Runaways is built on the teen-friendly idea that parents are villains trying to ensure the perfect offspring by any means necessary, but unlike Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s comic, this TV show is eager to acknowledge that parents also have their own struggles. There are two sides to every story, and Hulu’s Runaways has brought a whole lot of dimension to the adult characters in its first season. The results so far have been mixed, but the payoff is very rewarding in this finale, when the kids finally realize their inevitable fate.
Yes, the teens run away, and thankfully episode writer Quinton Peeples doesn’t wait until the final moments to make it happen. They’re on the run within the first ten minutes of “Hostile,” and the episode highlights how their lives must change once they break ties with their parents. The watershed moment occurs when Jonah interrupts the family feud at the Pride construction site, and the kids flee when faced with such an extremely powerful threat willing to kill anyone who stands in his way. Seeing Jonah’s viciousness in action is eye-opening for the parents, and they eventually come to the conclusion that the only way to protect their children is by getting rid of him. The teens are in more danger than ever, but in their efforts to get them home safe, the parents continue to make awful decisions that make things harder for the new runaways.
After revealing that she knows about Pride, Karolina sacrifices herself to save her friends — learning the whole truth about her father in the process — and the other teens refuse to stand idle while she’s in danger. Nico pushes hardest to rescue Karolina because of their love connection in last week’s episode, and the group’s first mission is to infiltrate the Church of Gibborim. But first, they need to eat and sleep and figure out what to do with Gert’s dinosaur. The very first scene of the group walking through the city at sunrise is one of the best moments of the series yet, putting their situation in a realistic context that was never really achieved in the comics. Developing the privileged world of these characters has made their new situation all the more dire.
I immediately fell in love with this scene thanks to that shot of the teens crossing the street with Old Lace in a grocery cart, if only because it establishes how out of place they suddenly feel (even if you don’t factor in the genetically engineered dinosaur). Seeing these kids ramble around in the clothes they wore to a prep-school dance reminds us that they’re completely in over their heads. Molly is starving after using her powers and they also have a dinosaur to feed, so food is a top priority at the moment, but they’ll also need to find somewhere to sleep and plan through what to do next. Soon enough, they’re forced out of the city and into the surrounding forests.
This show has far more energy and personality whenever the teens are in the spotlight, and even though the stakes are higher than ever, the interactions between these characters keep the tone refreshingly light and fun. There are so many great group scenes in this episode: the first moments on the run; the thrift-store trip to find new clothes; the coffeeshop ambush of Church of Gibborim acolyte Vaughn, which ends with all of the teens hilariously shooing him off when he asks for his six shots of espresso back. Molly gets some fantastic one-liners, too, like her retort to Nico complaining that they’re buying the crap other people didn’t want: “The struggle is real.” When the team debates where to run off to at the end of the episode, Molly expresses her disinterest in Phoenix by asking, “Does Arizona like brown people? I don’t think they do.” (I hope this side of Molly gets even more play next season. Allegra Acosta is great at playing genuine comic relief.)
I’ll admit that the naming of Old Lace is pretty clumsy, and it would’ve been much smoother if Arsenic and Old Lace had been somehow folded into the story earlier, maybe with a scene showing Gert watching the movie as a stress reliever. That didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the scene, though, and I’m very invested in the relationship between Gert and her very good dinosaur, who finally has a name. Meanwhile, Gert’s relationship with Chase needs more work. They don’t want to deal with what happened, and they don’t really spend any time together in this episode. Instead, Nico ends up being their messenger, letting them both know how they feel about each other.
I’m a big fan of all the young actresses in the core cast, but Lyrica Okano has really stood out this season, embodying Nico’s defiant spirit while still bringing out the character’s vulnerability, softness, and wit. It’s been wonderful seeing Nico’s relationships with Alex and Karolina change over the course of the season, and you get a sense that she’s the character with the clearest idea of what she wants and the strongest drive to get it. Her kiss with Karolina was electric, and she’s eager to experience that feeling again. Once Karolina is saved, Nico quickly makes her feelings known, instigating their second kiss in a scene that is especially exhilarating thanks to the needle drop of “Friends” by Francis and the Lights. There’s a surge of electronic drums when their lips touch, a musical representation of the sparks that have ignited between them, and when the kiss ends, it’s followed by the tender lyrics, “We could be friends, just put your head on my shoulder.”
Of course, it’s not all so peachy. Geoffrey Wilder’s gang background was a new addition for the TV show, and it comes with some uncomfortable racial dynamics, especially as Alex follows in his father’s footsteps. Each of the other teens has gotten something cool from their parents — superpowers, a magic staff, experimental gadgets, a pet dinosaur — but Alex, the one black member of the group, gets a gun and an alliance with a gang leader. There’s little imagination in that choice, and it pushes Rhenzy Feliz toward the most basic role for young black actor in Hollywood. I could be wrong, though: Maybe master strategist Alex is joining forces with Darius as a way to pit all the players against each other in a way that will eventually guarantee his success. I believe the key to unlocking Alex’s potential lies in making him as devious as possible, and I’d like to see him shift allegiance between the teens, Pride, Darius, and Jonah in the second season, taking advantage of whoever can help him at any given moment. We’ll see.
All in all, this episode strikes the right balance between teen and adult plots, with the kids getting much more attention than their parents, who still stumble on to some major revelations. Dale and Stacey discover that there’s something alive under the Pride construction site, and the mystery of Amy’s death is resolved when Leslie reveals that she was the one who messaged Amy to save her from Jonah. Leslie comes clean to the rest of Pride to prove that she’s no longer going to be Jonah’s pawn, and Tina rightfully freaks out when she finds out what happened, but she doesn’t murder Leslie. No, she needs her to help them stop their shared enemy. Then there’s Geoffrey Wilder, who puts out an Amber Alert for Molly by saying she was abducted by the other teenagers, who are named as persons of interest in the death of Destiny Gonzalez. Drastic times call for drastic measures, but Geoffrey Wilder doesn’t realize that the kids will view this as an act of war.
Although it took the whole season to get here, the preceding episodes add a hefty dose of sadness to this final plot twist because we know how much these parents care for their kids. Looking back, it’s a lot easier to excuse all of that early focus on the adults. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my parents were under huge stress that I simply didn’t comprehend at that age. I didn’t think about what it took to live in a house, put food on the table, and keep the lights on when no one turned them off, no matter how many times dad yelled at us about the electricity bill. I was wrapped up in my own personal issues and a need to establish my own authority, which is why I connected so deeply with a comic series about a group of teenagers who break free from expectations by losing all respect for their parents and rebelling against them. The original Runaways comic looks so simple by comparison to this show, and the story is ultimately enriched by showing the good intentions that so often fuel parental villainy.