Photo: Michael Desmond (Hulu)

“Last Waltz” starts the process of setting up for the season’s endgame, which looks like it will shift Runaways’ focus a bit. Until now, the action of the season has largely been driven by Nico, Alex, and Karolina. “Last Waltz,” refreshingly, centers Gert, Molly, and most of all Chase, who returns to his parents at the end of the episode. If the conflict at the end of the season, in the wake of Jonah’s “death,” winds up being “bringing Chase home,” I won’t be mad at all—making the show’s stakes a bit smaller probably wouldn’t hurt, at least for a bit.

The stakes of “Last Waltz” are refreshingly small, at least in the sense that everyone’s problems are resolved one way or another by the end of the episode: Chase and Gert break out of Dale and Stacey’s house, Molly has her party, and Victor and Janet have their son back.

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Most of the first half of the episode is taken up by Chase and Gert’s hostage experience with Dale and Stacey, which is, like everything else with Dale and Stacey, very funny. Foreshadowing the end of the episode, Chase casually insists that Stacey really does care about Gert—only to immediately collapse from drinking what Gert says is almost certainly poisoned orange juice. (I laughed out loud at Kevin Weisman’s shrug and shit-eating grin as Gert, proven correct, looks on in horror.) And when Chase wakes up, Dale and Stacey inject him with truth serum—sorry, sodium thiopental—only for him to spend most of the time talking about his and Gert’s sex life. Getting to play drugged and dumb is a good look for Gregg Sulkin, who hits this material out of the park.

Tina shows up to house, meanwhile, only for Stacey to hold her hostage too. (“You think because I’m wearing a tunic I won’t drop your skinny ass?”) I’m pretty sure that Stacey is one of the aliens, which makes this scene even weirder, but I’m not complaining, because Brittany Ishibashi gets to play at being a teen girl again. Tina spends most of her scene with Chase and Gert eating pancakes and dishing the hot gossip on the rest of Pride, which is a great mode for possessed Tina to be in. If it wasn’t clear already that the alien inside Tina is some kind of adolescent, it becomes obvious when Gert tries to hurt Tina by pointing out that she hasn’t asked how Nico is doing. Tina’s catty response, “You told me not to talk to you,” speaks volumes.

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When Molly, Alex, and Karolina show up and bust Chase and Gert out, Old Lace stays behind to menace the Yorkes—only to be tranquilized by Dale. The plotting here is a little forced, but it does lead to a great scene where Dale tentatively suggests putting Old Lace down, only for Stacey to point out that the dinosaur’s psychic connection with Gert will lead them to wherever their daughter is hiding.

The Steins, meanwhile, take a different tactic with their child. Janet points out that an emotional appeal might work better than all of Victor’s insane weaponry. Eventually, the combination of the two approaches is what works: Using landlines, Victor manages to hack into the state’s emergency line and call everyone in California to get Chase on the phone and ask him to come home. Victor tells Chase that he’s sick, which is maybe a lie depending on who’s talking. Is it Victor? (Who is blacking out a bunch, and will probably be dead soon.) Or is it the alien? (Who is, apparently, having a great time.)

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Chase somehow ends up being suckered by this plea, and returns to his parents. This season as a whole has done a good job setting the stage for this decision: Chase keeps talking about his old teammates and expressing wistfulness for his old life, while slowly becoming more comfortable defending the members of Pride as complicated people trying to do the right thing for their kids. But it does feel like a bit of an obvious trap, and he knows enough to put the rest of the kids in danger—so why would they let him go?

Maybe it’s just because they had a nice time that night. It’s Molly’s birthday—or, at least, it was her birthday, the day before. And because she’s turning 15, it’s time for Molly to have a quinceañera. “Last Waltz” doesn’t go too deep into what this means for her, but it is more of an in-depth exploration of Molly’s heritage than, like, Hiram saying “mija” a lot on Riverdale. (Notably, wishing Molly a happy birthday is the first thing the Yorkes do when they see her.)

This is the episode where the teens have a party, and it’s great. Using the money they stole from the strike team, we get a full-on shopping montage set in an outdoor market in Los Angeles. There are shots of Molly trying on dresses, the girls looking at kitschy tiaras, Chase picking up SnoBalls, and Alex grabbing boxes of string lights—a real Runaways plan being executed for a reason that is not insanely grim and/or depressing.

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I enjoy the show’s angst as much as the next teen soap fan, but I do wish there was a bit more joy snuck in, because the party looks beautiful. Gert’s speech is lovely (and Ariela Barer does a great job delivering it), everyone looks great,and even the slow-motion the Runaways team has come to rely on a bit too heavily this season works; at least when it’s showcasing Chase and Molly dancing under falling confetti. It took 11 episodes, but for a brief moment, everyone is happy. And then Chase leaves, which wouldn’t be quite so sad if Gert hadn’t plaintively, vulnerably asked him to come to bed with her. (And it wouldn’t be quite so annoying if Chase had just told everyone his dad was sick. Even Karolina came clean eventually!)

Over in the season-long B-plot, Leslie has been dragged to the menacing Crater compound, where she meets... her own mother. s4E2R, or Susan, played by Kathleen Quinlan, had seemingly been sent to the facility years ago. Putting aside the weird habit of not using people’s names, which is at odds with how heavily the church’s recruitment relies on the egos and star power of the Deans (maybe it’s just for the people being tortured at The Crater?), I’m down with this being the site of some action, especially since Leslie is pregnant—and, all of a sudden, visibly showing. Leslie has been one of the most difficult Pride parents to pin down, but I’m enjoying her attempt to dismantle the church and realizing it’s too big for her. Annie Wersching regresses into a teen girl right before our eyes, pleading for her mother. Like Gert with Chase, she ends this episode deeply, profoundly disappointed.


Stray observations

  • “Last Waltz” is written by Tracy McMillan and directed by Ramsey Nickell.
  • Leslie, explaining why she’s being held at The Crater: “My husband, the actor, has just discovered that running a church is the role of a lifetime and he wants me out of the way.”
  • Tina legally enters the Yorkes’ house because she has legal access to every WIZARD door control unit, which would be a pretty neat joke about Amazon and Google if the show wanted to press it a little further.
  • Chase: “Dale’s back, with his beard!”
  • Nico, meanwhile, performs a ritual to seal away the Staff Of One (by putting it in a hole in the wall). This is just a delaying tactic until she inevitably has to use it again, but it’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, she learns about how the staff works.
  • “When I walked into this place, I was a dumb kid.” Chase, it’s been like, two weeks, come on.
  • This episode also introduces Xavin as a full, new character. Played by Clarissa Thibeaux, we don’t know a ton about Xavin yet, other than that they seem to have some powers that Jonah didn’t.
  • Runaways Dad Of The Day: Victor. Emotional manipulation aside, this is a power episode for Victor, who does get his son back.

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