overnights

Runaways Recap: Love at the End of the World

Marvel’s Runaways

Doomsday
Season 1 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****

Marvel’s Runaways

Doomsday
Season 1 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****

It can be challenging to watch an adaptation when you have a deep familiarity with the source material. You have to accept the changes made in the transition from one medium to another, even when it’s hard to ignore how those changes diminish the original characters and ideas. Hulu’s Runaways is not the same thing as the Runaways comic, but as a passionate superfan of the latter, I’m primed to be hypercritical of any big change. But embracing the tone and structure of a teen drama has generally been good for the show, and when the story focuses on the teenage cast, it feels like an evolution of the comic rather than a bastardization.

My major frustration, of course, is that the kids have yet to run away. Creating more complex relationships between the parents and their children is a good thing, but it’s had a detrimental effect on the pacing of the show, especially in relation to the comic. That book moved very fast because it constantly faced the threat of cancellation, but the show has a guaranteed ten episodes to slow down and flesh out its characters and their world. It’s a trade-off with clear benefits and drawbacks: We get a stronger impression of the teens’ lives and the moral shades of gray between the evil parents, but unnecessary additions like Darius and Jonah just detract from the driving conflict of the narrative.

After a meandering middle section of the season, the momentum is building in these final episodes as the teens discover the scope of their parents’ villainy. The kids are still reeling after Chase destroyed Alex’s computer, and they’re ready to break up again at the start of “Doomsday” because the pressure is too much. When Gert laments that the group never got to come up with a cool nickname before dissolving, Alex suggests “The Runaways” for all the kids they couldn’t save or avenge. This elicited a huge groan from me, as one of my nerd pet peeves is people calling this group “The Runaways.” These characters don’t refer to themselves by that name; they don’t have a superhero team name at all. They’re runaways because they ran away from home, but because that hasn’t happened on the show yet, the writers need to justify the title in other ways. Thankfully, Alex’s suggestion is shot down because it’s too dark and morbid. Hopefully, it’s the last time this group is ever referred to by that name.

Refusing to let the group fall apart, Gert buys everyone tickets to the school dance, and they realize that they have to stick together when Molly shows up with a VHS tape containing disturbing information about their parents’ mission. The Pride school is actually a front for a huge digging operation, which will set off a series of catastrophic seismic events that will cause massive damage to the city, if not the entire world. This goes far beyond dead runaway kids into serious supervillain territory, and the stakes get way bigger after the teens watch that video. They have to set aside their personal drama and band together to stop their parents.

“Doomsday” taps into the exhilaration of the original comic as the kids stop questioning themselves and finally take action. It’s an hour packed with revelations, too: The opening flashback shows that Leslie Dean was responsible for the death of Molly’s parents, and we get a clue about the nature of Molly’s powers with the shot of her eyes glowing while she holds one of the mysterious rocks buried under the construction site for the Pride school. (Do these rocks unlock superpowers in people that come into contact with them? If so, this show is pulling directly from the last big superhero teen drama, Smallville, which had people transformed by exposure to Kryptonite meteorites.) Although Molly steps back into a supporting role after getting the spotlight last week, she does get some fun moments. Her affection for Old Lace is adorable, and I don’t even mind that the dinosaur is in Gert’s trunk the entire episode because her bond with Molly is so damn cute. Molly giving Old Lace a kiss on the nose is easily one of my favorite bits of this season, and once again highlights the value of having a physical puppet instead of a CGI dino.

Faced with a potential apocalypse, the teens also act on their romantic feelings and make love connections before the world ends. The personal relationships among the young characters is definitely the central appeal of Runaways, and the show is at its best when it delves into those connections to showing how current circumstances push these kids together and apart. Nico and Alex have had the most turbulent romance, and I appreciate that Nico has no intention of getting back together with Alex after finding out he kept secrets about Amy’s death. Lyrica Okano is doing excellent work realizing Nico’s anger and her begrudging alliance with Alex, and this episode introduces an exciting new path for the character when Karolina finally confesses her feelings for her.

“Doomsday” is an episode for the shippers, with two big hookups that the show has built toward all season. The most thrilling is the kiss between Karolina and Nico because Marvel film and television properties have had almost no LGBTQ representation. This kiss is a major milestone for the MCU, but it’s also something fans of the Runaways comics have wanted to see for years: It took years before the comic confirmed Karolina’s sexuality, and when she eventually tried to give Nico a kiss, she got denied. The show hasn’t shied away from this key aspect of Karolina’s character, and it makes her internal conflict much more compelling, especially when paired with her new church background. I had an overwhelming feeling of relief when she finally went in for that kiss, and my squeals only got louder when Nico kissed her back. I would love to see this show commit to bisexual Nico, and there’s certainly a lot of compelling story material in her relationships with Karolina and Alex.

While Karolina and Nico are making out, Gert lives out her wildest dreams by having sex with Chase in a hall reserved for a wedding. Gert and Chase have had strong chemistry throughout the season, and while this moment doesn’t feel completely earned, it’s not unbelievable given the situation. Chase realizes that Karolina isn’t into him, and he recognizes that he shares a bond with Gert even if he doesn’t always understand her. This story line is a showcase for Ariela Barer’s rich performance, and she’s found the right blend of hard emotional armor with a deeper vulnerability and anxiety. Gert puts on a tough mask to hide her softness, but she drops that mask so that she can let Chase know how she really feels. You can feel Gert’s fear as she bares her soul to her longtime crush, but it’s something she needs to do or she’ll regret it forever. Sexual awakening is a major part of the teenage experience, and it’s refreshing to see Runaways address the topic so directly. Gert and Chase’s relationship changes dramatically after they have sex, and although Gert tries to revert back to her typical prickly self afterward, it’s obvious that they can’t go back to their old dynamic.

After so many episodes that pushed the show away from the road map set by the comic, the final scenes of “Doomsday” have the series getting back on track. Yes, the kids are finally speeding away from their parents! Frank Dean is an awful person — not just because he rats on his daughter and her friends when they’re trying to save the world — but his actions are beneficial for the series because they accelerate the plot. Frank goes straight to Jonah after Karolina reveals that they know the truth about Pride, and Jonah tells the rest of the parents, who immediately panic when they learn that their kids don’t just know their secrets, but are actively plotting against them. I’ve been waiting for a big showdown between the parents and their children all season, and “Doomsday” ends with the two groups facing off in one hell of a family feud. Now that all the secrets are out in the open, it’s time for the teens to show their parents that they can’t be manipulated. There’s no going back from this point, and after this fight, the only option left is to run.

Runaways Recap: Love at the End of the World