After a dramatic reunion, some not-always-honest soul-searching, a bag of cash, a dead body, a pitch for a new book, some taxidermied animals, and a cup of Amtrak coffee, Run has finally steamed its way into a final episode. “Trick” is the final episode, believe it or not. It ends abruptly, with the kind of closing button that on a stronger show might have felt pleasantly startling, and here feels more like a student who typed “The End” the second they hit the word count on a school assignment.
How did we get here? Where did Run fall apart?
While I’ll always feel that the start of Run was fairly strong, especially the first two episodes, in some senses it was doomed to messiness from the very start — you just couldn’t see it yet. It’s a show that refused to be its whole self from the jump. The sudden episode-three turn into thriller storytelling was always part of Run’s premise, always the direction Run’s runaway train was headed. But where capers like Game Night or dark comedies like Barry do a lot of signaling work from the beginning to make sure the eventual “high-stakes escapade” twist won’t feel out of place, Run’s twist felt disconnected and forced.
The show relied on the strength of Billy and Ruby’s relationship to pull all its tonal strings together. None of the opening plot makes sense if they don’t have absolutely gaga chemistry, and nothing that happens throughout the season tracks at all unless you’re willing to believe these two people truly cannot think rationally around each other. It was required that these two people have the hots for one another in an undeniable, alchemical way. And yet, the uncanny power that Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson manage to bring to these roles then became one of the biggest sources of Run’s problems. Everything else in the show, especially all the third characters and external pressures it tried to insert into their dynamic, felt thin and unmotivated next to them. Fiona, their major midseason antagonist, was a shell of a person. Weird taxidermist Phoebe Waller-Bridge only barely hung together as a collection of strange traits. Deputy Babe Cloud was nice, but she also had almost nothing to do.
Even Billy and Ruby themselves were more interesting as a duo than they ever were as individuals, and Run was never sure how to extend their story beyond the very earliest beats it establishes for them. Ruby is frustrated with her marriage. Billy is frustrated with his career. Together they are … trying to escape? Run does its best to liven things up by dropping a wild-eyed woman and a duffel bag full of cash onto them midway through the season, but none of it ever gels.
The finale is the inevitable, unfortunate result of a show that couldn’t ever figure out what it most wanted to be. Billy and Ruby feel they’ve escaped any suspicion of being involved with Fiona’s death, and Ruby finally declares that when they get to L.A., she’s going to leave her husband. She wants to be with Billy, she says. She loves him. Then, in a particularly clunky turn of events, she insists on watching one of Billy’s life-coaching performances on his laptop (why would she want to do that at this moment?) and is alerted by a notification that he has a new email. She opens this innocuous promotional thing and instead finds a different email, containing the video of Billy pitching the whole long-lost-lover-train-adventure idea as a new book proposal. Ruby feels betrayed; her sincere declaration of devotion has been skewered by this evidence of Billy’s craven exploitation of their relationship. They get to Los Angeles, somehow narrowly avoiding the police who are after them (??). Even after he apologizes, though, Ruby turns away from Billy, presumably choosing instead to return to her marriage to her dopey husband Laurence. Fin.
The finale is an illustration of how little the show has managed to communicate what we, the audience, should even be rooting for at this point. Do we want Ruby and Billy to end up together? Is their relationship even the thing we still care about most by the end of the series? Do we want the show to indict them for their unquestionably bad behavior — Ruby’s insistence that they abandon a crime scene; Billy’s cowardice in not telling Ruby his full motivations. Do we want the show to make us cheer for them in spite of their flaws? In episode six, Run introduces Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Deputy Cloud as cute minor characters, and I was startled by how quickly I found myself wanting to love them, to see even more of them, to root for them to get together. It’s because they’re cute, sure, but my sudden attachment to them was mostly because Run had squandered my attachment to anything else. That’s especially true for Ruby, a character I am primed to like for any number of reasons, not least of them that she’s played by Merritt Wever. But by the end, there’s no clear sense of what Run even wants its viewers to want.
It’s frustrating, in part because as a genre, Run’s style of TV asks viewers to hang on and hope that things will pull together in the end. There’s really no way to know if it’ll happen, and it’s annoying when the end falls apart rather than cinching everything into a tight knot. It’s also frustrating because even in spite of its flaws, I can still see so much promising material inside Run. The train setting (in spite of its occasionally distracting green-screen effects) is such a good idea, the lead performances are so strong, and the occasional flashes of humor and snappiness in the scripts are so magnetic. It’s hard not to look at Run and try to pull apart all of the things it should’ve been. (Maybe if I blink a few times and watch it again, the logic of that ending sequence where Deputy Cloud somehow races ahead to Los Angeles and stops the train and doesn’t call for local backup will make sense?)
In the end, Run feels like an experiment that did not work, but that I’m still glad existed. It’s always more fun to watch TV that feels like it’s really trying something, even if its efforts are ultimately unsuccessful.
• Phoebe Waller-Bridge never did really lock in that American accent, did she? In the future it’d be highly preferable for all productions to just let her be British.
• This minor character, Daniel, who likes mac ’n’ cheese and who sort of witnessed Fiona’s death … what was his deal? Why is he in this show? He has no lines, no final import to the story, and plays no role at all except to be “guy who runs out of the house indicating that there were indeed some witnesses.” It’s just another example of Run’s ability to find some interesting small detail — the mac ’n’ cheese! — but then fail to follow through on building it into a full character.
• I can’t decide what’s more frustrating, that Run dangles a sweet burgeoning relationship between Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Deputy Babe Cloud and doesn’t let them be more central to the show, or that it does actually let them sleep together but squanders everything about that story. None of it’s great, to be honest!
• One thing I can say about this finale, though, is that there’s no faulting Rich Sommer as Laurence. He has so little to do, and is so good at being ugh, that husband. Bless him.