Tuesday, December 26, 2017

REVIEW: 'Runaways' - Pride Tries to Save Victor as Alex Tells Nico More About Amy in 'Tsunami'

Hulu's Runaways - Episode 1.08 "Tsunami"

Pride tries desperately to clean up their latest mess without involving Jonah. But can they handle this on their own?

Runaways ended the previous episode on two major developments. First, Molly was being sent away to a relative no one knew about because Catherine discovered that she did see Pride making their sacrifice with Destiny. And second, Janet shot Victor in the shoulder after he was attacking Chase due to the mysterious energy boost he got from Jonah. These were two surprising moments that potentially carried the consequences of removing two characters from this world. Of course, it seemed highly unlikely that that was actually going to happen. Molly is safe because she's one of the Runaways. It was always inevitable that she would just be going off to have this own adventure by herself in order to bring new information about her parents back to the rest of the teens. Meanwhile, it was unlikely that Victor would be killed off because he's played by James Marsters, one of the more name actors in this cast. Sure, there have been plenty of shows out there that kill off one of their name actors in the first season in order to shock the audience while bringing legitimacy to their shows - Sean Bean on Game of Thrones, Gabriel Byrne on Vikings, etc. That could have happened here. But this entire episode is basically about trying to revive Victor. The longer that dragged out the more likely it seemed like he was about to return in a surprising and changed way. That's the power and purpose of telling a story the way the show does in "Tsunami."

Of course, this hour is very frustrating as well. It's clear that the creative team is straining to fill ten episodes of story. They made the creative decision upfront that the Runaways wouldn't actually run away in the beginning. Instead, they have stayed put in their family homes trying to learn more about Pride while their parents are completely unsuspecting. That has been an interesting creative decision. It's led to more charged interactions between the parents and their children. Those relationships are more fully formed. It's allowed everyone to be more nuanced. But it's also forced a lot of plot complications to keep the narrative from building to that inevitable moment too quickly. The Runaways have to fail in their mission to expose Pride's villainous mission. They need to run away eventually because that's the point of the show. And so, it has forced the kids and the parents to make some creative decisions that are just pretty dumb.

Who is actually smart in this show? Alex seems to be great with technology and hacking. But how he handles himself with Nico as it pertains to Amy's suicide is horrible and off-putting. Chase had the idea that ultimately became the fistigons. But he's the one who has a selfish tantrum that destroys the evidence at the end of this hour. Gert is jealous of Karolina because of the attention and life that she has while being the only person who sees her for who she truly is. That's a fascinating story told in a very blunt way that makes it feel more forced than it should be. Nico has the idea to search for Amy's missing backpack. And she just happens to find it perfectly preserved in her room. It's right where Amy left it which would make this a bad cover up for whomever was involved in her death. But it's also foolish for Nico to leave the phone charging in that bedroom instead of taking it to her own. And the parents aren't all that better. It's miraculous that they still believe they are keeping the truth about Pride from their kids. Victor is literally bleeding out and Janet calls Pride instead of an ambulance. She doesn't even come up with a reasonable lie to tell Chase about that decision. He just doesn't happen to notice that Geoffrey shows up with a gun pointed at Tina. He doesn't see that confusion and chaos. At least, that's how the show portrays it. Even Victor isn't as smart as the show props him up as. He still picked up the fistigons after the warning from the future. He's a bad man who doesn't deserve all of this effort to save him. But he's apparently important to whatever Jonah's plans are which are just too mysterious right now.

