Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Runaways - If there’s nothing left for us to do then let’s dance.

Runaways: 1x09 Doomsday.

In the historical excavation of how everyone has come to this point, what the Runaways (who have finally at least discussed this cool nickname for themselves, without fulfilling the inherent prophecy within it) and the viewers realise is that it is much harder to come to terms with what the parents have done over the last fifteen years if they have become fully fleshed humans. It is much easier to reckon with this fight against them, the clear-cut antagonism of unlikely and more or less unwilling heroes against villains, if they remain 2D versions of themselves, solely motivated by selfishness, even if that selfishness regards the future of their children. The television show here goes a different route and shows how, for those fifteen years, the parents have consistently been pressured, blackmailed, undermined, they have betrayed their own values, done horrible things, and all of that because Jonah – a charismatic and endlessly dangerous man – has threatened their children. It’s so fitting that this episode goes from the worst possible moment – the Hernandezes lab going up in flames ten years ago, after someone (the implication is Leslie) has thrown a bomb in it – to Tina Minoru, walking in on Jonah having a tea ceremony with her little daughter Amy five years before that. The kids are the stars of the show, and the characters we care most about, but what the show manages to do here is show how people can become utter shells of themselves if they are under pressure long enough, if they live a life of fear and despair for a prolonged period of time, so that none of their actions remain their own. And maybe Victor Stein has always been a terrible man, even all those years ago when he, an arrogant physics student, met his future wife, but maybe the very specific way in which Jonah kills people’s souls has just affected him the most. 

Victor Stein is out of the picture for the whole episode, so the next best person – second worst parent, maybe, if we leave out Karolina’s mother, who is far gone beyond any possibility of redemption – is Tina Minoru. In an episode of great emotional moments and revelations, it is kind of astonishing what Brittany Ishibashi accomplishes here. It’s so easy to regard Tina with the same mistrust and dislike that the others members of Pride have reserved for her, but all the more complicated to comprehend what a complex and pained person she is when we watch her go above and beyond to protect Amy, only to lose her. She seems to be the one among them, with the exception of Leslie, who has had to deal with Jonah the most, because he trusts her, and he knows how vulnerable she is because she loves her daughters so much. Isn’t it all the more effective, emotionally, that she is the one among them who has also lost that daughter, only to have the other daughter turn against her so violently? 

It goes back to the previous episode, to that question of what the Pride’s parental love is worth if all it makes them into murderous and killers of children. What is Tina’s fierce love for Amy worth if I led, more or less directly, to Amy’s death and the Hernandezes blowing up in their own lab after they realise that Jonah’s intention, and his promises of a renewable energy source, are so empty? This episode does it both: It humanises the individual members of the Pride by showing why they did what they did, while also so clearly showcasing how their willingness to betray each other, and feed each other to the wolves, means they are beyond saving. After all, they were all fully grown-adults, they had all the relative power in the world when Jonah approached them, and here are their children, with none of that power, making the deliberate decision to hold together as a group – in spite of their inner conflicts, of their fierce disagreements over what to do – standing up to all of Jonah’s awesome power. They do so knowing fully well what it cost the Hernandezes when they made the same choice, because they just watched the VCR tape with Molly (and what a performance that is from the Allegra Costa – capturing not just the grief for the loss of her parents, but also the painful truth that she never truly got to know them, while her friends all have the luxury of still being able to make choices about the fate of their parents). It is therefore all the more fitting that the nickname “Runaways” isn’t touted around as a description of who they are, or what they will eventually become, but a tribute to all those kids that were lost in their parents’ misguided attempt to save their own children over other people’s children. They couldn’t save, and they probably won’t be able to avenge, but at the very least they know that nothing is worth the moral depravity of sacrificing children to some space god who threatens your family. 

And all of this is hard, and this show wouldn’t be as emotionally moving if it weren’t, if it were easy for people like Chase and Karolina to except that their parents are terrible people not just in spite of, but because they were so willing to choose their own children over everything else in the whole wide world (literally, as they are working towards an apocalypse). Of course it isn’t easy for Chase to make that call, because he is still working through years and years of abuse and trauma, and can’t just let go of the idea that deep-down, the father who is now entirely unreachable to him is a good person, maybe just twisted into the monster that he was by a disease. Of course it isn’t easy for Karolina to fully embrace the idea that both of her parents are terrible people, not just her distant mother. So Chase blames his mum for the lies that amount to his life, and Karolina trusts Frank, because she is so desperate to hold on to the idea that there is one good parent left among them. 

