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The penultimate Runaways kicks everything into high gear with a rescue mission

Photo: Michael Desmond (Hulu)
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For the bulk of the season, I’ve been talking a lot about how Runaways missions need to include all of the kids—otherwise, they become heavily reliant on one person (usually Nico) in a way that sidelines everyone else. Consider “Earth Angel” the exception that proves the rule.

Most of “Earth Angel” episode is devoted to Karolina, Molly, Nico, and kind of also Vaughn going to bust Leslie out of confinement. (The Crater is a technology-free secret compound that turns out to be right off the highway.) Pretty much everyone is superfluous to this mission—Karolina probably could have done it herself, with maybe a slight assist from Vaugn—but it gives Nico and Molly the opportunity to hang out in some new cultist duds for a while, and for Frank to totally melt down.

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The web of Frank’s idiocy continues to become more and more tangled, to the point where he accuses Leslie of, essentially, gaslighting him into thinking he wasn’t capable enough to lead the church. This is a weird, weird thing—Leslie is obviously domineering and awful to Frank a lot of the time, but sometimes a terrible man is just a terrible man. Frank is very good at dealing with the Dean women by now, easily seeing through Karolina’s attempt to manipulate him: “I spent nearly 20 years with your mother, Karolina, and you’re not nearly as good of a liar.” Still, by the end of the episode, Frank is being held as an apostate by the church. Maybe this will be the last we see of him? Pretty please?

Susan shows up to help Karolina and Leslie out, apparently having had a change of heart off-screen. Susan has been pretty messed up by decades of captivity, but that doesn’t excuse dialogue like, “He could make himself light, but he had darkness inside.” Apparently, she has by now totally bought into the church doctrine, but hates Frank specifically. That’s at least a little more complicated than having her just randomly decide to help her daughter and granddaughter, but the episode doesn’t give Susan nearly enough to do if it expects us to be invested in her beyond the way Leslie and Karolina react to her.

In yet another tense standoff, Frank tries to stop the Ellerh women from leaving the compound—only to be completely outmatched when Karolina displays her full power. Glowing, floating in the air, and repeating the church’s gospel, it’s no surprise that everyone drops to their knees. Frank is defeated utterly, since revealing why Karolina isn’t actually the church’s savior would entail proving Leslie right about everything.

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This is a great moment, but the tone is a little muddled, since the show hasn’t decided whether Karolina is legitimately awe-inspiring (she is, sort of!) or a charlatan (she definitely is). Leslie acknowledges her daughter as the new leader of the church, and Molly calls Karolina “an angel,” suggesting that something new and exciting has happened—which feels weird, since everyone has seen her use her powers before. Karolina, on the other hand, admits to Nico that she preyed on the beliefs of the assembled members of the church. Susan deciding to stay at The Crater feels like it should be the requisite sacrifice, something Karolina is giving up in order to escape, but we don’t get a sense of that at all.

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The girls bring Leslie back to The Hostel, which is... maybe not a great decision. I understand where Molly, Nico, and Karolina are coming from—Leslie is basically a pregnant runaway. But there hasn’t been any indication that she’s severed ties with Pride. At the very least, this is a good episode for Karolina to start complicating her relationship with her own powers and heritage. I haven’t talked about Virginia Gardner a ton in these reviews, largely because her performance tends to hit the same couple of notes. But if Karolina does wind up having to act as the leader of the church, the ways Gardner has been playing the role will become much more interesting—largely as Karolina’s innocence and genuine earnestness becomes more and more of a mask.

Honestly, my favorite part of this whole episode might have been Vaughn, who presents an amusingly powerless, hapless foil to the girls. He describes himself as “Vaughn The Brawn” (his nickname at Vassar) and keeps asking where Karolina’s flare gun is. When Nico and Molly have an emotional conversation about Nico’s insecurity around her power, Vaughn just talks and talks—only to be totally ignored. And when the fight seems like it’s about to begin in earnest, Vaughn passes out. This is a really smart way to introduce some humor to the more earnest, angsty parts of Runaways, and I wish there had been more material like it throughout the season.

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That sense of comedy is also present in the parts of the episode that focus on the rest of Pride, which is busy testing out their two weapons: brain scramblers and Chase. The opening scene of a bunch of Pride members testing the devices repeatedly on Pride Foundation employees is darkly funny, and the kind of thing that the episode could have wrung for another repetition or two. (When you’ve got a good idea, commit!) Chase, meanwhile, is using his tentative acceptance at home to investigate his parents, only for Victor to dramatically offer him—and the other kids—ownership of Pride.

Look: I know that Runaways probably isn’t going to go full season five of Angel, but I would love that. It would force the kids to all interact with their parents constantly while removing almost none of the antagonism, It would let the ensemble move much more fluidly. Most importantly, it would give James Marsters another crack at fighting a puppet.

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Stray observations

  • “Earth Angel” is written by Warren Hsu Leonard and directed by Stephen Surjik.
  • Molly, trying to convince the team they should be open to rescuing Chase: “We’re not Cylons from Alex’s Doctor Who show.”
  • Tamar gives Alex the gun from Darius’ car and gives him an ultimatum: Take down Geoffrey and Catherine, and never speak to Livvie again.
  • There’s a fun goofy-creepy shot of a painting in The Hostel staring at the girls, which turns out to Xavin, who shows up at the end of the episode to announce that she is Karolina’s “betrothed.”
  • Gert’s psychic connection with Old Lace is so strong that she burps up—and tastes—Dale’s secret special disgusting marinade. This is a cool development, and something that could lead to more interesting material for Gert going forward.
  • Nico’s Dark Willow thing is still ongoing, I guess. She gets the Staff Of One out of the wall, functionally five minutes after putting it there. She’s getting scaly black every few minutes, and seemingly getting closer to fully losing control. We’ll see what happens when she does!
  • There are characters in this episode credited as “Millennial Wendy,” “Millennial Megan,” and “Millennial Mary.”
  • Runaways Dad Of The Day: Frank, by default. There are basically no dads in this episode besides Victor, and Frank truly does implode like a person who has been a terrible father for years and years. Also, this episode might be his last opportunity to win this illustrious award. Bye Frank!
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