Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Run reveals Ruby and Billy’s backstories and points to a plot-driven future

Illustration for article titled Run reveals Ruby and Billy’s backstories and points to a plot-driven future
Photo: HBO

“Fuck,” the third episode of Run, plays like a breath of fresh air and an exposition vehicle. The break from the train visually opens up the series, offering Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson the opportunity to literally stretch their legs in director Kate Dennis’ frame, as well as narratively, giving Ruby and Billy a chance to feel each other outside of Amtrak confines. The change of pace suits Run because, while the train is a compelling location, the first two episodes suggest it was never going to be a fixed-location series where Ruby and Billy meet new people in a different car every week, as much fun as that idea sounds.


At the same time, the new details about Ruby and Billy’s personal lives are as mundane and predictable as expected. Obviously, their backstories aren’t required to be Earth-shattering revelations that reorients our understanding of who they are or anything like that, but the two-episode buildup rendered the moratorium lift a minor letdown. A series with a high-concept premise like Run’s could definitely stand not to overdose on plot, but it also can’t coast entirely on Wever and Gleeson’s chemistry. Ideally, it strikes a balance between flirty hijinks and runaway thriller mechanics. So far, we’re in some indefinite middle ground.

As one could reasonably guess after the last episode ended with her husband freezing all her credit cards, Ruby isn’t the hotshot architect working in green design that she purported to be. She admits this to Billy when the two are on a Chicago river boat architecture tour after the two impulsively decided to spend the day in the city and figure out if they want to continue their journey. Ruby doesn’t give away too many details, but she basically started the program but couldn’t hock it, and eventually had panic attacks at the thought of going to work. When they fired her, she pretended to keep going in, and when she stopped pretending, she was “in quite a mess,” which basically led to her marrying Laurence. Wever doesn’t overplay the confession, delivering it gently and plainly, and Dennis accentuates it by having Wever and Gleeson be occasionally bathed in shadows whenever the boat goes under a bridge. It’s just a memory of who she was at a different time, before she got married, when she had promise, at least in the eyes of others. “I kept trying to be the ‘me’ I was when I was with you. You always said I was great,” she tells Billy. “I was not great,” she sadly diagnoses.

Billy’s backstory is a little bit more complicated and involves another person, his personal assistant Fiona, whom we finally meet this week. Credited writer David Iserson first introduces Fiona, played by The Good Wife’s Archie Panjabi, as a helpful stranger who assists Ruby when she gets tangled in a dress while shopping for some expensive new digs with Billy’s money. Fiona insists that Ruby try on this other expensive dress, and they eventually shoplift it together. Ruby feels connected to this person because she enables her reckless spontaneity. Little does she know that she’s also the person who’s been tracking Billy via his phone in order to get him back on his speaking tour, lest he be the subject of many lawsuits.

Meanwhile, Billy has withdrawn all of the cash in his bank account, partly to pay for an expensive hotel room and partly because he’s afraid Fiona will steal it. He eventually meets her and tells her that he’s done with the life coaching and gives her $10,000 as severance. Fiona, who neatly explains to Billy and the audience that she’s essentially worked as his COO and that he’s the face of all her hard work, insists that the 10 grand isn’t enough money because her on-paper training as a personal assistant doesn’t guarantee future lucrative employment. It’s a good spark for a conflict, and a compelling reason why someone like Fiona couldn’t just be paid off, but why, you may ask, is Billy willing to abandon the thrilling world of life coaching?

Well, it turns out that his advice led to someone’s death. At one of his speaking engagements, he brought a woman named Jackie up on stage who told him that her husband had killed himself after suffering a mental breakdown because Billy “told him to come off his meds.” It’s implied that Billy was likely speaking in metaphorical, pie-in-the-sky terms that nevertheless have the dangerous potential to be misinterpreted. This sparks a Jerry Maguire-esque epiphany in him that he’s not fit to be preaching at anyone, which he loudly and explicitly tells his audience. As a result, he’s been cast as a pariah and a laughingstock.


So, he ran away, just like Ruby. The two commit themselves to each other and consummate the new phase of their relationship, but of course, trouble lies around the corner: the last shot of the episode reveals Fiona has been recording their sex presumably for blackmail purposes. Now that we finally know why Ruby and Billy fled their lives, it’s time for their newfound freedom to be complicated by a third party. As of now, Run has mostly been a pleasant, occasionally amusing ride. Maybe it’ll shift into a different gear with the added presence of danger.

Stray observations

  • As a longtime Chicagoan (now living in Brooklyn), this episode necessarily made me homesick, even though Run plays fast and loose with the geography, e.g. if Ruby and Fiona are near the State Street Macy’s, evidenced by the exterior street shots after they flee the store, then they wouldn’t need to cross the Division Street bridge to land at Couch Alley opposite the Chicago Theatre. Unless they decided to run in a circle, which is surely possible.
  • Deirdre Lovejoy, best known as Rhonda Pearlman on The Wire, guest stars as Ruby’s mother, Mary, in the opening flashback sequence. How is Mary in the present day, you ask? “Angry,” says Ruby.
  • “What makes a building gothic?” “You know, listens to sad music, wears black eyeliner.”
  • The episode closes with “Blush” by Wolf Alice. Listen to it below.

Vikram Murthi is a freelance writer and critic currently based out of Brooklyn.