Thursday, 4 January 2018

Runaways – I’m still here, and I deserve the truth.

Runaways: 1x08 Tsunami.

I keep coming back to this quote from the first season of Luther, where Alice is still weighing Luther up, weighing up her knowledge about him. She says “Love is supposed to dignify us, exalt us. How can it be love, John, if all it does is make you lonely and corrupt?” It’s a comment on the main character, whom we are meant to root for, making unsupportable decisions and justifying them with his motives. It’s a judgement on the very idea that acting out of love in and of itself justifies any deed. 

This whole episode swirls around that very idea. The big question at the centre of the show as well as the dangerous, ticking time-bomb that is threatening the Runaways’ unity is the question of why the Pride exists. Not just the Pride – which may as well simply be a tool for Jonah, who does not seem to care particularly about the individuals that make up the group – but the parents, as parents, in regards to their children. If they act out of love and protectiveness rather than selfishness and hunger for power, does that excuse the murdered teenagers, the many lives that have been taken in the pursuit of Jonah’s goals? Of course it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter why the Pride exists, its actions are heinous and inexcusable, but it’s a whole different story when you’re one of their actual children, and grappling with the actions of them as parents. It’s easy to say that regardless of their motives, the Pride deserves whatever fate would await it if the Runaways published the videos that Alex is decoding – but a whole different story if you’re Chase and your only hope to see your father as a loveable human man depends on the Pride not going to jail. 

There is almost a discord in this episode – between the comical uselessness of the Pride and their handling of Victor’s impending death, and the genuine sorrow and rage that drives Chase to choose a path that is so hurtful for his friends. It’s very simple to be highly amused by the way that these parents are not actually friends, in fact hate each other so much that they’d be all too willing to sacrifice each other as long as they get off clean – but at the same time, this episode also shows Chase holding on with all his might to the idea that his father is a good man, that all of his bad deeds, all of his violence against Chase and his mother, were the result of a brain tumour. It’s horrifying to watch how Chase can disregard that violence so easily just because he is so hungry for a second chance with Victor Stein, while his mother is literally mopping up the blood that is, more or less, the direct result of Victor’s abuse of his family. Runaways here is a portrayal of all the insidious aspects of family abuse, the complicated emotional connections, the conflicting priorities, the self-manipulating decisions. 

And in the end, perhaps it won’t even matter that much whether what Alex found will be released or not, because this whole time, two other threads are spinning towards the end of the Pride. Molly, sent away by the Yorkes (and I will say for them that neither of them ever leaves a single doubt that they consider Molly their child, that they are acting out of wanting to protect her the same way they would Gert), discovers a secret message left to her by the Hernandezes, who perhaps didn’t trust the Yorkes as much as first thought. The trail leads to a videotape (which, comically, Molly, being 14 in 2017, fails to identify), and perhaps a whole new collection of proof against the Pride. And at the same time, Nico, after Alex reveals to her that Amy managed to hack into Wizard but also got caught up in the surveillance that followed, finally finds her sister’s lost mobile phone, which will finally reveal that Amy probably didn’t commit suicide after all, but found herself trapped in the Pride’s power moves somehow. 
Nico: Alex, there is no explanation that would justify you having this information and just sitting on it, knowing that I can barely stand to be alive, thinking that I did something, or that I missed something..
Alex: I missed something. I’m the one who should have seen it coming. I’m the one who should have done more. Who should have stopped her.
This whole story-line is heart-breaking, because we never really get much of a sense of Nico before the loss of her sister, but at the same time the show makes it so clear how traumatic her loss was, and how much she has transformed since, not just physically but mentally. Alex kept secrets from her, secrets about her sister Amy, and this is very likely an unforgivable transgression. Alex knew that Tina Minoru had Amy’s computer hacked, that she put one of Wizard’s security guys on her (although it remains unclear in the episode if the guy revealed to Tina that Amy was the perpetrator, or if Amy simply drew her own conclusions). So much of the tension in the show, at least for viewers who’ve read the books, still comes from the question of Alex’ choices, and where he will go in the future, but I think the way this played out – his genuine grief for the loss of his friend Amy, his feeling responsible for her death – hints that the show will depart profoundly from its source material here, and if anything, will only leave traces of the great reveal of that first volume in how it approaches Chase (and maybe Karolina, who betrays everyone’s trust here more or less unwittingly). 

The greater thread here is people doing awful things while having good intentions. The Yorkes make Molly’s greatest nightmare come true when they send her away, but they truly do it out of love. Chase hurts his mother profoundly when he chooses Victor’s side, because he is so trapped in the dynamics of his abusive family. 
Janet: I could have done something else, I could have invented something and changed the world. But instead my life became about managing the brilliant Victor Stein. So you guys, you all took Jonah’s gifts and you got success and fame, and I got an abusive megalomaniac.
Janet’s story is so tragic. She finally slayed her beast to protect her beloved son, and yet, Victor is so important to the Pride (maybe the only truly important member) that all of them basically raise hell to save him. It goes to the point where Jonah asks her to sacrifice herself, and it’s only the complicated network of relationship and intimacy that saves her (Robert is about to sacrifice himself, but Tina intervenes and destroys one of Jonah’s magical boxes). 
What worth does all of that parental love have if all it leads to is to kids, being led to their death in these rituals? What value does it have, if the sole result is death and destruction? All of that love, in this episode, leads to Molly’s despair, to Chase’s fury, to Amy’s pure fear, when she sent off that last message, that someone had found out and was coming to the house. 

Random notes: 

A beautiful dynamic here, as well, when Chase’s first instinct after the catastrophe is calling Gert (the call goes to voicemail), then Karolina, who in turn responds by calling Nico first. 
“If Chase needed you, why would you even call me? Why didn’t you just go straight to his place? Because you don’t wanna be alone with him. Because he kissed you… and you don’t like him, you like Nico, who likes Alex. We should go right away. I’ll drive.”
I think they’ve finally turned a corner with Gert and Karolina in this episode, it’s such a relief, because they make the best of friends. 

When Karolina finds Frank in the Stein’s mansion, she tells him… something, that happens off-screen, but very likely it’s something she shouldn’t have shared with a parent who is so dangerously unrooted and mostly acts out of jealousy of his wife’s secret life. 

“Also Lacrosse sticks are not the cure-all for everything.”
Stacy: I’m willing to say I’m Spartacus if everyone else is.
This sums up the Yorkes so well. 

And there are so many golden moments when the Pride tries to decide who should go into the box. 

What about Dale, what’s so great about Dale, what has Dale ever done for Pride?
Robert: Why don’t we just get Frank put him in the box, he’s not even in Pride.
Leslie: Not the worst idea. 
Dale: When my girls are involved, that’s where I draw the line.  Now somebody is getting in the goddamn box and personally I don’t mind if it’s Tina, that’s my vote.
Jonah says that the only person who knows how to make the boxes is “legally dead”, which makes me wonder – because the wording is so peculiar that it doesn’t seem to refer to Victor, who for the most part seems to have simply attempted to figure out how they work. There are quite a few people who are legally dead, obviously, including Jonah himself, Amy, and the Hernandezes. 

I mean the subtext in this episode is clearly that the Runaways are a team of people who love each other while the Pride is an assortment of families who absolutely loathe each other, hence why they will never win this game, but how we get there is pretty entertaining for an episode that was focusing on the Pride's perspective of things, which so far have been my less favourite ones in the season. 

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