Marvel’s Runaways Season 1, Episode 1
Reuniting after a tragic loss, six childhood friends struggle to mend their relationships despite their grief. Just as they begin to find one another again, they stumble upon their parents’ darkest secret.
November 21, 2017
Producers: Brett Morgen, Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Joe Quesada, Karim Zreik, Jim Chory, Jeph Loeb, Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Kelly Van Horn, Emma Fleischer.
Director: Brett Morgen
Writers: Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage
Starring: Rhenzy Feliz, Lyrica Okano, Virginia Gardner, Ariela Barer, Gregg Sulkin, Allegra Acosta.
Genre: Adventure, Superhero, Teen Drama
Created by writer Brian K. Vaughan (Lost seasons 3-5) and artist Adrian Alphona, Marvel’s Runaways is – as the name suggests – a show based off the Marvel comic series of the same name. First appearing in 2003, the monthly comic struggled to gain footing early on, which led to its cancellation the following year, but earned a resurrection in 2005 due to a jump in sales and strong interest. The comic was again cancelled in 2009, but was brought back a second time in 2017 with a new creative team: Young adult novelist Rainbow Rowell (Carry On) and artist Kris Anka. The characters from Runaways have appeared in the extended Marvel comics universe, being involved in several major Marvel events, including “Civil War” and “Secret Wars”.
Spiritual Content: Two different cults play a large role in the story. One is led by the mother of Karolina Dean, and the other involves the parents of the main cast. The character, Nico, also attempts a Wiccan-like summoning ritual in desperation, lighting candles and saying an incantation. Neither of the cults are explained in depth in the first episode, though we do get hints about their beliefs and goals.
Violence: There is a short fight during a rescue scene involving an attempted sexual assault.
Language/Crude humor: There is language in the latter half of the episode. The common word used is the s***. There is also a rather uncomfortable sexual joke used involving the youngest cast member of the show, thankfully with no further mention after the joke is dropped. Early on a character, while putting on makeup, gives her mirror (the camera) the bird.
Sexual Content: There is a scene at a party in which two girls are shown making out, and the camera lingers on them for an unnecessary amount of time. At the same party, there is an attempted sexual assault committed by two teen boys upon finding one of the main cast passed out from drug use.
Drug/alcohol use: One of the main characters takes a pill at a party in a moment of naivete. Underage drinking is implied.
Other negative themes: Child abuse is heavily implied in one of the main character’s introductions. Bullying is also an explored in the first episode. Strained parental relationships are a central theme of the show.
Positive Content: The ways different people handle grief and loss are touched on in the episode. There are several moments that show the genuine transformations people go through while they try to come to terms with traumatic experiences.
The show opens following a young woman on a bus. She immediately appears out of her element, lost, asking for a place to stay. She comes close to giving up her run when she makes her way to a pay phone. Despite receiving an answer on the other end, she never responds, instead hanging up on the panicked voice at the other end. When two Spanish speaking men approach her, she begins to panic, which is not made any better when they attempt to grab her. A van quickly rolls up beside them, prompting the men to pull her in the opposite direction while trying to explain in a language she doesn’t understand they are trying to save her. After the men are met with tasers from behind, the woman is invited warmly into the van. Though she quickly identifies the van as a cult vehicle, she is tempted by a warm meal and a place to stay and accepts the offer.
After the opening credits roll, we begin to get our character introductions. The first is Alex Wilder. No time is wasted in revealing both his strained relationship with his father, exemplified by his cold response to his father’s interest in the game Alex is playing, as well as his current struggles with grief at the loss of a friend. Alex has become isolated, deciding he enjoys his own company over that of anyone else, including his parents.
Next is Nico Minoru, a girl who has fully embraced the goth life. The grunge music kicks in immediately when her scene begins, with the camera panning over several skulls set up throughout her room. We learn here it is her sister, Amy, who died, and the family is struggling mightily due to their loss. Her mother, watching from a security camera from her tablet, becomes upset at her daughter for even entering her sister’s room, which brings about a heartbreaking moment that highlights the fractures loss creates.
We then move quickly to Chase Stein, a jock that, with a quick shot of an open notebook, could also have a gift for mathematics and engineering. It is established that the news of his father’s arrival home is not good news, and their interaction shows the only person that can please his genius father is himself, leaving both Chase and his mother in the cold.
We shift then to a sermon, if you can call it that, from full-time cult leader and part-time mother of Karolina Dean. Both Karolina’s parents are absorbed in their own lives, her mother with the cult, and her father with his long-dead acting career. Despite this, Karolina is not allowed to have her own life outside the cult and is constantly pressured into service. Karolina’s struggle between her service to her mother’s “church” (and the outside attacks because of it) and her desire for independence remain unseen by her parents. It is also worth noting that secretly living with the family is a man who looks as though he loves him some paper mache, or it could be a skin condition, but it’s probably the first one.
Finally, we meet Gert Yorkes and Molly Hernandez, the latter adopted by a scientist couple after her parents died in a fire. Gert is quite the outspoken feminist, while Molly is working on both finding her voice and dealing with abdominal pain. The combination of these personalities in the car is as awkward as you might think.
We meet back up with our characters at school, where each one moves into their own rhythm apart from the others. Alex pulls up a photo of the group on his phone and determines he wants to bring the band back together. This proves more difficult than he thought when the first interactions between the group quickly dissolve into personal attacks, but the idea of a meetup, conveniently happening on the same night their parents are having a charity organization meeting called The Pride, stays planted in their minds.