And so, the majority of this episode is about the desire to revive Victor. Janet calls Pride in for help because she believes Dale and Stacey can save his life. She reached out to everyone except Leslie because she didn't want any of this getting back to Jonah. But it's Leslie who has to bring in Frank for help in reviving Victor with his new magical gloves. And then, it's Tina who calls in Jonah who sternly tells them that they need to save him the way they've kept him alive all of these years. And it's also one big plot convenience that Frank isn't in the room when Jonah is. He wants to be in on the truth. Pride questions whether they should sacrifice Frank to save Victor. But Frank is important and then just completely disappears which is odd. Karolina and Leslie continue to tease him about what Pride is up to but it doesn't seem like they do anything more than that. That should leave him in a frustrated place that is pretty exciting. But mostly, the main plot of this episode is pure melodrama. Jonah says either Janet or Chase must be sacrificed to save Victor because he's the only one important to Jonah's ultimate goal. Time is important for this to work. That's continually overstated to keep the tension up. Then, it's a story about the love triangle with Robert willing to sacrifice himself to protect Janet. Then, Tina uses the Staff in order to completely destroy the energy transference box. That's a destructive moment that should feel important. But it's also such a minor moment here. Jonah has no need to be revived again. Meanwhile, it's ultimately no big deal that Victor isn't brought back to life by the end of this episode. The entire hour made that the soul mission. And in the concluding moments, he's just going to be in that second box waiting for something in the future. So that leads to the question of why all of this was important and tense in the first place?

So, there ultimately is no clarity over how Victor will be brought back to life. Pride is satisfied that Jonah will do that because he says he will. They have confidence that it will happen and that life will return to normal. Janet can go up to Chase's room to tell him that Pride has saved his father. They'll have another chance at being a happy family. That's the moment that forces Chase to destroy the evidence the Runaways have collected from their parents. And again, it should be such a climatic and huge moment for Chase and Alex to get into a fight that ends with Chase destroying the computer. But it just feels so anti-climatic and forced. The mission to retrieve this tape that serves as evidence for Pride's crimes has been a huge focus for the past few episodes. The teens have been breaking into Tina's company, Alex has faced questions about how he knew Tina's password and they've been waiting for it to decrypt. Along the way, Alex has revealed how much he knew about what was going on in Amy's life before she died. He knew that Tina had been monitoring everything she was doing on her computer. Amy hacked into Wizard and found something that ultimately got her killed. Now, Alex doesn't know everything. He's still allowed to be the innocent teen who reunites with his friends and is then surprised by the discovery about their parents. But there's no reason for him to have kept this information from Nico for eight episodes after that moment happened. It's just weird plotting. It makes Alex a more formulaic character instead of one of the smart leaders of this group. That's a significant problem because he wants to be forgiven by Nico right away. In a way, it may be good that he deals with some consequences in the form of Chase breaking his computer. But that too feels like a way to keep this conflict going for as long as possible with the Runaways being the only people in the world who know the truth about Pride.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Tsunami" was written by Rodney Barnes & Michael Vukadinovich and directed by Millicent Shelton.
  • This review probably sounds overly critical of this episode and the entire season up to this point. But I do have to say that there were some really genuine moments here as well. The comedy in the Pride scenes was actually intentional and surprisingly worked. The group pointing fingers at each other was solid stuff that brought new depth to their relationships. Plus, everyone continuing to react to Gert's pet dinosaur is great. 
  • Does it make sense that Catherine would go after Molly with a gun the first time she suspected her of seeing something with Pride's ritual but then send her off to an unknown relative the second time those suspicions came up? That bugged me immensely last week. It's something the audience just has to accept in order to explain why Molly is now off on this new adventure by herself.
  • Or perhaps Molly's new relative is being set up as a helpful ally right now only to be keeping eyes on Molly for Pride later on. She seems very open and welcoming to Molly. She provides a letter from her parents that promises new information about them. She's a way for Molly to connect with her roots. But this physical location can't be a sanctuary for the Runaways after they leave their parents. It would just be too easy to find them then.
  • The audience also gets more of a peek into what happened with Amy in her final moments. She found something through her hack of Wizard. Tina's henchman discovered that she broke through the system. But then, the action jumped to her getting a cryptic text telling her that "he" found out. So, it now seems like Tina is innocent of playing a role in her daughter's death. But who is actually responsible now? Jonah? Or Robert?
  • It absolutely makes sense that Molly has no idea what a VHS tape is after her journey to a train station lock box leads to that discovery. However, that concluding moment just made me suddenly feel very old. And I'm only 24 years old!