the password for Tina’s office, which does seem way too easy.
The Yorkes’ are charming as always, monopolising the food at the fundraiser, but I think if we put the pieces together we’ll find that Dale and Stacey have contributed a fair share to Jonah’s project – Dale is the one who poisons the sacrifices, and he admits to having erased Frank Dean’s memory after he stumbled across his wife and Jonah. These two are more culpable than their quirky exterior gives away. I wouldn’t be too surprised if they were closely involved with the Pride causing Molly’s parents’ accident (which I assume happened in the first place because the Hernandezes were the only ones who wanted to leave the Pride after finding out about its true nature).
Chase: You hear about our parents? They’re having an affair.
Nico: What? My mum and your dad?
Chase: No, my mum and…
Nico: Oh god, and my mum.
Chase: No, my mum and your dad.
Like, Robert seems to passive even to his daughter that this option doesn’t even OCCUR to her. Beautifully played, honestly.