Runaways: 1x07 Refraction.
Seven episodes into Runaways, I’m still not sure what the focus on the parents adds to the show. It’s hit and mix – hit, when it fleshes out how distressing it is for our kids to make the decision that will change their entire lives, miss when the focus is on the parents’ history and relationships with each other, all the parts that don’t necessarily include the Runaways themselves. There is a distinctive conflict at the heart of this show – which is that uncovering the history of Pride is like archaeology, digging into personal family histories, uncovering the pasts – while the kids are most concerned about how their discovery will affect their future. They are still trying to grasp what it would mean to have all of their parents (save Frank Dean, who will raise them all) locked up for their crimes. What are the very real world outcomes of not only discovering that parents aren’t infallible (and have affairs, and so many personal flaws) but that they are criminals that a working justice system would deal with swiftly?
But instead of that, we travel back in time to discover how the Pride became to be, or rather, how the individual members of Pride became entangled in it. It’s a two-directional movement, because at the same time, in the present, Leslie Dean has to heal all the fractures in the team. It’s not yet clear why it is so important to Jonah that the Pride remain tightly knit, that it doesn’t get torn apart by Robert’ and Janet’s affair.
That affair is a red herring in and of itself. It deeply affects Nico, as her one good parent intends to pursue a new life with a woman who makes him happier than Nico’s mum does, while it remains fairly unsubstantial in terms of what it does to the Steins, who are dealing with the much more twisted issue of Victor’s mental health, abuse and violence. But in the end, the Pride isn’t coming apart because Robert Minoru and Janet Stein have been having an affair – it is coming apart because there is no unity in the methods or the goals of Pride anymore. There are factions within Pride, and secrets that are being kept. While Leslie believes that she has returned the group to the status quo, the Wilders are convincing the Yorkes that Molly has to be sent away to be protected from Jonah and Leslie. While Leslie still thinks the problem is the affair, Victor snaps once again, except this time Janet has the means to protect her beloved son.
As much as this episode feels like a necessary goal post on the journey to the finale, to the inevitable running away of the Runaways, it does have a beautiful structure. Victor Stein is reprehensible, his violence, aggression and abuse inexcusable, and I think this episode serves less as an attempt to understand him than to portray how utterly destroyed his mind and soul are way before Janet fires that gun. He started out as an arrogant and curious scientist, obsessed with the idea that time travel could allow him to position himself perfectly. When they first meet, he shares this idea with Janet – that time travel is less about making up for mistakes in the past, but using the knowledge that it brings about the future to improve your current situation. We know where this idea leads, 25 later – obsession, a blind drive to find a way to communicate with the future that will leave his family in shatters. He looked at his son when he was first born and thought that this was all that matters, but then, somewhere inbetween, something broke. Or maybe it’s that Chase didn’t turn out the way he wanted, that he focused so much on sports. That moment in the car, a disappointed child whose father doesn’t care about what he cares about, and doesn’t care about Chase enough to pretend, and then that sudden escalation of violence (I think this may have been the first time, which is why it was included here). It’s a spiral that feels inevitable because Victor doesn’t regret any of it – even now, in the present tense, he doesn’t talk about making up for it, he is merely obsessed with haven been given a new lease on life, and he is propelled by what we find out (because Gert’s dad discovers it in an involuntary self-test) an unnatural high from Jonah’s treatment. In short, it’s an impermanent shift in his mind that cannot last, a temporary fix for a broken man who has done unforgivable things, and the low that will follow the high is like a ticking time bomb throughout the episode.
There is also the fact that Victor receives a warning in the beginning of the episode when his invention works – a future Chase, a young man, sending back a warning to his father to not pick up the Fistigons. This then of course turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, the inevitable irony of time travel, or having knowledge about the future. Temporarily, Victor is elated by the fact that his son must have become a genius inventor in the future to be able to communicate with him through the device. Temporarily, he wishes to congratulate the physics teacher who must have done a better job than he thought he did, discovering things in his son that he has always been too blind to see. The warning itself seems so very easy to comply with, a simple avoidance, but of course it works like the fairy tale does – where Sleeping Beauty’s parents, obsessed with the witch’s warning, attempt to destroy all the spindles in their kingdom, but the one they overlook will always inevitably find their daughter’s finger.
