Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled In the iRun /iseries premiere, two former flames escape their lives on a train
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Created by Vicky Jones and executive produced by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Run indulges in an enduring, evergreen fantasy: What if you escaped your current life and started over? The very idea is built into universal conceptions of independence and bootstrapping and the misguided belief that free nations promise endless opportunity, but, of course, it’s much more elemental than all that. Throwing off the shackles of one’s material reality in order to embrace an exciting but unknown future smacks of adventure and freedom, things that aren’t afforded to most people in the doldrums of life. However, as optimistic as a potential rebirth might be, a former self must die for it to take place. An abrupt departure inevitably prompts many questions, but primarily, “What are they leaving behind?”

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Run obviously doesn’t answer that question in the pilot. Presumably, Jones will draw out the full details of why exactly Ruby (Merritt Wever) and Billy (Domhnall Gleeson) texted each other “RUN,” suddenly dropped all responsibilities, and boarded an Amtrak train out of Grand Central heading to Chicago, but for now, their backstories are shrouded in some mystery and the series is all the better for it. Too many pilots are sunk by an abundance of exposition, so thankfully Jones doesn’t go through too many motions of explaining her characters outside of their actions. Almost everything you need to know about them can be summed up by the fact that they boarded that train in the first place.

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Jones filters her escapist fantasy through the prism of romantic comedy: Ruby and Billy are former lovers who made a pact almost 20 years ago to run away together if either of them received a catalyzing text. This naturally demands that the leads have convincible chemistry, which Wever and Gleeson provide in spades. It’s not just that they share a believable rapport that evinces their past relationship, but they also charge every gesture and motion with a teasing, playful energy. Any time Ruby and Billy brush up against each other in the close quarters of the train, or almost touch hands in the seat, or share a smile in the Roomette, it suggests they’ve both been harboring a secret ardor for each other. The Run pilot coasts on this highly flirtatious spell that’s only intermittently broken, like when Ruby and Billy independently adjourn to the bathroom to furiously masturbate.

We do eventually learn Ruby and Billy’s occupations, the one concession they make to each other after they agree to a moratorium on personal questions. Ruby is a senior architect at a firm that specializes in green design and Billy is some kind of life guru who hosts seminars and recently published a book entitled Amazing. Period. that is, apparently, “extraordinarily condescending towards the female experience.” (At one point, we see Billy receive an email from Fiona, his P.A., that a video in which he’s yelling, “You think I have the answers to your life? I don’t know you. Fuck off! Fuck off! I’m trying to be honest!” has gone viral.) Most of their conversations are spent trying to suss out how the other has changed over the years. Ruby doesn’t buy the confidence Billy has been selling, attributing it to similar behavior he exhibited in college, while Billy eventually discovers Ruby has abandoned a husband and two kids for him. Neither are happy or comfortable, but both are clearly experts at pretending to be.

While a train might be too claustrophobic a setting for many shows, Jones, along with Wever and Gleeson, instill it with an intimacy and wonder that wouldn’t necessarily be present if Ruby and Billy were traveling by car or plane. They’re in close quarters, watching landscapes change out their windows, and have little else to do than dodge or confront their past identities. It’s partly why Billy admits the true reason he texted Ruby (“I had this moment of clarity that there wasn’t a single person I had met in my entire life that I ever wanted to see again, and then I thought of you.”) and Ruby returned to the train after an open opportunity to disembark in Pittsburgh and return to her former life. They’re still the same people as they were but they’ve also inevitably changed. Their escape provides them an opportunity to discover the gaps in the various lives they’ve led and the reasons why they’ve left those selves behind.

In other words, like many lovers before them, they’ve run away to be together. Except there’s no telling what happens when they actually start being together.

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Stray observations

  • Hello! Welcome to Run recaps at The A.V. Club. My name is Vikram Murthi and I will be your host for the next seven weeks.
  • I think it’s slightly hacky for writers to force connections between art and Our Current Moment, so I’ll just address this right now and hopefully leave it at that: Yes, it’s a little odd to watch a show where people are traveling by public transportation and aren’t practicing social distancing right now. The establishing shots of a crowded Manhattan were definitely jarring.
  • Ruby and Billy briefly run into an older married couple played by Stephen McKinley Henderson (Lady Bird) and Annie Golden (Orange Is The New Black), who play a cute little Alzheimer’s game where one pretends not to remember the other.
  • Apparently, Rich Sommer, a.k.a. Harry Crane of Mad Men, plays Ruby’s husband, because of course he does.
  • The funniest revelation of the week is that Billy once thought the words “hirsute” and “therefore” were synonymous, e.g. “Hirsute, we should probably conclude…” The possibilities of this blunder seem endless.
  • “People forgive all sorts, don’t they?” “Not this. Who does this?”
  • The series opens with Elvis Presley’s “Don’t,” featuring backing vocals from The Jordanaires, and closes with Feist’s “I’m Not Running Away,” which is a little on the nose. Anyway, both are below.

Vikram Murthi is a freelance writer and critic currently based out of Brooklyn.

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