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“Jesus, the things we do for a shag…”

That’s what Billy tells Ruby after she explains that if she goes to the police then Laurence will know she ran away with her ex-boyfriend and she’ll lose her two kids. It follows a lengthy, well-delivered monologue in which Ruby explains the contradictions of motherhood, how she loves her kids but the position of being a wife and a mom took away part of her core identity. It’s all relatively sober stuff. Plus, it comes on the heels of Ruby and Billy fleeing the scene of an accidental death that will undoubtedly look like murder to the cops.

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But Billy’s canned punchline not only scores a laugh with Ruby, it also plays like a goofy “How did we end up here?” moment that tends to arise in comedic couple-on-the-run stories. On paper, the moment is probably well-earned, especially after all that Ruby and Billy have gone through, but it still falls flat in execution. This is a familiar pattern with Run by this point. The series makes plenty of drastic moves that aren’t exactly unwelcome but nevertheless feel slapdash or strangely incongruous. Run’s premise can certainly support things like murder or train-jumping or profound deception, and yet most of it comes across as stale.

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I’ve been trying to figure out why Run has gone off the rails (excuse the pun) and I think it has something to do with tone. Wever and Gleeson still retain good chemistry, and whenever the show locks into their exchanges, it regains spark, or it generates something productive that can possibly be developed later. But the series constantly veers too rapidly between muted naturalism and slightly-off-the-wall hijinks to the point where it’s unclear if certain scenes are supposed to be a lark or very serious or both. Run is a show that clearly wants to allow for secondary characters to be impaled on spikes and its two leads to engage in witty banter not long after such an event occurs. Again, this is fine, welcome even, but its muddled tone renders many of these scenes confused, making it difficult to take the serious parts seriously or find the funny parts funny.

Run also has the problem where a lot of stuff ostensibly happens but it feels like nothing’s going on at all. In “Tell,” Ruby and Billy retrieve Ruby’s phone from the farmhouse before walking back into town, Laurel (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) discovers Fiona’s body, and two cops, Babe Cloud (Tamara Podemski) and Ryan Everwood (Shaun J. Brown), begin to investigate the mysterious death. Babe Cloud interviews Laurel for more information because she called in the crime, and the two almost immediately fall for each other. They eventually move their conversation to a local bar in town that Ruby and Billy also enter before they plan to confess the truth to the police. By all accounts, this is quite a bit of plot, but so little of it has any weight, dramatic or moral or otherwise, that all of it feels like filler. It’s never bad filler, but it’s filler nonetheless.

It’s a shame because Run still contains kernels of good ideas. The implicit comparison between Ruby/Billy and Laurel/Babe has plenty of potential, especially how the former is weighted down by years of baggage and absence and unexpressed regrets and the latter are defined by endless possibility. Credited writer Vicky Jones speeds up Babe and Laurel’s attraction for the sake of time, but Podemski and Waller-Bridge sell their off-kilter flirtatious energy pretty well, especially the sly way in which Babe says, “[The limbs] actually bend easier the more you move them” as she plays with the paws of a lifeless badger. Wever and Gleeson’s freak-outs in the woods are amusing enough, and Ruby’s monologue has enough shades of realism for it to be effective, but these moments are too few and far between for them to stand out too much.

By the end, Ruby and Billy take off for their train, to get back on the rails and create the illusion that they never even jumped off. They’ve turned their back on the truth or the idea of doing the right thing and are now headed for Los Angeles to continue their reckless journey. Of course, there are multiple shoes that have yet to drop: Laurence’s knowledge that Ruby is with Billy, Billy’s true motives for sending the “RUN” text, Daniel Goober’s disappearance, and the fact that Laurel found the coat she gave Billy sitting in the bar. Ruby and Billy’s journey can be “wrapped up” in numerous ways on next week’s finale, or it could end on a cliffhanger. Either way, it has to have some destination that makes the preceding journey worth it.

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Stray observations

  • Ruby’s instruction to Billy to not ask questions if she starts rustling because she has leaves down her pants to help with her period was pretty funny.
  • Laurel quiet-singing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” is an episode highlight both because of how absurd it is on face and her explanation for why she does it: “I get louder every week. It’s just good for me to do something in front of people. I spend a lot of time with dead animals.” That bit of dialogue finds a perfect balance between earnest and silly.
  • There are two other needle-drops this week. Laurel plays Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” in her car when she discovers Fiona’s body, and the episode closes with “Run to You” by Bryan Adams. All three are below.

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

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