This whole episode is about time – for one, there is a constant timer that is running out as Alex decrypts the videos on Tina’s server, their one concrete piece of evidence that will doom their parents. There’s the photo that Frank finds, in his attempt to fully embrace the church now that Jonah has shared some of his awesome power with him in order to make him feel special (and how perfect that he chose that particular gift for a man who would delight so much in being able to heal and help). It’s time travel as well, into the dark history of the Church of Gibborim, which Jonah has warned Leslie is about to fall apart. Nobody mentions the horrifying fact that apparently, Leslie has been groomed by her father from an early age to become Jonah’s bride, predestining everything that is happening now, every decision that she has made since, and Karolina’s entire existence. It’s like a slow reveal of past horrors and present dangers, which is very different pacing from the very sudden way in which things unfold in the books. It is still all coming together in a similar way, and the show also finally introduces the trigger that will inevitably lead to where we were always meant to go: that horrible, horrifying moment when Molly comes home to find her foster parents packing her bags, that moment that she must have always had nightmares about ever since losing her own parents. She is being sent away, she isn’t wanted anymore. Gert – the best sister, who gets a lot of very good moments in this episode – knows that she can’t effectively protect Molly, that her parents have all the power in this situation, that for now, Molly has to go (and I think this moment is very, very effective in a show that is all about how horribly skewed the power dynamics between children and parents are, especially if the parents in question aren’t good).
Gert: Molly, you’re going to get through this. You’re the strongest out of all of us. And I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you, not now, not ever. We’re sisters, we’re sisters forever, and no one is going to change that.
At its core, Runaways is about family – an adopted family after actual biological family turns out to be the opposite of what it should be. There are so many broken promises in this episode: the Yorkes genuinely love Molly, and yet they are doing the worst damage to her when they go with the Wilders plans. Fred thought he was a husband and father, but now finds himself as just another pawn in a game that is too big for him to comprehend. Leslie, on that photo, was a normal school child, being asked to pose with her father’s friend, also just a pawn in someone’s else’s machinations. And worst of all, there’s Victor Stein, who promised that this was all that matters – the small child in his arms, with his entire future ahead of him – and then turned into his son’s worst nightmare, the fickle beast that is threatening the people he loves the most. He asked him to do one thing – he bent time and space to do it – but Victor couldn’t even do that.
Also building towards an inevitable reveal – Nico keeps asking Alex about the password thing that she knows was a lie, and he keeps trying to dodge her. I’m still curious as to whether this is going the way of the comics, or if the show will swerve from that deliberately because we already know what is going to happen otherwise.
The reveal with the photo seems to substantiate the idea that only Jonah is the alien, that Karolina’s mother is human and she is half-human. How horrifying to think that Leslie Dean was groomed her entire life for this, a pawn in this power game for Jonah to play with.
Karolina: It’s not your fault. This is too much for us to handle, let alone someone your age.
Molly: You’re like three years older.
This is a very brutal episode, especially for Chase and Janet, but there are a lot of tender moments in it as well that serve as a reminder of why we are here, and how the Runaways are growing together as a group. Karolina tries to cheer up Molly who can’t keep her secret any longer and feels frustrated that nobody is taking her seriously (except when she tries to join the cheerleaders again, they are taking her even less serious, and with none of the love and kindness that the other Runaways have for her). These two have the most demonstrable, obvious powers, that both of them have to hide (Molly has to do it in the hardest moment in this episode, when the Yorkes are sending her away). How hard is it to have powers but not to be able to share them? How hard is it to be so strong but never to be taken seriously, and to have so much to share but to have to keep her entire self a secret?
Karolina: That’s what I love about you Molly. Our parents are killers, the cops are crooked and we almost got killed by gang members. But you see it as everything is going great.
Molly: You know my true superpower is my positive attitude.
There is also a very lovely moment between Karolina, who isn't manning the Church of G booth anymore, and Gert, who has been betrayed by her fellow feminists - I think this whole storyline is so much stronger when Runaways focuses on the fact that these two know things about each other that the others don't, and when that is used as a connection between them rather than a point of contention. And Gert is so much better as a supportive (snarky, yes, but also always demanding the best because she knows it's there) friend than she is as a jealous competitor.