Requiem for Runaways
Ah, Runaways. You tried harder and harder every season, but since Marvel TV That Was got shut down after Kevin Feige got put in charge of All Things Marvel, Runaways had to end after three seasons and thirty episodes.
In my region, at the least, only the first season has made its way to Disney+, but my Firestick knows the other two seasons are also out in other regions, so clearly they’re coming. So I’m here to talk about the show as a whole, the third season in particular, and whether it’s worth your time.
The greatest sin of Runaways is the terrible pacing of the first season. They were far too into the slow-burn start, which as I’ve said elsewhere, isn’t a bad thing, but you need to get somewhere worthwhile to pay it off, and the first season did not do that. The first season managed, over ten episodes, to convey as much as what a better show could accomplish in a two-hour pilot. Estranged childhood friends Alex (the computer nerd), Nico (the goth Wiccan), Gert (the feminist crusader), Chase (the jock with a secret skill for science), Karolina (whose parents run a Scientology-Esque church that might have negative views about her love of ladies), and Molly (the young one, who’s written as three years younger but not cast three years younger, which is weird) discover that their parents, who run an organization called Pride, are secretly sacrificing runaway teens for some sinister purpose.
Strength of the Show Number One: Where the comics just wrote Pride off as super-villains, only developing them as far as which villain archetype they fit (gangster, wizard, mad scientist, alien, etc.), the TV show makes them flawed but complicated individuals, filling a full spectrum of evil and/or corruption, and their love for their children is real. A much better approach that keeps them involved throughout the series.
The kids must unite to take on Pride, and their alien benefactor Jonah, who has unpleasant plans for Earth. And that’s all well and good, and it’s engaging enough, but they get so attached to the slow-burn that the first season finale, or what should have been the first season finale, doesn’t happen until halfway through the second season, and they never really caught up, as what should have been the second season finale didn’t happen until four episodes into the third, while the third season plotline just hung out in the wings glancing at their watch in a passive-aggressive manner.
And it definitely felt like the second season was wrapping in the start of the third given that each of the first four third season episodes seemed to feature the series wrap of at least one major character. (About half of which came back more than once in the back half, but still.) And why make Julian McMahon an opening-credits regular in season two when he’s done by episode six? Why make Xavin the shape-shifting alien who thinks they’re supposed to marry Karolina a series regular in season three when they’re gone by episode four? Because there was a gap in the titles? Just keep them a guest star!
And, yes, the dialogue can get clunky, and not all of the younger cast can handle it as well as Riverdale’s Camilla Mendes or Madelaine Petsch, let’s just admit that.
Strength of the Show Number Two: It’s for the best that they got rid of the bit where Nico can only access the Staff of One, source of her powers, by bleeding. I don’t think we need a show where self-harm is a super-power. Kind of like how in the 90s DC looked back at their history and said “We have too many heroes that get their powers from taking drugs, we should look at that.”
Overall? It’s a decent and engaging show. The Pride cast (including Buffy’s James Marsters, Alias’ adorable Kevin Weisman, and 24’s Annie Wersching) make the adults as interesting as the kids, something not present in the comics. The relationships, both romantic and parent/child, take different paths than the comics, but paths that work. They find a solid replacement origin story for Molly, since at the time “being a mutant” was off the table.
And in the latter half of season three, Runaways really becomes its best self. Once the body-snatching aliens are dealt with for good and all and an amazing Elizabeth Hurley can finally take centre stage as the new antagonist, the show moves at a brisker clip than ever, getting through the entire storyline in only six episodes, something they’d never managed. So the whole series actually ends with a sense of closure! And if the whole series is streaming, the weirdly misplaced finales won’t bother you!
Plus in season three, if this is something you care about, they make new and massive efforts to be connected to the rest of Marvel TV and even slightly the movies; Ty and Tandy from Cloak and Dagger drop by for a one-episode* team-up; Morgan le Fay uses the Darkhold, the evil spellbook that did dark magic and also robots in Agents of SHIELD’s** best season; the choreography and effects for spellcasting were clearly influenced by if not stolen outright from Doctor Strange; and they manage to definitively set the entire series in 2016, two years before Infinity War, in order to get past the whole “But why didn’t the Snap happen” question, bringing Cloak and Dagger along with them. (Although jumping forward to 2019, one year post-Snap, in the same episode, kiiiiind of undoes that.)
(*Technically two, but let me just say, if two guest stars of note show up in literally the last shot of the episode, don’t put them in the opening credits, let that be a surprise.)
(**And wow but you almost never see a live-action Marvel property connect to Agents of SHIELD, even that much!)
Sure it could have used a couple more episodes. Maybe some time to react to the fact that the parents’ companies were being taken over by the witch who literally brought down King Arthur and Camelot. That could have used some time to explore. But sadly they ended just when they’d finally sorted out the lasting damage of their first season’s pacing problems.
(They set up future seasons to include Victor Mancha, a later addition to the comics-team, who turns out to be an android created by Ultron. If Victor couldn’t be Ultron’s “son,” and attempts to connect to the rest of Marvel aside I suspect he couldn’t have been, he becomes less interesting, so fine, whatever, end it here.)
Once all 30 episodes are available to stream, you could do a lot worse.