Marvel’s Runaways Recap: Let Your Freak Flag Fly

Marvel’s Runaways

Season 1 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating *****

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has spent plenty of time with adult characters. Runaways’ young perspective is what has set it apart so quickly, but that comes with a downside: The adults feel like a distraction whenever they’re not interacting with their kids. In last episode’s recap, I neglected to mention that we found out the creepy chapped man in Leslie’s white room is named Jonah, and that’s because that whole story line was just … boring. The show doesn’t really need another adult mucking things up, but it looks like we’re stuck with Jonah for a while.

Here’s a quick rundown: Jonah is the benefactor who helped each member of Pride achieve success in their respective fields, and in return for his generosity, he forces them to perform an annual ritual where they sacrifice innocent people by turning them into energy he can absorb. Jonah does have a connection to the teens — he is Karolina’s birth father — but as of now, he’s defined by his relationship with the Deans and the Pride. He’s part of an ongoing effort to explain the parents’ murderous actions, and the opening flashback in “Metamorphosis” reveals how he entrapped the adults so that they would have no choice but to follow his orders: With the exception of Leslie and Tina, who helped set up the hidden camera feed, the group didn’t know what would happen when they put on their red robes and gathered in an underground temple. Jonah’s willingness to kill young people makes them fear for their own children, so they’ve begrudgingly helped him for 15 years. It’s a tidy way to hammer home the show’s central theme so far — that parents do bad things to protect their kids — but when we jump back in the present day, Jonah feels like yet another addition to an already overstuffed cast.

After toying with superhero mode last week, “Metamorphosis” finds Runaways turning back to teen-soap territory, spending a lot of time on the complicated dynamics within this large ensemble. Luckily, writer Kalinda Vazquez excels with this element of the series; her episodes keep the kids at the center while still making room for the parents. There’s an unfortunate lack of dinosaur, but we do get queer desire, a flying Karolina, and a charming teen spy sequence set to LCD Soundsystem’s “Oh Baby.”

Romance is a major driving force of this episode, and the love triangle within the main group of teens becomes a love pentagon thanks to Karolina’s crush on Nico. Gert has a crush on Chase, who has a crush on Karolina, who has a crush on Nico, who has been making out with Alex. (Yes, Alex would need to have a crush on Gert to complete the pentagon, but I’m not ruling that out yet.) There are some big moments on the romantic front, most of which revolve around Karolina: Nico gets her first inkling of Karolina’s true feelings for her, and when Gert asks Karolina about her obvious crush, she lashes out because she feels exposed. She then leads Chase on as an act of spite toward Gert, but that causes even more trouble when Chase gives Karolina a kiss she doesn’t want — a kiss that Molly sees from a distance and later tells Gert about.

Superhero stories are enriched by scenes of characters doing ordinary things, and the montage of Karolina and Nico getting ready for the Pride gala gives their relationship new dimension by highlighting how Karolina is completely enchanted by her witchy friend. She desperately wants to rebel, and she’s inspired by how Nico has broken free from her parents’ influence to become her own person. This episode’s title relates most heavily to Karolina, who has been stuck in an adolescent cocoon, afraid to show the world the person she’s become.

Karolina is angry at herself and wants to find a way to escape, so she grabs a bottle of vodka and heads to the roof, where she drunkenly voices her despair before falling off the ledge of the building. Her bracelet comes off when Chase reaches for her wrist, which ends up saving her life because she can fly when she’s her rainbow self. Karolina’s angst throughout the episode makes this joyful moment of discovery all the more wonderful, and there’s a great street-level shot of a glowing Karolina floating hundreds of feet above the ground. Karolina is capable of extraordinary things when she’s not inhibiting herself, and I love that this show uses her rainbow powers as a metaphor for the positive emotional effect of coming out.

Karolina and Gert are set up as rivals, but they’re both on a path of personal acceptance and finding strength in what makes them different. Though Gert is just the diversion in the Wizard infiltration mission, her scenes highlight her intelligence and charm as she uses her knowledge of Kafka and passion for classic arcade games to distract the security guards. Gert is deeply insecure, and she fights against society because she’s weighed down by the pressure it puts on young women. She may not have the best luck with teenage guys, but her interactions with the security guards show that she’ll do well for herself once she gets out of high school and starts meeting open-minded people who share an interest in what fascinates her.

Gert’s scene also reminds us that the show’s adults are most effective when they’re used to illuminate different aspects of the teens . The most satisfying parent-child dynamic on Runaways is between Nico and Tina, and Brittany Ishibashi has brought a lot of layers to Tina to make her empathetic without diminishing her severity. She helps set up the hidden camera responsible for the blackmail video Jonah will use against the rest of the parents, so she’s clearly a villain at her core, but she’s also a grieving mother trying to reconnect with her husband and daughter after pushing them away. Her effort to rekindle the passion in her marriage fizzled out, but Tina is making progress with Nico by sharing her magical staff and teaching her daughter how it works.

The scene of Nico and Tina’s training session has a warmth we haven’t seen in any of their previous interactions, and throughout this episode, Nico is learning that her mother isn’t as hard as she appears. After Victor Stein publicly exposes his wife’s affair with Robert Minoru, Tina retreats to her office and breaks down while Nico and Alex hide in the corner; this sudden moment of vulnerability makes Nico feel guilty about plotting against her mother. Much like Chase, Nico is starting to sympathize now that Tina has decided to take an interest in her life, and it’s interesting that the most antagonistic family dynamics have softened while the more compassionate ones — namely, the Deans, the Wilders — have become more tense.

Alex was the least compelling character of the comic-book cast, and that carries over to the TV show. His blandness wound up being intentional in the comics, as he hid a devious mind beneath his unassuming personality. That element of the character makes its way to “Metamorphosis,” as Nico becomes suspicious of Alex when he guesses the password to her mom’s office. He tells her the password was “password” and comes up with a semi-believable reason for why, but Nico can’t see exactly how he opened the door and neither can we. This shady new aspect of Alex puts his entire character arc in a new context, asking viewers to question his behavior: Why was he so adamant about getting his old group of friends together? Did he know the coasters in his dad’s office opened a secret door?

Suspicion is on the rise in this episode, and while Alex, Nico, and Gert successfully avoid their parents’ attention during their Wizard break-in, Molly is off screwing things up on her own. She’s caught in the turbulence of early adolescence, but she also wants to prove her competence to herself and other people. The problem is that she isn’t all that competent: She completely mishandles the Catherine Wilder situation, and in her attempt to get information about her parents, Molly accidentally reveals that she saw the Pride ritual. It’s a huge mistake, and now that the adults are aware that one of their kids has seen their secret shame, they’re going to watch everything the teens do with extra-wary eyes.

Marvel’s Runaways Recap: Let Your Freak Flag Fly