Tuesday, January 2, 2018

REVIEW: 'Runaways' - The Runaways Learn What Pride Is Up to and Try to Stop It in 'Doomsday'

Hulu's Runaways - Episode 1.09 "Doomsday"

The Runaways are feeling more fractured than ever when Molly arrives with a devastating message from her parents. Now the kids have to stop their parents before it's too late.

"Doomsday" is certainly a climatic episode of Runaways. It effectively builds to a confrontation between the Runaways and Pride. It's a very intense, fist-pumping closer. It sets up the finale perfectly to ensure that this conflict isn't dragged out for as long as possible. That makes this a perfectly fine penultimate episode. It's still a lot of work getting to that point though. The show makes a couple of weird narrative decisions. The stakes are clear because things have finally been outlined about what has really been going on with the mysterious mission Jonah is obsessed with. But even then, it's still a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. Plus, there are still so many cryptic details about what is actually happening in this world and why any of it should be important. Jonah continues to be the only person completely in the know. He's the one with the game plan and the rest of Pride are just reluctant villains. That can and has made them more complex and nuanced characters. It fuels that final confrontation with the Runaways in an unexpected way. They only want to see their parents as murderers. They believe they're on completely different sides now. But the audience sees the nuance of the situation more. Some of the parents are cold-hearted and willing to do whatever it takes for this vague mission. But others are simply trapped in an unfortunate situation because their children were threatened by Jonah a long time ago.

All of this is allowed to happen because of the VHS tape Molly found from her parents. Of course, the audience sees much more of what really happened with Molly's parents. We know the people responsible for their deaths even though the motivation for such an action is still a little shifty. This hour opens on Molly's parents conducting experiments on whatever this energy source that Jonah is after. Molly is playing around with it too. In fact, the only reason she survives the blast that kills her parents is because she was closer to this mysterious substance. It appears that that is responsible for giving her these powers. It wasn't an inherited trait from her parents like she has long suspected. Instead, it's something that Jonah may have more clarity on than anyone else. It certainly gives Molly more importance in this story. That's a good thing as well because she's a fascinating character not bogged down by romantic subplots. More importantly, it was Leslie and Tina who conspired to kill Molly's parents. Tina was in the know while Leslie actually delivered the bomb. They were killed because they wanted out of Pride. At least, that's what the Runaways deduce after watching the VHS tape confessional. That tape gives them an explanation for why their parents have been killing teenagers. They've been searching for answers. And now, they suddenly have them despite the chasm between them because of last week's episode.

Having these answers is enough to motivate the Runaways into action. They know that they must stop their parents before they destroy all of California. That is now the threat. It raises the tension significantly. And yet, the show still has time to spend on a high school dance and several characters kissing each other. That's a fun and fine distraction. The show has built up these romantic dynamics. Sure, it's been pretty melodramatic in places. It's been pretty forced as well. But it's also a nice progression of the storytelling the show has focused on. Gert and Chase have been a potential couple the show has at least talked about quite a bit. The two don't share many scenes. So, it's been difficult to want them to have this moment at the dance. It's been a lot of talking about those feelings and being anxious about them without really just seeing the chemistry in action a whole lot over the nine episodes. But this episode does make up for that. Their moment at the dance talking about feeling invisible is so powerful. It's a really remarkable scene that showcases why they would be a great couple. They act on these feelings immediately. It's hot and passionate. And then, it's slightly ruined a little bit by those defenses being raised by Gert once more when she wants to talk about it afterwards. That's just too awkward and weird. She certainly is a character who talks a lot. It's understandable why she would be freaking out about this and what it means. But there is more pressing matters to deal with as well - something that Chase does at least convey in the moment.

