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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ruby and Billy dance around each other in the second episode of Run

Illustration for article titled Ruby and Billy dance around each other in the second episode of iRun/i
Photo: Ken Woroner (HBO)
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Run might be a two-hander, but so far, it’s the Merritt Wever show. While Domhnall Gleeson’s reactive performance compels on its own—his face casually projects a mixture of frustration and regret that suggests a wealth of backstory—Wever does most of the emotional heavy-lifting in these first two episodes. That’s partially because creator Vicky Jones fleshed out her character more than Gleeson’s in the pilot, but it’s also because Wever has specifically been tasked with conveying a strain of naked vulnerability. After all, Ruby might not have prompted the exodus, but her agreeing to it set the plan into motion. The ball was in her court and she accepted it with open arms.

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Take the first roomette scene in “Kiss,” where Ruby and Billy negotiate their respective expectations and insecurities. Wever communicates desire and trepidation with her body language, vacillating between opening herself up to and shirking away from Billy because of his obvious restraint. Ruby assumes Billy’s reticence to jump into bed has to do with her age and appearance, but she doesn’t know that it’s primarily because Billy hasn’t processed Ruby leaving her husband and two children for him. Subsequently, Gleeson moves between acting cagy and ardent, disengaging because of guilt and then re-engaging after his guilt is misinterpreted as lack of attraction.

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Yet, Wever leads the dance through their awkward fumbling across a small space, bumping into everything from the toilet to the fold-out top bunk. She expresses Ruby’s emotional and physical leap through small gestures, like quietly saying, “Come get me” or a gentle caress of Gleeson’s face. Unfortunately, fate gets in the way: a chance glimpse at a C-section scar and a surreptitious phone call from Ruby’s husband Laurence pushes Billy away. The mood quickly sours, and any attempt to salvage it is interrupted by another phone call from Laurence. Billy falls back on casual condescension and Ruby responds appropriately (“I’m just so tired and irrational and I really need a strong level-headed man to gently suggest to me that I get some fucking rest!”), but it’s partially because neither wants to accept the obvious truth. You can’t ignore the past for too long before it comes knocking on the door.

The rest of “Kiss” covers the fallout from Ruby and Billy’s failed hook-up. After Billy directly turns down Ruby’s advances, Ruby playfully insists that she’ll sleep with whomever leaves the bathroom next. To Billy’s surprise, it’s a handsome stranger (Saamer Usmani), Derek, who, by Ruby’s estimation, is an “Amtrak 10.” She makes a pass at him in front of Billy that quickly lands him in her room, but credited writer Adam Countee makes the neat character choice of rendering Derek a quick study. He immediately discerns that Ruby has provided him with a fake name and instinctually knows that she only pulled him into her room to make Billy jealous. It doesn’t stop him from arousing her with professional grade “sexy talk” before taking off back to the bar, though.

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Ruby and Billy make up and eventually engage in a drinking game with Derek that involves taking shots of clear liquid and guessing if it’s either liquor or water. (A fairly transparent way to just get drunk, if you ask me.) They play through the night with Billy cajoling Ruby into drinking more and more. They joke about playing games with each other way back when, but when Billy accidentally says that “everyone can see [she’s] not 19 anymore,” the fun and games are over. Ruby leaves, humiliated, and Billy can’t save their time together by insisting that she’s the only one obsessed with how she looks or by apologizing. She wants off the ride and, most of all, she’s thrilled that she hasn’t done anything that might irreparably destroy her marriage.

That is until the train lands in Chicago. Ruby tries to withdraw money from an ATM in Union Station only to discover that all her cards have been cancelled. Presumably, her terrible lie that she’s on a yoga retreat didn’t fool Laurence as soon as he checked her credit card statements. She tries calling the house, but Laurence has already outed Ruby on their voicemail message (“If you’re looking for Ruby, she ran out on her family yesterday. We don’t know where she is, why she left, or when she’s coming back.”) and now she’s stranded in Chicago with no money or safety net.

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“Don’t be sorry. This is good. I have a life with consequences,” Ruby tells Billy right before she leaves him on the train, but Ruby can’t return to her life with consequences precisely because of the consequence of her actions. The literal and proverbial trains have left the station, the past has broken down the door, and the only thing remaining is Ruby’s bruised pride. There’s no turning back now.

Stray observations

  • The other major development this week is that Fiona, Billy’s personal assistant, has been tracking his whereabouts and knows he’s on a train to Chicago. Billy abruptly “breaks up” with her on the phone, but it sounds like that won’t stop her from following him.
  • Usmani previously starred in the Netflix series What/If, but he’s more familiar to me as the dumb guy whom Shiv beds in the “Boar on the Floor” episode of Succession. He’s the one who says, “These days the real news actually comes from comedians.” Similarly, Usmani’s character in Run is “into wellness” and “has an almond butter patent” that Ruby has no interest in hearing about.
  • Ruby’s attempts at flirting with Derek are pretty funny. She says she needs a hand with her roomette because it’s dirty. Derek tells her she should complain because they’re so expensive. Ruby asks again if Derek wants to come back to her roomette. “Well, not if it’s dirty!” he responds.
  • The episode’s most piercing line comes from Ruby who, following her half-hearted attempts to clear the awkward air, sheepishly says, “I dunno. I can’t make jokes anymore. I can only make confusing half-jokes.”
  • “Kiss” closes with the song “Just Ask” by Lake Street Dive. It opens with the couplet “Love’s an addiction, baby / There’s a rehab for every kind,” which doesn’t seem true, but what do I know?

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

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