Photo: Michael Desmond (Hulu)
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Who would have guessed that the biggest accomplishment of the second season of Runaways would be humanizing its villain? “Last Rites” is a big episode, and easily could have been the season finale. The kids confront their parents again, Jonah attempts to launch the ship, and there’s a bunch of exciting action—but the most compelling part of the episode is the way it makes Jonah’s apparent death feel at least somewhat sad, rather than triumphant.

The events of “Last Rites” are, in large part, centered on Jonah’s relationship with the Dean women. The episode opens with a flashback to Leslie’s father’s death, establishing her commitment to Jonah and clarifying how much of a break it is for her to betray him. (Quick question, why does Leslie even want to go with Jonah when he leaves Earth?) It’s honestly still a little unclear to me how Leslie feels about Jonah—though she’s told Karolina about Jonah’s crimes and appears to be putting up a unified front with Frank, she calls attention to her daughter’s deception when it becomes clear that Karolina is lying to Jonah rather than helping her delay the launch. Annie Wersching is mostly a cipher in these scenes, which I think is a good thing—for now.

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Karolina, meanwhile, manages to weaponize her relationship with Jonah, telling him to meet her at their usual spot as a distraction while she and the other Runaways attempt to free the aliens from the ship. This is a good turn of events, and it leads to the very funny scene in which Jonah realizes that his teenaged daughter might actually lie to him, even though they have a “connection.” It’s also an excellent use of the earlier scenes, which set up the possibility that Karolina might betray the other Runaways. Instead, those Jonah-Karolina scenes lay the groundwork for this plan. But it all goes wrong when, not only is Chase unable to free the rest of Karolina’s “family” with the Fistigons, her father gets apparently murdered—by her girlfriend.

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I’m assuming, or at least hoping, that Julian McMahon will stick around the show in some capacity, because he is great in this episode. His sputtering confusion when he realizes that Karolina might have taken advantage of their “connection” is equally sad and hilarious. He gets to do some good, old-fashioned villainy when he caustically admits that he lied about the earthquake. And when the Yorkes and Steins succeed in blowing up the ship, he’s a raw, wounded nerve. His malicious preening even gets deployed for comedic purposes when he muses, “Who wouldn’t want Geoffrey Wilder inside of them?”

The non-Jonah parts of “Last Rites” are, for the most part, good and goofy still. I’m increasingly interested in a Runaways episode that’s just about Frank trying (and failing) to run the church, because the writers have gotten bolder about making the Gibborim religion the butt of the joke. There’s the scene where everyone working “security” at the launch is told to follow their light or whatever while being handed massive guns. There’s the very good gag where Alex hacks their cars and sends them to the desert Gibborim being led to the desert, thinking that self-driving cars are a miracle. And, of course, Frank continues to be a total idiot and accidentally kills Destiny Gonzalez’s brother. But all of that is setup for stuff that will happen later in the season, because Frank aside, the rest of the parents converge on the dig site to confront Jonah and their kids.

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He blasts away at the outside of the ship, but Chase isn’t able to make a dent, and the rescue mission is a failure. The kids need to get out of the hole before Jonah launches the ship, and Karolina is forced to leave Nico behind—leading to a tender kiss between them, which (somewhat) crystalizes their relationship as one of the emotional backbones of the season. It briefly seems like Nico might be a sacrificial lamb for Karolina’s character development—only for her to blast out of the hole using the staff to create a whirlwind in an incredibly good and well-done teen superhero moment.

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Eventually, Jonah orders someone named Xavin to launch the ship (which might be meaningful if you’ve read the Runaways comic), which turns out to be an enormous ball of bisexual lighting. Not even the Staff Of One can stop the ship, but the combination of the Steins’ device and the Yorkes’ poison gets the job done. The ship explodes into glittering light. It’s impressive that this is only a partially triumphant moment—the ship itself is quite beautiful, and we don’t have a sense that the other aliens on board have really done anything wrong.

Nico dips the staff into the Yorkes’ weapon and stabs Jonah in the back with it, seemingly killing him. The intercut with a flashback of Nico finding her sister dead could have been a little much, but everything else about the end of the episode is so confident and on-point in maintaining and building tension that I was totally down with it. (It helps that this comes just a few minutes after Nico’s dramatic emergence from the hole.) Except that Karolina, of course, is upset, and the episode ends both with the suggestion that Jonah might not actually be dead (he mutters “Now we’re gonna have to take it all” before the light leaves his body, returning Julian McMahon to his original Australian accent) and with an impending fight between Karolina and Nico.

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I mean, look—all of this is is extremely over the top. Karolina literally screams “No!” as her girlfriend kills her father. But that’s what Runaways does best, especially when it’s this confident about being able to pull off the cheesier beats. I’m excited to see where it goes.


Stray observations

  • “Last Rites” is written by Quinton Peeples and directed by James Madigan.
  • Dale had a panic attack when Gert was born, and forgot the whole thing.
  • Gert’s line “I always have had a soft spot for the disenfranchised” is something Veronica would say on Riverdale, which I mean as a compliment to both shows.
  • When the kids try to see if Gert texted them, Molly notes: “Guys, I think we should have factored into our plan that we’re underneath the earth and our phone costs $8.99.”
  • Victor seems to get a message from a future version of Chase, telling him not to pick up the Fistigons.
  • Every reaction shot of Tina is incredible, like Brittany Ishibashi is on the verge of doing a full “Yes, padawan, feel the power of the dark side” smirk.
  • Runaways Dad Of The Day: Jonah. Victor awkwardly hugging Chase and Geoffrey actually helping the kids make for strong contenders, but this has gotta be a Jonah episode.

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