After a great scene where Nico and Karolina find each other crying in the bathroom, Nico from grief and Karolina from bullying, each member goes their separate way after school. Most interesting is Molly, who discovers her abdominal pain is related to a newfound superpower (heightened strength) which she goes home to experiment with. Chase goes to a party instead of following through on his commitment to meet up with Gert for tutoring, and finds a rebelling Karolina wandering aimlessly through clumps of people. Nico goes to a secluded section of a beach and starts a cultic ritual to summon a spirit, and Alex goes home to a party of one, but not before sending the group picture to everyone for good measure.
Through various events, none of which are pleasant, the group finally meets at Alex’s house, having nowhere else to go. The initial conversation does not go well, and it’s clear everyone is still hurting from the loss of Amy. They decide to calm their nerves with alcohol; the only source they know of being in Alex’s father’s office. Surprised to find the office suddenly empty, having just been occupied with their parents, they begin to snoop around, and upon this snooping they discover a hidden passageway. This underground area leads them to an ornately decorated room, and the true reason for their parents’ meeting. They find their parents wearing ominous red robes, drugging the girl from the show open, and placing her in a smooth, sci-fi looking coffin which closes in on her. After Molly mistakenly takes a picture, creating a flash which alerts their parents, the kids run upstairs, and the credits roll.
The first thing that will catch your attention, other than the Marvel Comics logo popping in, are the rapid-fire shots that open the series. Each of these shots, showing people on the bus and inner city sights, give us perspective into Destiny’s mindset as she makes her escape. The quick jumps, blurs, and shaking show the panic and uncertainty of her situation. I found it to be one of the best uses of “show, don’t tell” I’ve seen in a long time, making it difficult not to get sucked into the visual storytelling. Unfortunately, from this point on the episode struggles with this technique. The development of Karolina’s push towards rebellion later on in the episode that was relying on this method is undercut by a scene in which she asks Destiny – who had just awkwardly interrupted a video shoot for the cult – what it’s like to rebel. This quick interaction felt forced, especially since the writers had already shown us enough to get the point across without having to address it so specifically.
The area where the episode excels consistently is in the character introductions. It’s a pretty difficult task to introduce six main characters with their own unique battles in a short amount of time, but for the most part the writers succeed. The struggles of each teen are given to us through relatable character moments, avoiding unnecessary exposition.
Nico and Karolina become quick stand outs, both in terms of performances by the actresses, and the depth of their torn family dynamics. Gregg Sulkin also shows he has an impressive range as Chase throughout the episode as he tries to maintain his image. The chemistry between the main cast is immediately apparent. The early interactions are quick and filled with sharp jabs while the group continues to deal with their previous fallout. These scenes highlight the acting talent that has been brought onto the project and bodes well for the future.
Despite this, there are moments where you can tell a few of the actors are still settling into their roles. I found a couple scenes where emotional highs suddenly transitioned into monotone lows, which was pretty jarring. The biggest example being Nico’s underwhelming reaction to the parental cult discovery. She almost looks bored at one point during this scene, as if she’s thinking about how much better her earlier ritual was, but that it’s nice her parents are trying. Thankfully this is rare, and with the talent on set, I’m confident it won’t continue.
Due to the number of characters the writers needed to introduce, the episode does jump around quite a bit, and not everyone is developed evenly. Molly’s discovery of her power, for example, never brought out the weight of the situation. She never once questioned its origin or the sudden side effects it brought with it. After basically passing out after using her new-found strength, Molly nonchalantly gets up off the floor to feed the pets in her parent’s lab. The dinosaur that then scared her in said lab should have also brought more questions, but Molly never asks them. The girl either has a mean poker face, or she’s the most chill person to ever exist. Gert, unfortunately, has little to do in this episode, so little in fact this sentence is about all I can say about it. Hopefully that will change.
My other problem is the way Amy is handled. I found it odd that, despite Amy being the key to the group dynamic, she is absent from the picture used to reunite them. Her photo reveal in the trophy case felt weightless in comparison, as if it were a last minute decision. Unless this photo problem is addressed later, I have a hard time seeing it as anything but a major oversight. Amy’s importance to each character should not simply be left as a plot device, especially with the weight the episode gives to her name.
Thematically, this episode shows the aftermath of tragedy and loss. “Everyone grieves in their own way” is either said or implied several times throughout the episode, though the only characters that appeared to be going through this process are Alex and Nico. Instead of feeling as though the group had split due to loss, it came across as if they had simply grown apart.
That said, there are genuine moments where it is clear the characters are running from their struggles; it’s just difficult to tell which battles they’re attempting to escape from. The grief of loss seems like an afterthought when there are so many moving parts, and though this loss is addressed by the entire group near the end of the episode, only Alex and Nico make the conversation feel truly earned. Nico points out their lives of escapism best in her conversation with Karolina after they find one another crying in the bathroom: “Some people hide behind makeup, others behind a smile…It’s still hiding.”
The Pride’s actions behind the scenes are ultimately the driving force of the episode. Though their motivations are unknown (could they be serving the mysterious paper mache covered man shown earlier in the episode?), they’re clearly not an organization to mess with. It will be interesting to watch as family dynamics shift after this discovery, and more so how closely the group will now have to work together in order to learn about their parents’ after work activities. Can anyone be trusted?
+ Great lead cast
+ Camera work tells its own story
+ Chemistry, Chemistry, Chemistry!
- Uneven performances
- Script inconsistencies
- Plot could easily become too crammed for some