Photo: Michael Desmond (Hulu)
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So it looks like Topher is going to be mostly confined a two-parter, at least for now. By the end of “Rock Bottom,” he’s been left in the hospital—somehow barely alive, like so many other Runaways characters. Unlike, say, Victor, I’m not sure I feel compelled to see him back on the show.

“Rock Bottom” takes Topher in pretty much the exact direction you’d expect after his introduction in the last episode. Trying to explain his weird drug habit, Topher tells the gang a story about finding glowing rocks in a terrarium in a dumpster, which enabled him to do cool stuff like jump on fire escapes and pull off backflips with nobody watching. Though it leaves open the possibility that Topher’s rocks are somehow connected to the hole, his account is almost a parody of origin stories. When he asks Molly for the full story of the construction site, it’s pretty obvious where we’re heading.

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Indeed, though he’s begun to win over the rest of the Runaways to the point where they give him back his drugs, Topher spirals out of control and goes to the dig site to look for more rocks. Once there, he apparently kills one of the construction works, raids the dirt for more rocks, and carjacks some random dude in order to flee the scene.

This is all a little too easy, if you ask me—I don’t mind the broad trope the Topher story is riffing on, but doing it this straightforwardly, and with so little care, is kind of a bummer. This kind of “going over the edge” moment, especially coming from a character the audience is supposed to like at least somewhat (as, I think, they are here) needs to feel tragic, somehow, like there was another way things could have gone. Having Topher snap at the first possible opportunity makes it seem more like he was never really that interesting to begin with.

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Thankfully, the eventual confrontation at Topher’s family’s house is pretty great. Not the intervention stuff—no, that’s kind of boring. The team discovers that Topher got his powers—and his addiction—from the “accident” that killed Molly’s parents, which means he’s stopped aging (which I think is supposed to be a reference to Topher originally being a vampire in the comics?) and also has maybe gone crazy as a result of the exposure. So I guess it turns out he and Molly are connected in some way. This is fine as far as it goes, but the really good part is the fight afterward.

Gert looking up out of the car to see Molly getting thrown out of the house is awesome, Chase using the Fistigons to deflect the dumpster Topher has thrown at him is awesome, and Topher pushing Gert and the car out of the way only to get hit by the dumpster himself is genuinely upsetting. This is all great work by director Scott Peters and the Runaways effects team (and especially Molly’s stunt double). Mostly, I just wish it was in the service of a character who had even a little more depth.

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Speaking of which: Karolina is off hanging out with Jonah, learning what’s really at the dig site: Jonah’s ship. His actual goal is, apparently, to free the rest of his kind—including Karolina’s “brother”—and get off of Earth. Julian McMahon is positively infectious in these scenes, as we get a sense for how much Jonah is genuinely enjoying spending time with Karolina and showing her this thing that he hasn’t been able to talk to anyone about in millennia. He’s still definitely the primary villain of the series, but if Karolina winds up turning on the rest of the team, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to blame her. I’m hoping that things break one way or the other pretty soon, since neither Karolina nor Virginia Gardner are especially great at the scenes where it’s obvious she’s hiding things.

Jonah is set to be quite a bit more villainous next episode, though, since it seems like he’s nearly killed one of the other dads. In the sweepstakes to kill Jonah, a new contender emerges: Robert. Though Robert is easily the least competent of the Runaways dads (minus Frank, who barely even counts as one of the Runaways dads at this point), he’s still pretty smart, and knows that his general softness can be an asset in this case. As he puts it, “My entire advantage is the fact that people underestimate me.” And indeed, he gets closer than anyone else has to date, reverse engineering the technology from Karolina’s bracelet to create a field that rapidly accelerates Jonah’s illness.

James Yaegashi finally gets to show some bite in this scene, as the camera switches to Jonah’s blurred, scared perspective and Robert really leans into the role of the triumphant rat. He almost gets away with it, too, kicking Jonah’s face into the floor and making the seemingly omnipotent alien appear weak for the first time—until two members of the church find him in Jonah’s office and whack him over the head, which is both very funny and also another reminder that Robert is still, ultimately, the butt of the joke, as the dads so often are. By the end of the episode, the weakened, cracked, whitened Jonah has carried Robert’s (probably not dead) body into the Pride headquarters and dumped it on a table, growling “I believe this belongs to you.” Hell yes.

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There are some other big changes afoot at the end of the episode. Topher had promised to get Gert more medication, but in his absence she leaves the mansion and goes to the hospital—seemingly calling for her parents. If this is finally what gets one of the Runaways to break, I’d get it. They’re kids, and it’s clear how much they’re all struggling. (This is also a fantastic scene for Ariela Barer, who is extremely poised as Gert comforts Molly while simultaneously revealing fear, anxiety, and slowly-welling tears.) And an artist—a woman living on Topher’s street—painting a highly-stylized mural of Molly, gold eyes and all. They’re still teenagers, but the Runaways might just become superheroes after all.


Stray observations

  • “Rock Bottom” is written by Jake Fogelnest and directed by Scott Peters. (Also, hey! Jake Fogelnest.)
  • Gert: “Accusing us of hypocrisy is not going to get you off the hook. That is called whataboutism and it’s a logical fallacy.” Chase: “She was on the debate team and we’re not as trusting as we used to be.”
  • The rest of Pride doesn’t get a ton to do this episode, but there is a very funny sequence with Eiffel, the mean girl from Atlas Chase hit up for the master key last week. Apparently she’s been verified after getting retweeted by Lil Yachty.
  • Dale definitely did not change the password on his phone to “Stacey,” why would you even ask.
  • Runaways Dad Of The Day: Robert Minoru. Congrats bud, you finally made it to the big time. James Yaegashi has the episode delivery of the day, when he snarls that “The only spider who ever made it into the Minoru house is standing right in front of me.”

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