Photo: Michael Desmond (Hulu)
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Putting “Last Rites” as early in the season as it is was a big gamble. The episode took a lot of long-standing components of Runaways out of the equation: the dig site, the threat of a world-ending (or at least California-ending) earthquake, Julian McMahon. And since then, the season has floundered a bit, trying to figure out where to take the show’s broader plot. With “Split Up,” we have our new status quo. The Gibborim family are the full antagonists of Runaways now, though it’s not so much because they want to take over the world. (Though maybe they do!) Instead, the remaining Runaways are going to have to take them down to free their friends—and possibly their parents.

“Split Up” starts with an animated sequence depicting the lead-up to these events through the backstory for Xavin and Jonah’s family. Roughly speaking, it seems like Jonah’s family, tied to a long-standing alien prophecy, was exiled from their home planet, only for Xavin to stow away in order to fulfill the prophecy by marrying Karolina. Or something. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Then again, neither does Xavin’s obsession with Karolina, since we don’t actually know what the prophecy was or why Xavin was following it.

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I guess we’ll get more about that in season three once the writers have decided what they want to do with them, but the lack of anything even remotely concrete makes Xavin feel like even more of a paper-thin character than before. And it doesn’t help that Clarissa Thibeaux gets very little to do this episode—the other cast members have way more fun playing Xavin. As it stands, the best sense we get of them is the opening scene of Xavin delicately dipping a doughnut in ketchup, which is shot to look lush and decadent. (It’s one of my favorite visual touches from the episode.)

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Xavin’s big scene with Leslie is similarly quiet and low-key. Though Leslie admits to not really knowing much about her own daughter, she gives pretty good emotional advice about Xavin developing their own life and only later trying to connect with Karolina. This could have been an entire emotional arc on another show, so I’m glad it’s been compressed this much—but it still doesn’t mean I’m excited for more Xavin next season.

Besides, everything else happening this episode is super action-packed, and brings some (though not all) of the season’s emotional threads to the fore. After tentatively agreeing to meet up with Chase, the kids are tracked down by Pride’s army of tiny robots, and chased individually through Los Angeles. Pride has, as we learn dramatically before the opening credits, declared war.

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The “war” consists mostly of the kids being followed by a bunch of drones, and then running from their parents, which isn’t quite what I think of when I think of “war.” The drones are, at least, resistant to everyone’s powers—but they still look like the drones someone’s rich dad would get really into after the divorce. (Gert’s swap meet crush hangs a lantern on this by asking what Gert has against drones as a recreational activity.) As much as the drones are supposed to seem like credible threats, since they’re resistant to basically everyone’s powers except Molly’s, this doesn’t make for a great action climax. Instead, the confrontations between the kids and their parents make up the better parts of “Split Up.”

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Alex leads his parents on a decently-fast car chase, before leading them into his trap. (Geoffrey during the chase: “I should never have let him play Grand Theft Auto.”) Though it seems for a brief moment like Alex is going to shoot his parents, his plan ends up being a lot smarter and more complex—the type of thing he’s been trying to pull off all season. Alex weaponizes everything he’s learned by firing Darius’ gun, then planting it in his parents’ car. And as he tells his parents,“LAPD has a little thing about black folks waving guns around.” While I wish we’d seen a bit more of Alex’s thought process behind this idea, it’s a solid resolution to the running thread of Alex trying to be more ruthless. He runs off grinning like a maniac, but, shot from a distance and obscured by buildings and windows, his moment of triumph feels a bit hollow.

Stacey and Dale chase Molly and Gert through the mall, in a series of scenes that have more of a kinetic, light feel than some of the more ponderous, capital-s Serious scenes from later in the episode. Molly manages to get away after speaking Spanish to a crowd of Latinx people and convincing them that Dale is a predator, but Gert ends up trapped with Stacey. (Part of the tragedy of this scene is the sense that Dale and Stacey really aren’t as bad as the rest of Pride, but that the alien that’s possessed Stacey has fully taken over.) Stacey knocks Gert out, but she comes to with Dale—even Dale is freaked out by Stacey, so he’s kidnapping Gert (and Old Lace) to take them on a road trip, where they will listen to a lot of Phish.

