What is Runaways if the characters don’t run away? In the comic book, the heroes immediately left their homes when they found out their parents were in a supervillain cabal, but the TV show is taking its time getting to the actual running. That could be a bad thing, but “Fifteen” highlights the benefits of slowing down to learn more about these characters. The thing that made the comic so successful was its commitment to character development; while the overarching plot was a strong hook, seeing these teens learn more about themselves and each other was the main attraction. This episode maintains that sense of discovery as it delves deeper into the teenage group dynamic, taking advantage of the high-school environment to add new dimensions to their relationships.
These old friends have drifted into their own different cliques, and there’s interesting tension in the Pride revelation bringing them together while their social statuses pull them apart. Chase tries to ignore Gert on campus because it doesn’t make sense for them to be talking to one another. Karolina pulls Gert away from the first meeting of her Undermining the Patriarchy club, and Gert decides to go with blondie instead of staying with her usual group. The events of the pilot’s house party play a big part in this episode, and, back at school, Chase is confronted by the lacrosse players who attempted to sexually assault Karolina. Gert watches as Chase gets in a fight and Karolina is shamed by one of the popular girls. Once she pieces together what happened at the party, Gert puts her jealousy aside so she can be a good friend.
Karolina is freaking out because she doesn’t know what happened at the party, and Gert helps put her mind at ease until she can find out. It’s really nice to see the two of them connecting after the first three episodes gave them a more antagonistic relationship, and they decide to work together to find evidence that will absolve their parents instead of incriminate them. The awkwardness returns when Chase shows up at Karolina’s house after quitting the lacrosse team, but there’s some new warmth in that relationship, too.
Chase tells Karolina that he stopped his teammates from violating her, and she thanks him by entrusting him with a secret. Chase misinterprets the situation and thinks this is going to be something romantic, but then Karolina takes off her bracelet and reveals her secret power to turn into a living Lisa Frank drawing. This is one of two excellent special effects in “Fifteen,” and after getting a tease of Karolina’s power in the pilot, we get to see how her sparkling rainbow skin looks up close and in motion. The Runaways special-effects team really nails the look of Christina Strain’s coloring for Karolina in the comics, and, after going to a dark place in the first half of the episode, Karolina gets to lift her spirits by becoming a literal beacon of light.
The specter of Nico’s late sister, Amy, haunts this episode, and when Nico starts to suspect that the Pride ritual may be connected to Amy’s death, the stakes of this series shoot way up. Amy’s death happened on the same day as the annual Pride ceremony. What if their parents tried to use her as a sacrifice? These people are killers, but would they spill their own blood? The opening flashback to Amy’s death reveals a lot about Nico’s character through costume design: Seeing Nico in light, preppy fashion highlights how much her attitude changed after losing her sister. She rejected her old lifestyle and gained a severe personality and darker style, abandoning all faith in the family she has left.
As the perfect church girl, Karolina’s life is dictated by faith. She wants to believe that there’s another explanation for what her parents did, because taking what she saw at face value is too much for her to bear. Virginia Gardner’s performance emphasizes Karolina’s fragility, trying to keep everything together before she breaks. She has tears in her eyes during the conference call at the start of the episode, and she’s clearly shaken by the revelations about her parents and her Church of Gibborim. She joins forces with Gert to see if they can find anything that will prove their parents’ innocence, but by the end of the episode, Karolina has proof that her mother has been using their church to handpick sacrifices for the last 15 years.
Molly doesn’t get much to do for the majority of “Fifteen,” but that’s fine, because she gets to fight a frickin’ dinosaur. (The dinosaur is currently unnamed, but I’m calling her by her comic-book name, Old Lace, for this and future recaps.) While writing an e-mail to Catherine Wilder asking if her parents shared her powers or experimented on her as a child, Molly hears a crash and hesitantly makes her way into the hallway to investigate. That’s when Old Lace pounces on Molly, keeping her pinned until her super-strength kicks in and she sends the dinosaur crashing into the ceiling. This is the show’s first big burst of superhero action, and it is an incredibly fun sequence that highlights Old Lace’s ferociousness and Molly’s raw power.
The Old Lace plot gets even more delightful once Gert shows up and realizes that the dinosaur will obey her commands. This adds an extra element of humor to this docile, doglike side of Old Lace, and a combination of puppetry and CGI gives her a physical form that makes it easier for the actors to interact with her. The detail and range of emotion in the Old Lace puppet makes it a special effect to be savored, and when Gert pets her new friend, we get a close-up look at the work that went into bringing this challenging character to the screen. Gert immediately forms an emotional connection with Old Lace, and her celebration of the fact that the dinosaur is female is an adorable way to end this subplot.
While all of the parents fall on different points of the moral spectrum, the Yorkes are the closest to goodness, genuinely remorseful of what they do for Pride and looking for a way to escape their obligation. The Yorkes are time travelers in the comics, but that’s a bit too fantastic for this show, so now they’re biogeneticists who have made Jurassic Park a reality with the dinosaur in their lab. That dinosaur is on the loose in “Fifteen,” and the Yorkes have absolutely no chill about it. They can barely have a conversation with their daughters, and the escaped dinosaur combined with the ongoing stress of Pride has the Yorkes seriously considering going into hiding and coming clean to their kids.
The Yorkes are the actual runaways in this episode, but their plan is derailed by Tina Minoru, who has been spying on them and knows about the Hernandezes’ ranch in the Yucatán. Given the tight relationship between the Yorke and Hernandez families, and the fact that Tina is the main suspect in the Hernandez deaths, it seems like Molly’s parents tried to get out of Pride and ended up paying for it with their lives. It’s established earlier that the Yorkes are bad liars, and when Dale lashes out at Gert after Tina’s exit, it’s loud, but also false. He says the things he knows will hurt his daughter so that she rushes off in anger instead of asking more questions, but he doesn’t actually feel that way. These are lies meant to protect Gert. The less she knows about Pride, the better the chances that it won’t infect her life.
The parents’ subplots are all in service of the teen characters, which is how it should be in every episode of Runaways. This isn’t a show about parents figuring out what to do after their children discover their secret lives, and credited writer Tamara Becher-Wilkinson understands that the kids need to be driving the narrative. Victor Stein and Robert Minoru partnering up to get a new sacrifice off the street leads to Nico and Alex seeing them in the police station, confirming that the police are working with their parents. Meanwhile, Frank and Leslie Dean’s marital drama isn’t very compelling on its own, but is valuable to Karolina’s story.
After a very strange scene involving Leslie Dean getting naked and giving her hidden charred man a glowing crotch treatment, Frank confronts her and asks if she’s cheating on him. She deflects this question by telling Frank it’s time for him to “go ultra” and ascend in the church, and Frank immediately falls back in line. They celebrate at the end of the episode, just as Karolina is hearing about the evidence against their mother, and Karolina’s distress is heightened by her parents’ moment of joy. Their joy represents Karolina’s old life. But now that she knows the truth, she can never go back.