Photo: Michael Desmond (Hulu)
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With Jonah gone (for now), there’s a lot of open narrative space on Runaways. What are the kids doing, with their parents’ boss dead? What are the parents doing? What does the next phase of the show look like? The answer, it turns out, is that Pride’s stable of corrupt cops has become a minor antagonist—a decision that makes sense in theory, but proves a little stale in practice.

To be fair, there is a degree of humor in Molly’s escape from Flores, which is pleasantly and unexpectedly fast. I really did think a lot of this episode was going to be a rescue mission, but instead she’s back with the rest of the team by the opening credits, totally humiliating Flores in a manner that feels very reminiscent of an ’80s teen movie. And with Flores off the table as a credible threat, it makes sense that he’s replaced as the primary “bad cop” by AWOL, a new minor antagonist who can be positioned between Pride and their children and summarily dispatched.

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Myles Bullock tries his best to make AWOL interesting, but it doesn’t work. Partly, this is because “corrupt cop in LA with serious ego problems” is a tired trope, and one that Runaways doesn’t seem to acknowledge at all. Flores literally describes AWOL as “talented, ruthless, but he doesn’t always follow the rules,” which is my favorite parody log line for an episode of Luther. And the scene of Flores and AWOL yelling at each other is completely leaden—I really thought the show was self-aware enough that any scene where someone growls “You question my loyalty?” would have at least a hint of irony, but alas.

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At bottom, AWOL just doesn’t have the built-in tension of the kids’ relationships with their parents. Pretty much any villain will feel like a letdown when the primary focus is people who are so close to our heroes. The show tries to deal with this problem by making AWOL an antagonist for Alex specifically, but the Runaways leader spends most of “Big Shot” acting like a huge dumbass. He makes everything about his own ability to devise plans and tricks people into things when it would be easier to be honest and forthright with everyone, like dragging the team to the restaurant where AWOL is known to hang out with no plan beyond “getting AWOL’s attention” to successfully flip him.

Alex doesn’t have bad ideas necessarily, but he’s doing them all on his own, and refusing to think about the team. Again, I appreciate the drama this creates, but Alex asking everyone to trust him again and again feels just a twinge too on-the-nose for a grim superhero story for my taste. After all, they only get away from the restaurant because Nico uses the “pause” spell to stop AWOL and his team in their tracks. (This does lead to a funny visual effect of the cops’ eyes moving very slowly in their frozen heads.)

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Meanwhile, some weird stuff is happening with the parents! Several of the members of Pride appear to have been possessed by the aliens on Jonah’s ship (including, potentially, Jonah himself), a fact that is heavily hinted at throughout the episode. This makes one of the subplots, in which Victor starts to build weapons to use against the kids, feel potentially way more sinister.

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Robert offers to help Victory for some reason—nominally to keep an eye on him and make sure the kids aren’t in danger—and Janet inserts herself into their brain trust, in the wake of her growing technological confidence. It’s the first real acknowledgment of the parents’ romantic subplot from last season, and it is awkward. Though it’s not as awkward as the Wilders’ trip to visit Tamar, who somehow does not kill Catherine where she stands. AWOL, who magically shows up at the house later, asks the right question: “You taking orders from the same people who killed your husband and paid me to shoot at your baby?”

Right now, it’s unclear exactly who is being possessed—though it’s most likely Tina and Stacey. The scene between Robert and Tina in which she suggestively goes on about the sugar and dopamine reactions she’s getting from the cake is a neat trick, since it’s not implausible that Tina would actually talk this way about cake. But it also makes much more sense when it becomes clear that she’s not herself, and is in the process of losing control to one of the aliens. Stacey, meanwhile, demands that Dale stay away from one of her projects, “Or I’ll feel that you don’t respect the autonomy of my process.” This is easily the highlight of the episode.

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Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to wait at least one more episode for more material with the possessed parents, because AWOL kidnaps Livvie at the end of “Big Shot.” It’s a way of getting leverage on the Runaways, and bringing the teens back to their parents—but it’s also an obvious setup for the next episode, like Molly being captured at the end of “Past Life.” I doubt the resolution of this one will be as compelling, or as quick.


Stray observations

  • “Big Shot” is written by Kirk A. Moore and directed by Wendey Stanzler.
  • Alex says he’s going to make Livvie’s phone look like it’s in Wakanda, which is the first Marvel Universe.
  • Chase and Gert have some pretty sweet interactions in this episode, largely surrounding them taking care of a sick Old Lace—until it becomes clear that Gert has the same illness.
  • Remember when everyone thought Flores and the strike team were going to be out of a job last episode? What was up with that?
  • AWOL kills Flores in the meat fridge of his favorite restaurant, which is psychotic—he’s probably damaging all the meat!
  • Runaways Dad Of The Day: Dale, who is easily manipulated into making Stacey a snack after trying to have a legitimate conversation with his wife. Kevin Weisman is just great this season.

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