Lyrica Okano, Ariela Barer, Rhenzy Feliz, Virginia Gardner, Gregg Sulkin (Photo: Patrick Wymore)

Remember when there was a dinosaur in Marvel’s Runaways?

I’m not saying that the velociraptor in the Yorkes’ basement has to be the main focus of the show all the time. But it is emblematic of the strange inconsistency that has plagued Runaways from the start and starts to run a bit rampant in “Refraction.” You introduce a dang telepathic creature from the Cretaceous Period but then stuff that back in the toy box for a few episodes. You present the idea that Nico’s sister, Amy, might have been murdered by her own mother, a thought you might assume would have an impact for longer than an hour. I’m not even sure anyone’s even mentioned Amy Minoru since episode five. Do you think we’ll ever revisit the time Karolina was nearly sexually assaulted at a party and Chase lied to her about it? Even the smallest interpersonal stuff suffers whiplash between episodes. At the gala in “Metamorphosis” Karolina says some truly out-of-the-blue pettiness about Gert’s feelings for Chase; here, they meet up at their school’s open house casual as can be. “No Gibborim booth this year?” Gert asks, all friendly smiles. Is there tension here or not?

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“Refraction”—written by Iron Fist executive-producer Quinton Peeples—is just such an odd case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. The episode is interspersed with heartfelt family drama in the wake of Victor Stein’s Pride gala mic-drop. Nico has to deal with her parents’ splintered relationship, stuck between her suddenly vulnerable mother and a father who doesn’t want things to return to the way they were. Chase, too, finds himself pulled unexpectedly toward a father who was never, ever there for him before. For the record: This is good melodrama. But it’s almost always undercut by a scene where the teens get together like, “These motherf*ckers need to be brought down ASAP.” It’s so incongruous with the context surrounding it. Alex might be the least interesting member of the group personality-wise, but he’s also the only one who seems consistently bothered by the time he watched his parents sacrifice a young girl in the basement.

Because of the constantly changing character motivations, it’s hard to even buy any strain within the group. There’s an incredibly awkward scene early in the episode where the kids meet up in the center of their high school to...basically just be overtly mean to each other for very little reason. The result is a mess of stilted dialogue from a show that, if anything, excels in writing banter:

Chase: An escape room does sound sick though.

Karolina: If it means escaping from here.

Gert: Whoa, zinger. Karolina, you should sign up for the school improv troupe.

What is happening here? “Guys, we’re supposed to be taking down our parents, not each other,” Alex says. A very, very fair point, but “Refraction” does little to move either plot-point—the group growing closer, the parents’ secret purposes being revealed—from the stagnant place they’ve been stuck in for several episodes.

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At least with the adults the personality shifts can be blamed on Jonah’s magic pixie cocaine serum (the unofficial name for now). In a scene ripped from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus saga, genius scientist Dale Yorkes straight-up mishandles a volatile substance and is pretty chill when it clearly absorbs into his bloodstream. Victor Stein, too, is pumped up on Jonah’s mysterious serum in an effort to stave off his brain cancer. Both men rocket to their individual forms of hyper-positivity; Dale loves everything, Victor just loves his son in a real way for perhaps the first time since he held him in his arms in the delivery room. What’s interesting, though, is the aftermath of this high, the come-down, sees the parents trying to remove a child from their life. One just happens to be a more permanent, Fistigon-aided solution than the other.

Luckily for this frustrating episode, these are two of the best scenes in Runaways’ entire season so far. The first comes after the Yorkes decide to ship Molly off to a second cousin in Montebello. It’s a gut-punching showcase for young stars Ariela Barer and Allegra Acosta. There’s more raw emotion here than in the previous six episodes combined. I love the decision to shoot the initial blow-up in Molly’s bedroom and the tearful aftermath in Gert’s. It’s a subtle way to highlight the ways these two are separated not only by blood but every personality quirk imaginable so that their sisterly bond hits even harder. Everything—the performances, the dialogue, the story progression—feels 100% more genuine than the forced drama that came before it:

“Molly, you’re gonna get through this because you’re the strongest out of all of us. And I’m not gonna let anything bad happen to you. Not now, not ever. We’re sisters. We’re sisters forever and nothing’s ever gonna’ change that.”

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The episode-ending scene isn’t as impactful emotionally but it is intriguing on in that twisty way while introducing some actual stakes to the proceedings. “Refraction” begins with a message from a hilariously bearded Chase to his father, seemingly from the future: “Whatever you do, Dad, don’t pick up the Fistigons.” Victor, of course, picks up the Fistigons, and in his serum-depleted anger points them at his own son...before Janet Stein stops him with a bullet.

Now, it’s clearly a bullet through the shoulder—which in TV terms is fixable with two Bandaids and an Aspirin—and to lose James Marsters would be to lose the most charismatic adult character Runaways has on its roster. But whether Victor is dead or not, Janet’s decision clearly set something in motion. For a Runaways seemingly dead-set against running away, any motion at all is a good sign.


Stray Observations

  • I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising that anyone involved with Iron Fist is bad at mimicking human speech, but this episode really was filled with excruciating back-and-forth. Molly: Maybe my true superpower is my positive attitude. Karolina: Now you sound like a poster in my dentist’s office.
  • Someone should tell Leslie Dean that bringing someone back from the brink of death with magic glowing gloves is the literal opposite of a parlor trick.
  • Some brief updates on Jonah: He’s basically God—or at least he’s been around for a long, long time—and not only is he responsible for the Church of Gibborim’s belief system, he and Leslie look to have conceived Karolina in some mythic, glowing-pelvis way.
  • “We thought that undermining the patriarchy was too mild a response to recent events.” I find everything about the presentation of this group of activist kids oddly mean-spirited.
  • A great touch to have Victor Stein return to his abusive ways by descending the steps literally bathed in shadow.
  • Molly’s eyes lighting up in front of Dale Yorkes is probably the hardest I’ve wanted to see a character get punched through a wall in all my days.

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