Photo: Paul Sarkis (Hulu)
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“Radio On” is definitely a slower episode, starting to move pieces carefully into place so that they can inevitably be wrecked by the more dramatic episodes of the season. There’s a lot of necessary-ish plot development—the power comes back on at the mansion, Alex tells everyone he’s been working for Darius, Janet begins to insert herself into Jonah’s revitalization process—but for the most part, the episode centers on one of its most powerful engines: teen romantic relationships. Where “Gimmie Shelter” kept a wide focus on all ten-plus characters in the main ensemble, this episode is largely divided into the stories of three teen couples: Gert and Chase, Karolina and Nico, and Alex and Livvie.

Gert and Chase have the sweetest (and, I think, the best) story of the episode, working through their unresolved feelings from their hookup at the dance to establish a pretty solid grounding for their relationship. Gregg Sulkin is very endearing here, especially when he lays out his rough sense of the dual anxiety and uncertainty Gert is feeling after their hookup and subsequent escape. (Chase might not be the most talkative member of the team, but he can be a good listener when he wants to be.) And Ariela Barer does a great job of communicating the complicated relationship between, not her and Chase, but their surroundings and her lack of medication.

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Lots of TV that “tackles” mental health often does so in an extremely one-dimensional way, but when Gert cracks and admits that her meds would at least help, it feels like a more honest depiction of living with anxiety while not treating it as the be-all end-all of your life. This is one of a few subtle threads I’m excited to see getting integrated into Runaways—normal things that are part of normal-ish kids’ lives, without becoming the central focus. Also, it helps that Chase and Gert’s plot for the episode ends with the two of them comically scaring off city employees so Chase can get power flowing to the house.

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Meanwhile, Karolina, Nico, and Molly go off to steal the Staff Of One. Lyrica Okano is the absolute MVP of the episode, veering wildly between all of the overly dramatic teen emotions you’d expect from the characters on this show. When Robert catches them at the house and promises that everything will be okay, Nico sadly expresses how thoroughly the kids have lost faith in their parents by telling him that she knows his words are lies. Later, when Karolina suggests that they move into the same room in the mansion, Nico nervously giggles before sputtering, “If you want.” And when the kids fight Tina wielding the staff, Nico puts up a hell of a fight.

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This is a pretty decent action sequence for this kind of show, especially one that clearly isn’t a climactic, season-ending fight or anything. Mostly, the teens take turns trying to hit Tina (Robert just stands and watches, because of course he does), until TIna whacks Molly into the pool, then uses the staff to freeze it at what would have been a commercial break in a non-streaming show. (I appreciate that Runaways, unlike most other shows on streaming platforms, is committed to having act breaks.) Eventually, Tina just gives her daughter the staff, with the ultimatum that if she takes it, they’ll no longer be family. Nico doesn’t hesitate. Brittany Ishibashi often has to do somewhat thankless villain work on Runaways, but I appreciate the sad, hangdog way she admits to Robert that she was bluffing: “I didn’t think she would take it.”

Tina’s admission is the biggest moment any of the parents get this episode, unless you count Jonah starting to show Karolina her powers, which is a shockingly nice moment given that Jonah is the main villain of the show at this point. It helps that Karolina is basically boxed in by her father and her friends—though there’s some chemistry when she seduces Nico, it still feels a little forced, because she’s holding something back.

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Finally, Alex goes to his “job”and almost immediately finds himself hooking up with Livvie. This plot is pretty color-by-numbers, but it’s also very fun. (I especially appreciated the way the camera focuses on Livvie when Alex insists he doesn’t have an “ulterior motive” for dropping by unannounced.) Though she instantly figures Alex out as a softie, the show continues to push the idea that Alex is getting in touch with his “roots” as she puts his hair in cornrows and gets him to admit that he doesn’t really know much about, well, being black. This is a thematic thread that could definitely go belly-up—especially with Darius about to sell Alex out to his parents—but for now, I’m impressed with how deftly the show has handled it.

So we’ve got our three couples, along with some slight changes in the Pride status quo. (Mostly, Janet asserting more power and a role for herself in Jonah’s ongoing attempt to get a new revitalization box.) Perhaps most importantly, Nico has taken on a very Tina-like role as, essentially, the team general, while Molly sneaks out of the house at night to go fight crime. This episode was relatively quiet, but it looks like we’re headed for some fireworks soon.

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Stray observations

  • “Radio On” is written by Warren Hsu Leonard and directed by Chris Fisher.
  • Gert points out that teens would be more likely to smuggle a vape into the school dance, which raises the question: Which Runaway vapes? (My money is on Nico or Alex.)
  • When Nico says the episode title and turns the radio on, it’s playing “Gangnam Style,” a creative decision that is good, to me, personally.
  • Runaways Dad Of The Day: Robert, for continuing to stand around and watch while the women in his family almost literally fight to the death. My friend, I get it. (Also I’m pretty sure I own one of the sweaters Dale wears in this episode, but I can’t give it to him twice in a row.)

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