Tuesday, November 21, 2017

REVIEW: 'Runaways' - The Teens Make a Shocking Discovery About Their Parents in 'Reunion'

Hulu's Runaways - Episode 1.01 "Reunion"

A group of six Los Angeles teens, fractured by a tragic loss, reunite only to discover that their parents may be hiding a terrible secret that turns their world upside down.

Hulu's Runaways opens with a rebellious teenager named Destiny running away from home. It's an adventure where she doesn't seem to have a plan at all. She's taken a bus ride and is asking strangers if there is a place to stay nearby. She is soon attacked by two thugs and is saved by two women driving a van for the Church of Gibborim. Those women are armed with tasers. Destiny is very appreciative of what they did for her. Plus, they are offering her a place to sleep for the night with access to food and a shower. That's an enticing offer because she has nowhere else to go. She suddenly has a plan. She has a place to go. But the thugs note that she would have been safer going with them. That's a twisted observation because her fate with them would have been grim and destructive. It immediately establishes that this church is an even more sinister place where the people who go in are radically changed. That establishes this threat that something horrible is about to happen to Destiny. She is seen only sparingly throughout the rest of this episode. She's not a member of the central group of friends. She's just on the outside of the story. But she presents herself as a crucial part of the story by the end of the premiere. Her presence is the action that sets this narrative into motion and changes the perception the group of high school friends have of their respective parents.

Of course, "Reunion" has a lot of heavy lifting to do right away in establishing this world and the characters. It's a very expositional premiere that isn't racing into the main narrative all that quickly. It does a nice job in showing things from the kids' perspectives. They are the ones who don't have any understanding of what's actually going on in the world around them. It's clear to the audience right away that there is more than meets the eye in the various corners of this world. But for the kids, it's simply a bunch of high school drama. It's a case of this group of friends being torn apart because one of them was tragically killed. That accident happened two years ago. They were forever changed because of it. They are now all incredibly distant from one another. This premiere does a strong job in setting up the various worlds for these characters as well as explaining how they could all be friends once upon a time. They know each other and know how to truly hurt one another with one biting comment. But there's also a clear sense of longing to be with each other. They are all affected by this trauma. It has changed them in different ways. Ways that they haven't talked about. And that's where this story picks up. They are being forced to talk about it right before their lives are forever changed once more.

Alex is just a lonely gaming nerd who is trying to avoid his parents' advice that he needs to spend time with friends from school. He is perfectly happy being alone with himself. He can make jokes about liking himself when other people struggle with their own identity. But there is still that desire to reach out and be understood from the people his age who knew him before all of this happened. The details of Amy's death are fleeting. It's not really important how she died. It's just important that she did. This group of seven is now a group of six. And they are barely a group because none of them can stand to be around each other. Nico is the one most affected by Amy's death because she was her sister. Her mom still has her room exactly the way it was. It's basically become enshrined with no one being allowed in there. Elsewhere, Karolina is the perfect girl whose smiling face is the poster for the youth programs of the Church of Gibborim. Chase is the surprisingly smart jock who is failing to meet his successful father's incredibly high standards. Gert is the social justice warrior trying to topple the patriarchy and get someone to join her new school club. And finally, Molly is Gert's younger adoptive sister who just wants to join the dance squad but can't seem to overcome the cramps she is having in her stomach.

That last detail is important because it's becoming apparent to the audience that some of these kids have superpower traits that seem extraordinary. So much of this opening hour is defined by the grief these kids are feeling that then informs their actions. They need to overcome their issues from the past in order to be united in the future. On top of that, there is an individual journey of discovery as some have these brief moments of powers. Molly's pains aren't from menstruation as Gert's mother would lead her to believe. Instead, it's a sign that she is developing super-strength. That comes out at the most inopportune times. And yet, she finds it very cool as well. She's the one actually testing her powers. She can actually see and experience them too. She doesn't know how she has these abilities. Plus, they seem pretty inconsistent as well. But she's investigating this strangeness that has invaded her world. But she's also startled and terrified once she discovers that her parents have some vicious creature in the basement. That's completely unexpected and points out that there are still so many mysteries to unravel in this world.