Karolina and Nico have their romantic moment as well. The show has largely played this as a one sided flirtation. Most of the Runaways are in love with someone who doesn't seem to reciprocate those feelings. Alex and Nico have been the core romance of the group. But now, they are rightfully apart because of the secrets Alex kept about Amy before her death. Not a whole lot of progress is made on solving the mystery of who sent that text to her and who killed her. But Alex and Nico are aware that there is more to that mystery - which will probably be solved in next week's finale. Nico can confide in Alex about that even though she's still not willing to trust him again. She's absolutely right to feel that way. Alex being surprised by that makes him annoying even though he does come across frequently as the de facto leader of the Runaways. All of this basically just makes it surprising to see Nico's reaction to getting kissed by Karolina. In the moment, it's something that Karolina needs to do because she doesn't know if she'll ever get the chance again. She's had this crush and Gert has been talking to her about it. But now, she commits to action. She kisses Nico and Nico does kiss back. It may just play as retaliation to her current dynamic with Alex. She may just be doing it to explore something new and different. But it also feels genuine and real. That's important. Nico frequently puts on this mask under the goth persona. But she is just as surprised by how she reacts to the world as everyone else is by her actions. That's fascinating and allows this to be a happy and rewarding moment for Karolina too.

And yet, it's Karolina's trust in people that ultimately exposes the Runaways to Pride. She has trust in Frank. He's not a member of Pride. He's the only parent that the teens can trust. At least that's what Karolina believes. It's what the audience should believe as well. Frank has been an important character. But his relationship with Karolina and Jonah aren't the most well-defined dynamics on the show. As such, it's not as shocking a moment as it should be when he decides to confide in Jonah about all the information he has gotten from his daughter. He is able to tell Jonah everything that has been going on. No one else in Pride knew the extent of which their kids knew and the actions they've already taken. Catherine knew that Molly saw the ritual and sent her away. That was the reaction that seemed sensible in the moment. But now, it causes vitriol as soon as Jonah lays out everything that has gone wrong for Pride as of late. Their project has been compromised by the kids. Of course, Jonah is the only one personally invested in the outcome of mining this resource because he's the only one who knows what it actually does. The rest of Pride is completely in the dark which is strange and a bit complicated. They are willing to fight their own children for Jonah. So, they must know something more. It leads to this tense showdown. The Runaways can create all of this chaos and havoc at the construction site. They are planning on running away from their lives and the destruction their parents have created. They can no longer live under this sense of normalcy. There is power in the parents realizing just how much the kids know and what they've all taken from their homes. The kids' display of their powers is a striking final image. It takes all the parents by surprise. Tina still knows more about the Staff than Nico. It still needs to be an even fight - even though it's clear that Karolina, Molly and Chase will do the heavy lifting for the Runaways right now against Tina mostly and probably Leslie too. But it all still allows that final beat of something still being a mystery to be revealed in the finale. Leslie is surprised by Karolina's powers. They were something she dreaded and feared. That's an enticing note to end on. This is an exciting place for the characters. Now, the show just needs to follow though with it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Doomsday" was written by Jiehae Park & Kendall Rogers and directed by Jeremy Webb.
  • This episode definitely makes a point in showing that Julius is still a character of interest who is lurking around this construction site. That area just happens to be where this big confrontation is going to happen. He notices the Runaways enter the site. He probably sees Pride enter too. So, he is bound to be a complication somehow in the finale. And yet, it probably wasn't necessary to actually see him interacting with his pregnant girlfriend.
  • It's fascinating to see Janet basically telling Chase that Pride is a villainous organization that could turn lethal at any point in time. She's trying to warn Chase to stay out of trouble and not make any waves regarding the massive lies surrounding Victor's disappearance. Chase still genuinely cares about his parents. But he's still firmly on the side of his friends in the end as well.
  • Graciela doesn't realize that Molly left her house until the next morning. Molly doesn't really think about her at all. She never returns. She just enjoys a day all to herself really. But no one is frantically searching for her either. Dale and Stacey even learn that Molly has ran away and basically do nothing. They are instead distracted by the idea that Molly's parents trusted someone else with some crucial information.
  • Chase and Molly are the ones who inflict the most damage at the construction site. They are the ones with the powers to actually destroy the equipment. Nico tries to fill up the hole but the Staff is taken from her before it's completed. Meanwhile, Gert's dinosaur is just stuck in her vehicle. It's important that she's out there. She'll likely be an important complication that surprises Pride in the finale as well.
  • Basically all of the other teenagers and characters at the school are horrible. The show has definitely spent time at this school and tried to play things as normally as possible for the teens and their parents. But it all seems so trivial and archetypal. None of it really exists outside of Gert's critiques of it simply reinforcing the cliches of high school movies.