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And, cornered by one of the drones, Nico and Karolina decide to split up again, but not before Karolina makes a big romantic speech about how they’ll never be alone again, even if they’re apart. Nico responds by forcing her scrambled brain to say “I lamp you,” which is both very sweet and a great stealth Anchorman reference. Lyrica Okano continues to be absolutely phenomenal, especially when Nico shows up to the Pride office to have a big brawl with her parents. The slow-motion and fight choreography in this scene are pretty good, leaving it genuinely unclear who’s going to win the fight (and demonstrating that, for once at least, Robert and Tina are working in synch) until Tina kicks her daughter in the face.

Seemingly revived by the power of the staff, Nico enters full Black Willow mode, yells “Smash!” and, instead of a gone-too-soon NBC drama about Broadway, totally destroys the Pride office—leaving Robert with a huge shard of glass in his neck. It seems like he probably isn’t dead, but I honestly wouldn’t have minded that kind of development to escalate the stakes of Nico’s conflict over the use of her powers. I like Robert, but he hasn’t had nearly as much to do this season as he did last season, and there are a lot of parents on this show! Also, he tells Nico it’s her “last chance” before he attacks her, and with the “last chance” message Chase delivers earlier in the episode, I would estimate that Pride has given the kids various “last chances” like, six or seven times over the course of the season.

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Karolina is pursued by Victor, who reveals himself to be possessed by The Magistrate—Jonah. This makes a lot of sense, though I wish we had learned it an episode or two earlier. Victor’s outfits have been getting more Jonah-like, culminating with the suit he had specifically lined to block the inhibitor machines. And I’m extremely into this character being passed from Julian McMahon, who played one of my favorite ’90s supernatural antiheroes on Charmed, to James Marsters, who played one of my favorite ’90s supernatural antiheroes on Buffy and Angel. (Please, please, introduce David Boreanaz to this show.) Victor/Jonah eventually subdues Karolina and brings her back to the Stein house, where he brushes off Chase and Janet and meets with the other members of his family: Tina and Stacey.

So, at the close of the season, we have a sense of who’s who in the family: Jonah/Victor the father, Stacey the mother, Tina the daughter, and... Nico? It could turn out to be someone else, but as soon as the Gibborim discuss the fact that “brother” might be one of the kids, we cut back to Nico staggering into The Hostel with no memory of how she got there. Seems suspicious, is all—and it would be an effective way for the show to twist the knife into its primary romantic relationship. Chase, Karolina, and Janet are all being held in their own versions of the pod Victor was in at the beginning of the season. (It’s weird that Karolina is in one of the pods/being considered as food, since she’s part of the family, but sure.) And standing against them are Xavin, a way-too-pregnant Leslie, Molly, Alex, and the possibly-possessed Nico. What could go wrong?

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Stray observations

  • “Split Up” is written by Quinton Peeples and directed by Jeremy Webb.
  • The two alien races are Gibborim and Xartans—Xartans are a race of aliens in the Marvel universe (and they can even shape-shift), but that does mean that Xavin isn’t a Skrull, if that’s something you were looking forward to
  • Gert meets the guy she flirted with in the last season, a doofus named Earl. Combined with Chase briefly expressing interest in his boss at Pride in the last episode, it seems like their relationship really is done, which isn’t the worst thing. They’re going to be great exes.
  • Case in point: When Chase calls Alex, he notes that Gert is probably making “the face.” (She is.) When Alex relays Chase’s offer to meet, all of the girls give him (and Chase) the finger.
  • Leslie asks Karolina if she can ever earn forgiveness, and her daughter responds: “Forgiveness is earned over time with deeds, not words.” This is apparently a Gibborim teaching, but it’s a good one. For the whole season, everyone in Pride has repeatedly been asserting that they’ll get better without actually doing it.
  • Using his parents’ technology, Chase is hard at work designing something called a Leapfrog.
  • Leslie really is, like, insanely pregnant now.
  • Stacey (the real one) trying to describe learning your parents aren’t perfect: “It’s like finding out the stove is on: It burns for a while and then you get a scar.” Honestly, that’s a pretty good line! Except for like, murder.
  • Runaways Dad Of The Day: Dale. It was always going to be you, Dale. But the enthusiastic way he both calls himself Mr. Brightside and pulls out a Phish CD before whisking Gert away really puts it over the top.
  • And that’s it for this season. See you next time, for more Runaways dads!

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