Thursday, 11 January 2018

Runaways - I say we have to think about each other.

Runaways: 1x10 Hostile.

The best way to think about the two separate arcs on this show is the contrast between how the parents of the Pride and the kids of the Runaways interact with each other. In a central scene for the parents, Tina Minoru proposes murdering Leslie Dean, and the only way their already fractured group (as the Wilders have chosen a different path, and Victor is still in a coma) comes together again in in plotting against their newly found enemy, Jonah. Their cooperation isn’t based on love and respect for each other, it is a pragmatic solution to all of their children being lost, and there is no love lost especially between Leslie Dean and Tina Minoru, after Leslie reveals that she knew about what happened to Amy all those years ago and kept it a secret to protect Jonah. All of these sad, incompetent people have done nothing but betray each other in trying to manoeuvre for a better position, and Jonah had an easy time manipulating them into being pawns in his game. It is only now that they realise what they have been part of this whole time, and even think to ask questions about the mysterious energy source they’ve supposedly been digging for this whole time. They’ve been so busy struggling and doing Jonah’s bidding that it didn’t even occur to them to make the same logical leap that the Hernandezes made years ago: That what is buried deep beneath the Wilders’ building site is something else entirely, that could put the entire city, if not country and world, in danger. 

Contrast this with the bravery that the Runaways find in this episode when they are faced with an impossible opponent and odds that are stacked against them. It’s completely obvious from how the fight that started last episode continues here that Jonah can overpower them without much effort, and yet, they all get back on their feet once he thrown them, they all face them again, because it doesn’t even occur to them to give up. Even Alex, who brings nothing, even Nico, who has lost her staff and only source of power, even Gert, after Old Lace has been tranquilised by her father. They may disagree over what the best way is to take care of the group – significantly, Alex seems to argue over the group over individual safety when he advises to give up on both Karolina and Old Lace – but regardless of these differences, the main focus point is always the well-being of everyone, and their newly found camaraderie and friendship. They may threaten to fracture around methods and next steps, but their intentions are always good, and they care for each other deeply. Runaways feels different from some of the other current, dark Marvel shows, where having the moral high ground is usually not worth much, especially in light of the depravity and darkness of its villains, but I think it counts for a lot in Runaways, which is going a different path in terms of tone. 

So it happens that the scene with the most emotional resonance happens between Gert and her dinosaur – Arsenic and Old Lace, forced to part for a few hours, until Gert realises that Old Lace has enough of a will of her own to be able to disregard commands when she wants to stay with her. It’s an episode where she and Chase navigate the fall-out of last episode’s events individually, and mostly through Nico (who ships them hardcore), so that Gert’s other primary relationship – with a genetically engineered emotional support dinosaur, a lasting gift from the parents she can no longer trust – become the emotional bulwark against all the horrors of the world. 
Nico: We’re not leaving you. Don’t do this, please, I’m begging you. You can’t do this alone. I’m not leaving you.
Karolina: Nico, go. You have to go.
The greatest threat to the group is being split up. I like that Nico’s realisation of how much Karolina specifically means to her happens in small scenes – the vehemence with which she argues for them staying with her when she faces Jonah, and later her insistence that they do not leave her behind in the Church of Gibborim, when the others are ready to move on without her. Nico isn’t very open about her feelings, or expressive about her emotions, but she doesn’t leave a doubt here about how much Karolina means to her. She also understands the others well enough to know that the way to argue for her rescue is to remind them how much Karolina has fought for them, and how she chose to save them instead of running, which was always an option. Thinking about each other, instead of thinking about the group, means that none of them is expandable, and nobody will be left behind. 

The jail-break is a bit too easy for my liking in the end – they sort of manage to get Vaughn (Yawn) on their side, and Molly and Chase go undercover, and basically just wander in and out with Karolina, with very little resistance, which feels odd especially after the Wilders get turned away so effectively earlier. There is a hint here with a mysterious, anonymous text message, that Jonah has an inside man and maybe wanted Karolina to run (is he tracking her? Does he think it’s a convenient distraction for the other Pride members until he gets Victor back on track?). Of course, the idea of someone being a mole still hangs over the Runaways’, and Alex acts fairly sketchy in this episode, somehow curtailing a gun and a stash of cash from his father’s enemy in exchange for – something we do not see. Alex is still an enigma, because some of his actions do seem to be motivated by the fact that he doesn’t have any powers, or dinosaurs, of his own, and is struggling to gain more power and leverage somehow with the resources that he does have. My guess is that the mole thing will be a red herring, because the show has already diverged enough from the source material to get away with that massive edit, but we’ll see. 

It’s a perfect contrast: Leslie deciding to switch sides after Vaughn tells her that Jonah is claiming the church back for himself, Frank Dean still allying with him because it gives him a sense of power and control that he’s never had in his whole life, Tina grudgingly being incapable of avenging her daughter because Leslie still holds leverage over her. All the Pride members are deeply, profoundly broken, while their kids find love and support in their group. While Tina suggests that they all kill Leslie in the Yorkes’ basement, their kids are curled up together in the back of the van, ready to do whatever it takes to keep each other safe. 

And then there is also this: Nico, who spends the episode figuring out how Chase feels about Gert and how Gert feels about Chase while also fighting for them to save Karolina, gets the girl, in every sense. She saves her. She protects her. She looks at her with such pure desire that it blows away any doubts about whether this is just an experiment for her, or confusion. She kisses her first, this time, and Virginia Gardner manages to make Karolina glow without the special effects. It’s a completely amazing scene, one that I wouldn’t in a million years have hoped to get in the first season of this show (consider that these same characters are still years away from any of this in the comics, after about fifteen years). 

It all happens in spite of the rushed events in this episode, which culminate in what we’ve probably been waiting for this whole time: the Wilders, out of options, call the police on the kids, thinking it will help protect them. So…
Karolina: What do we do?
Alex: We run.
Random notes: 

For a season finale, this episode does feel a bit disjointed, with odd pacing and a few false starts and loose threads – it’s almost as if it is just a set-up for a second season, or a holding pattern, which is a bit frustrating considering that they were only given ten episodes in the first place. I’ve enjoyed this first season a lot, and I think the casting is absolutely perfect, but one of the questions this show will have to answer in its second season – which will at least have thirteen episodes – is how to juggle its many, many characters and give each of them enough story to create emotional resonance. And I would still argue that the kids deserve much, much more room to grow, and that the parents exist primarily in the background rather than in the foreground of their story, even if so many actors have done a stellar jobs with the roles (especially Brittany Ishibashi, who hits it out of the park here, especially in her scenes where she’s pitted against Leslie Dean). 

The Yorkes figure out that whatever is down in the hole is massive, and alive. 

There was some sarcastic commentary about how ill-suited these kids are for a life on the run because of their privileged upbringing – Gert still feeds Old Lace whole chicken from Wholefoods – that works pretty well here. 

Got some goosebumps when everyone put on their iconic outfits here, and even enjoyed the tongue-in-check failing at actually finding effective disguises. 

Nico snarking Chase about how they may have left him behind is even more effective considering that Chase would never ever leave any of them behind, plus the lengths he’s gone through in the comics to keep them all together. 

Jonah’s already disintegrating again, and I have bad news for Frank Dean regarding his future role in this whole thing. His future is going to be “bright” indeed. 

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