Marvel’s Runaways Recap: How to Train Your Dinosaur

Photo: Greg Lewis/Hulu
Marvel's Runaways

Marvel's Runaways

Tsunami Season 1 Episode 8
Editor's Rating 4 stars

No matter how much Runaways fits into a teen-soap-opera mold, there is one element that will always set it apart: Gert’s pet dinosaur, Old Lace. (She’s still unnamed on the series, but I’m going to use her name from the comics.) The soap genre has delivered plenty of evil parents and love triangles in other TV shows, but it’s been sorely lacking in dinosaur sidekicks. Runaways changes that, and the show immediately becomes better when Old Lace is around. We’ve been denied this majestic creature for two whole episodes, but “Tsunami” brings her back in a big way, taking her outside the Yorkes’ house and establishing her as the protector of the teenage characters.

Gert is freaking out after her parents sent Molly away, and she’s not going anywhere without the dinosaur that obeys her every command. That’s good news for us, though the computer-generated SFX challenge is steep: While Old Lace looks good, there are some inconsistencies with regard to how she interacts with environments. When she enters Gert’s bedroom, her tail swings around and hits different items of furniture that aren’t affected in any way by the impact, so it doesn’t totally feel like the CGI is integrated in this setting. (Let’s hope it’s just a one-time issue: Later, when Old Lace jumps across the roof of the Stein house, tiles break off and fall down to reinforce the illusion.)

These inconsistencies are avoided with the dinosaur puppet: A moment like Old Lace eating the plant in Chase’s room is intensified because the puppet has weight, its movement is happening in physical space, and it naturally reacts to light sources. It’s easy to tell that it’s actually there. Old Lace doesn’t actually do very much in this episode except follow Gert around, but she doesn’t need to do anything to play a major part in the storytelling. Simply having her onscreen changes the tone of the show, and the idea of a dinosaur that acts like a dog brightens the show’s dire circumstances and highlights its imaginative qualities. Pretty much anything can happen in a superhero story, and Old Lace embodies that exciting sense of possibility by bringing something completely new to the table.

While Gert, Karolina, and Old Lace go to Chase’s house to offer support after his father’s shooting, Nico finally gets Alex to open up about the secrets he’s been keeping. Amy plays a large role in this episode, and while her suicide worked as an event that broke apart the group of childhood friends, the mystery that has developed around it isn’t very compelling. Sure, it creates some extra tension in Alex and Nico’s relationship — which grows as Alex reveals details about Amy’s death — but this entire plot feels underdeveloped, with overly convenient developments that don’t make sense in the established context of this story. It’s very hard to believe that Amy’s missing backpack and phone would still be in her bedroom, given how meticulous Tina has been in maintaining that space, and knowing what we know about Tina, she definitely would’ve thoroughly examined Amy’s room after her death.

Amy’s story reminds me of the Lilly Kane murder mystery in the first season of Veronica Mars, but Lilly was a much richer character than Amy. While Veronica Mars revealed a lot of Lilly’s personality in flashbacks, Runaways has only shown Amy in moments that relate to her death. Personal interactions like Amy grilling Alex about when he’s going to ask Nico out and Amy’s conversation with her mother’s main enforcer give her more depth, but the show could use even more of them. We learn in this episode that Amy was a skilled hacker driven by a need to beat her mom at something, which is why she hacked into the Wizard server. That security breach didn’t go unnoticed, though, and Amy became the target of a manhunt. It gets worse: Amy may have seen something Pride-related, and we discover at the end of the episode that a man showed up in her room just before she could make her way out of the house.

That man is most likely Jonah, given that he directly threatens the parents and their kids earlier in this episode after finding out Janet Stein derailed his grand plans by shooting her husband. I’ve already written about how the parental drama pales in comparison to what the kids are dealing with, but “Tsunami” shows how compelling Pride can be when the stakes are high and everyone is together in a big group. The first half of the episode has a lot of scenes where other parents enter the Stein crime scene, starting with the Minorus, then the Wilders, the Yorkes, and finally Leslie Dean, who calls in Frank for a last-ditch solution before calling Jonah. Frank’s magic healing gloves — pardon me, I mean “advanced technology healing gloves” — don’t work, and so Tina decides to call in Jonah before they lose Victor for good.

The Pride story line gets a lot more fun once Jonah announces that one of the parents will have to be sacrificed to revive Victor, setting off an explosion of resentment and rivalry as the adults argue about who should get in the box. The stakes of this situation are life and death, but episode writers Rodney Barnes and Mike Vukadinovich undercut the dread with humor. When Robert suggests Frank go in the box because he’s not even part of Pride, Leslie takes a quick second to think about it before realizing that’s actually a pretty good idea. Later, Dale Yorkes drops a loaded gun and accidentally shatters a glass window for a humorous end to a stressful standoff. These moments give the episode more dimension, and Runaways is a lot more interesting when it’s not stuck in a serious mode.

Meanwhile, the TV interpretation of Chase becomes downright infuriating in this episode. I can understand why Chase so desperately wants his father to live, but that doesn’t excuse his faulty logic regarding how his father will behave if he wasn’t dying in the first place. Chase tells his mother that Victor’s most recent outburst was caused by the brain tumor or Jonah’s treatment, but Victor only became a better father because the brain tumor forced him to reevaluate his relationship with his son. Victor Stein was an abusive asshole before he and Chase ever sat down to work on the Fistigons, yet all of that pain has apparently been erased just because Chase got a bit of approval from daddy.

This comes across as sloppy writing that doesn’t understand the trauma of living in an abusive environment, ignoring deep emotional scars so that Chase will do whatever it takes to keep his father alive. When Alex finally decrypts the information from Tina’s computer and unlocks the video of Pride’s first sacrifice, Chase refuses to let this information get out because his father will die if Pride is compromised. He and Alex have a fistfight as Chase tries to get his hands on the computer, and when Alex is distracted by his first glimpse of Old Lace, Chase throws the laptop to the ground and stomps on it.

But although their main piece of evidence is gone, all hope is not lost thanks to Molly’s side adventure. Molly is separate from the rest of the group after being sent to live with her older cousin, but she’s still engaged in the larger plot thanks to a mysterious note and locker key left by her late parents. This story emphasizes Molly’s Latin heritage and gives her a compassionate family bond that isn’t tainted by murderous secrets, and Marlene Forte’s warm performance as Graciela makes this extremely difficult transition hurt a little less. You get a sense that Graciela genuinely cares about Molly and wants to help her find the answers to the questions that have haunted her for years. Molly sneaks out of her relative’s house to go to a nearby Metrolink station where she finds the locker for her key, and her journey concludes on a very funny note as she looks at a VHS tape with confusion. She’s not sure of what to do with this strange object, but she’s just found a video that could have some much-needed incriminating evidence after the destruction of Alex’s laptop.

Marvel’s Runaways Recap: How to Train Your Dinosaur