Which brings us to Frank Dean – and the fact that he exists, that Kip Pardue has so perfectly impersonated a man who seems so hapless and nice on the outside, that Runaways went there to show how utterly dangerous it is when a painfully mediocre man spends so many years envying his wife’s power and then sees an opening to obtain his own. In this episode at least, between Leslie probably throwing that bomb that killed the Hernandezes and Tina becoming the person that she is now, Frank is the worst of them, because he showcases so perfectly that Jonah doesn’t even require any kind of alien technology, or actual power, to twist people into monsters. All it takes with Frank is a promise that he will be the leader of the church, that he will be more than a hanger-on, a little decoration. There is nothing more dangerous than the egos of mediocre men, and so Frank lets go of his one redeeming quality – not being mixed up in this mess, and being Karolina’s last hope – and betrays them all. 
Alex: What, it used to be a cool club!
Gert: It’s literally the club they use to show in every teen movie to show how uncool someone is.
Chase: Guys, come on, don’t take away his one thing.
Alex: You’re all assholes.
The one thing that stands between  - maybe the end of the world, if we believe the conclusion that Molly’s parents arrived at before their death – is the Runaways finding each other again after Chase’s betrayal. It’s each and every one of them realising that the greater good is more important than their individual opinions on how to approach this situation. The Hernandezes tape works like a rallying cry that manages to bridge their differences, because Alex in particular realises that what’s at stake is so much greater than the question of their parents’ culpability. They are digging down, and don’t even know, or care to ask, what the outcome will be. Remember the resources their parents have, in particular Chase’s and Gert’s – they are both brilliant scientists – and the fact that they chose to ignore what the implications are of Jonah’s empty promise that they are digging for renewable energy. They should know Jonah well enough to guess that this is a lie, that they have been the tools for a much more sinister end all those years. But none of them have the bravery to face that fact. 

Bravery means facing unlikely odds. There’s Molly, who has just been through the worst nightmare of her life, her adoptive parents sending her off to a woman she has no recollection of, with no way of making her own choices. She also has superstrength. There’s Chase, who’s father is in a coma and in the hands of a man who has no good intentions, who has just changed the course of his whole life because of a group of people that he discarded years earlier. He has built his own weapon, with his mind and his hands. There’s Karolina, who summons all the bravery in the world in this episode and doesn’t just face the fact that there are no good parents left, but also that the world is ending, and that she has to kiss the girl she loves before she runs out of chances to do so. So she holds Nico’s face tenderly, and bends down, and kisses her – and Nico kisses her back, and neither of them let go of each other even when Chase and Gert enter the scene. There’s Nico, who doesn’t just face the fact that her sister didn’t commit suicide, but was murdered, but also chooses her friends over her family, after years of being violently alone. There’s Gert – who always thought she was invisible – who dances with the boy she likes, who is honest about her feelings for once (even if it just lasts for a bit), who also has a freaking dinosaur. And there’s Alex, who has the keycard for his father’s building site. 

It was always going to come down to this moment, of the Runaways facing their own parents, and it’s the accomplishment of the show that this moment means so much more now – that it is a culmination of wrong and right choices, of two groups who are so disparate in terms of what they could have done to arrive here, and yet the least powerful ones, the teenagers, have chosen the good path over their parents. The core idea of the books was always that these kids don’t want to be heroes, that their lives force them to be, that they only want to stay alive – but these six kids here are already way beyond that, somehow. I’m so glad we will get at least another season of this. 

Random notes: 

This episode reveals that Molly got her powers from some of the samples that the Hernandezes dug up from the crater (which, I am assuming, would be the landing site of whatever craft Jonah came to earth with, but we don’t really know that yet). 

The fact that Alex could only contribute the keycard is also a solid reminder that the show needs to do some figuring out when it comes to his character in case it doesn’t go for the book’s twist. Genius hacker, I guess?

This is also a gentle reminder that in the 100,000 years that have passed since the first edition of the books came out, Nico and Karolina have been the most painful slow-burn in the world… whereas it’s literally been nine episodes for Nico not to pull back in show from that kiss, but in fact go in for more. Like, I don’t think this will go entirely according to Karolina’s plans still, and I think it should be taken into consideration that a few of Nico’s actions may be motivated by how she feels about Alex right now – but this is still pretty glorious. 

Also, Go Gert! Please stop self-sabotaging so much. 


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