Karolina is the only other teenager who experiences powers during this premiere. Hers seem connected to the bracelet that she is wearing. She has lived her life being perfectly content with her religion. Her mother is the leader and she has faith in the program. It's a source for her ridicule at school but she tries her best to smile through it. And yet, she has never experienced an act of rebellion before. She's curious about it. Having blind faith in the program hasn't kept her out of bathroom stalls crying to herself. Even in that moment, Nico isn't there as her friend to help her through it. So instead, Karolina explores rebellion by simply going out to a party. It's a party with drugs and alcohol. Chase is present as well but he clearly seems out of place. He's intrigued by Karolina being there but is incapable of reaching out to her. Instead, she is experiencing this world by herself. There's the allusion that she takes drugs in order to become free. But instead, her moment of freedom comes when she sees two girls kissing each other. It seems like a strange and foreign sight to Karolina. But it's also enough to motivate her to remove the bracelet and live free for the first time in her life. That's when her arms light up. It's beautiful to watch. And then, it's a sequence marred by potential tragedy because she passes out and Chase's "friends" try to rape her. He's her savior in that moment. He fights them off and gets her out of the party as soon as possible. But it's the key moment of him putting the bracelet back on that proves that he does genuinely care and understand her. It's also in that moment where she immediately wakes up again having no idea what has happened.

So, it's basically convenient that the six friends wind up at Alex's house. Alex wanted them all to come over and hang out as friends like they used to do. The other five basically just blew him off. Things had changed too much to ever go back to the way they were. However, Alex is able to manipulate them into coming with a photo of the past. Plus, it's clear that after the party Chase and Karolina don't want to be alone. And the same is also true for Molly and Gert after the discovery in the basement. They only really get to the surface of dealing with the issues that have plagued them for the past two years. That includes Alex not even showing up at Amy's funeral. That's the start of their issues. However, they aren't able to address anything more than that because while snooping for alcohol they discover a hidden passageway below the house. The friends noted that their parents had suddenly disappeared despite their meeting for their charity, The Pride. As such, it's potentially foolish for the kids to explore this surprising discovery. And yet, that's the action that forces them to confront the true reality of who their parents are. They each have complicated relationships with their parents. They are distant because they are teenagers who've been through a traumatic experience. But now, they are seeing their parents as members of a cult that are making a human sacrifice. That sacrifice is Destiny. She put her trust in the church. And now, she is a victim to whatever is going on with the parents. It's a sudden and surprising reveal. One that the kids all experience together. So now, they will need to band together to make sense of it. That could forge an even stronger bond. But it also means facing a precarious future together as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Reunion" was written by Josh Schwartz & Stephanie Savage and directed by Brett Morgan.
  • Nico is the friend that Alex misses the most. He makes a big, impassioned speech to her about coming over again. She plays it off as not being able to hear it when she clearly did. But she's also the one who doesn't need the context of not being alone to ultimately come over to Alex's house for this get together. She wants answers just as much as the rest of the group does about Alex's reaction to Amy's death.
  • Plus, Nico is seen on the beach trying to summon the spirit of her sister. That's a strange scene that showcases that there is more going on with her as well. She ultimately fails with this plan. It's frustrating to her. She believes she's doing everything right. But her sister still doesn't appear. That too motivates her journey to Alex's house to feel that connection once more.
  • Karolina's mother is the leader of the Church of Gibborim. It's clear that something mysterious and potentially nefarious is going on with her long before that final reveal with Destiny. Of course, there needed to be based on how that first scene plays out. But Leslie is suspicious because she's also seen caring for a seemingly dead body in an all-white room. That reveal is ominous and will clearly be important.
  • Chase gets a C in Spanish which makes his father incredibly disappointed in him. As such, Gert offers to be his tutor because she speaks the language fluently. And yet, he stands her up for their study session to go to this party. They still ultimately meet up later at Alex's house. But there is clearly tension between them as well because of that small act of betrayal.
  • There is clearly an age difference amongst the kids - especially between Chase and Molly. Everyone is doing their best to protect Molly from seeing some of these traumatizing things. And yet, it's her pulling out a camera that risks exposing them to their parents during the ceremony. Plus, it's important for the show to explain that these kids are friends largely because their parents are friends through this "charity."