Run Recap: We’re On a Train!


Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating 4 stars


Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: HBO

Four episodes in, the contours of Run are getting clearer. It’s been playing a dancing, swerving little game with what the show is; the series starts as one genre, swoops into another, and is now doing a back-and-forth combo that tries to integrate the two. Mostly it’s been working, but one side of it is still much stronger than the other.

Let’s get the weaker stuff out of the way first: Look, the problem is Fiona. Archie Panjabi continues to be great, and she’s able to do something with her eyes that signals “I am ever so slightly off my rocker” that I swear is responsible for any part of her character that really works. When you look in this woman’s face, you know there’s something in her that would actually leap from a moving train. She opens them ever-so-slightly too wide, and her voice is pitched just a hair too high. Something is amiss with Fiona.

The problem is we see so, so little of that in the text of the show! There’s a very short moment near the end of this episode, when Ruby admits to Billy that she gave “Alice” the bag of money. He freaks out, obviously, but Ruby has an important question: Is there some other reason for what’s happening? Surely there must be some other explanation for Fiona’s behavior, some part of the story Billy hasn’t told yet that will help explain just what is going on inside Fiona’s head. First he denies it, and then admits that yes, there’s something else. But the something else is that when Billy had his on-stage meltdown, he called everyone there a “bunch of cunts,” so now the world thinks he’s really bad.

That little reveal doesn’t look good for Billy, but it also doesn’t seem surprising. More importantly, it does not do what I needed it to do, which is tell me something else about Fiona. What we know about her so far is entirely through Billy’s perspective, and it’s very thin. She’s been Billy’s stage manager for years, she’s quietly been an equal partner in all the wealth and fame he’s attained so far. She is invested in him enough that when she saw Ruby text “run” five years ago, Fiona deleted it before Billy could ever see. And now that Billy’s trying to throw it all away, Fiona’s furious and is trying to fight back. It’s a good place to start from! But if you’re trying to get me to follow you from “worried that my successful career is ending” all the way to “leaps from a moving train into the wilderness of the American West clutching nothing but a bag of cash” … yeah, I’m gonna need more.

Run does click along very handily without any of that. Fiona, looking highly pleased with herself, hops on the train after she sees Billy and Ruby make a dash to catch their connection back to Los Angeles. (Does this woman never sleep? She was up late last night making an illicit phone recording of Billy and Ruby’s sex sounds, and now she’s just been waiting around at the train station in case they show?) (While I’m here, how do we feel about audio-only recordings of sex sounds as effective blackmail? I’m not saying it wouldn’t be mortifying, but how incriminating is it, really? Surely that could be anyone making those gasps?)

So Fiona gets on the train to L.A. and does a second meet-cute with Ruby, still pretending to be “Alice” — how funny that they’re both on this train! Who even takes trains! Ha ha ha! It’s not clear why Fiona is still pulling this “Alice” act, except that her motivation is as squishy and unmoored as it’s always been. She wants to mess with Billy, and something about her makes her want to do it in exceptionally weird, intrusive ways. So she uses this exchange with Ruby to suss out some information about which roomette belongs to them, and then does a search for the bag of money. She confronts Billy, too, who asks her the same question I’ve been asking for the last several paragraphs. Why is she doing any of this? She’s already gotten plenty of money! Her response is that she’d “quite like to have some more.” Which makes some sense … but does it make “leap from a train” seem sensible? Eh.

In the meantime, though, Ruby’s story continues to work as well as it always has. She turns on her phone after she and Billy sleep off their night of not-quite-perfect sex, and discovers she has 32 missed calls from her husband, Laurence. When she finally does get him on the phone, she learns that one of their kids has broken his arm after falling off a trampoline. It’s minor, and he’s obviously fine, but this is evidence that exactly the thing Ruby is most conflicted about is happening. In her marriage, everything about her has been slowly eroding. Laurence mostly sees her as a scheduler, carpooler, and person who can sit and wait for the speaker guy. She couldn’t handle architecture school. Her Facebook page is now a collection of the most stultifying, personality-free “live laugh love” memes imaginable. She’s no one, and Ruby has run away to be with Billy because she’s so, so desperate to be a person again.

Except, she can’t quite get her footing with Billy. Does he actually want her, or does he just need someone to run away with? And while she’s gone, Laurence has hired an au pair with blue hair named Sarah, and her son doesn’t even seem to miss her very much. She was nobody at home, but at least she was a nobody her family seemed to need. Now? After she leaves them, is it even fair to want to be missed?

One other small piece of this episode that hit really well for me: The audio sex tape feels like a pretty lame thing to hold against Billy, but Fiona also plays him a video he must’ve made a few years ago in which he tells his fans about the pact to text “Run.” He’s not doing this for himself, Fiona suggests. He’s doing it so he can turn it into a book, so he can keep doing the thing he seems to have done all his life and distance himself from it emotionally by turning it into content. (Wow … I … wish this show would stop yelling at me?) Billy swears that’s not his intent. He truly wants to be with Ruby. As indictments of Billy go, though, that one feels worse to me than his sudden onstage breakdown.

Anyhow, Ruby caves and gives Fiona the bag full of money. What can she do! That lady has really unnerving energy! Then, when she and Billy try to give chase and get the money back, Fiona cackles at them like she’s the Wicked Witch of the West and hurls herself into the great piney wilderness. Is the next episode of this show going to be like The Sopranos’ “Pine Barrens”? Do any of these people have enough outerwear for an adventure like this? I really hope Billy and Ruby think to grab a sandwich from the dining car before they set off in pursuit.

Excess Baggage

• Ruby and Laurence’s broken-armed son is named “Scooter.” Scooter! If I sat for a few hours I could not come up with a better name for “kid you love but feel deeply oppressed by” than Scooter.

• Scooter broke his arm on a trampoline! Poor Scooter. Those things are hazards.

• One notable line by Laurence that gets threaded in very quickly: when Ruby starts weeping on the phone with him, he asks if she’s having “another” meltdown. Presumably her very cheerful exercising Facebook persona has not always been able to cover for her deep sense of despair.

• I’m sure that Run will return to this, but I’m really going to need Billy and Ruby to pick up the thread of the conversation they dropped in the cab. Why exactly was the sex not good!? It’s no doubt because they still have secrets from each other and can’t communicate to save their lives, but I would not mind some more detail.

Run Recap: We’re on a Train!