One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin.
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis—which lends this episode its title, and is also being read by the world’s worst security guard—doesn’t literally sum up Marvel’s Runaways; people have turned into rainbows and dinosaur whisperers and mini-Hulks but no giant bugs. Not yet. But it works surprisingly well as a companion piece, particularly to this episode. “Metamorphosis” is about that weird, often painful divide between who you are on the inside and the face you show to the world, about the split-second changes that can alter your life into something much more bizarre. Wealthy, privileged teens whose parents might be murderers. A tech genius whose brain is slowly killing him. A tiny teenager with super strength. The face of a hyper-religious superchurch who is also a glowing beacon of queer desire begging to be let out.
Episode writer Kalinda Vazquez does a fantastic job of juggling the dozens of balls Runaways has up in the air right now. She mostly keeps things to emotionally-charged one-on-one interactions that all come to an interwoven conclusion at a Pride fundraising gala. There’s a great heist vibe to everything, like Ocean’s Eleven if everyone secretly had crushes on each other. So, like, a much better Ocean’s Eleven.
The best stuff involves Karolina because she is weighed down with a load of secrets more than anyone, and that’s saying a lot. There’s a fine line to walk between cleverness and heavy-handedness when your metaphor for suppressing sexual orientation is a bracelet that keeps you from glowing, but there’s a sweet earnestness to Runaways that makes this work. Karolina has such an unsure idea of what rebellion means—she quite literally asked someone how to do it in the premiere—that it only makes sense she’d be drawn to Nico. In high school terms, Nico nailed it. She put on the black makeup, styled her hair to match. One of the best scenes of the episode is just Nico and Karolina getting ready for the gala; director Patrick Norris uses shots of mirrors, makeup, and clothes—most notably Nico’s mother-approved party shoes—to highlight the unspoken ways these characters are pulling away from their parents and drawing closer together.
Of course, that’s not always the case. Both Nico and Chase are finding new bonds with their parents, which is...odd, considering the evidence that their parents are kidnapping homeless teenagers and tossing them into an unending void. But it does make sense that it’s happening to these two; Nico and Chase had the coldest relationship with their family, so these sudden bursts of warmth make an already convoluted situation even more complicated.
And the opposite is true for Karolina. She was the perfect daughter, the last hold-out and founding member of Team There Has To Be Another Explanation. So coupled with her feelings for Nico the revelation of lies within her perfect family come close to breaking her. As Chase and Nico bond with their parents for once, Karolina is ready to act out for the first time in her life.
As most of us know, life’s first brushes with rebellion usually involve cheap vodka and crying. The scene on the roof of the gala is a pretty great encapsulation of what a show about teen heroes should be. It’s a twist on the idea of a secret identity; superheroes hide who they are to protect other people, teens do it because they think they’re protecting themselves. So it makes sense that the moment Karolina discovers she can straight up fly doubles as something of a personal realization about who she wants to be.
Plus, that street-level shot of Karolina hanging in the air like a star was just the dopest image.
On the Pride front, things are still a mixed bag. The episode started with another flashback which, at this point, I’m taking as a personal insult, and I do find it funny that Robert Minoru thinks he could shoot one of the most recognizable faces in the world and get away with it. But it’s equal parts interesting and frustrating that Pride is currently imploding and it has nothing to do with the kids. While Nico and Alex sneak around trying to collect evidence from Wizard’s servers, Victor Stein decides to just take the mic and air Pride’s dirty laundry for all to hear. It’s intriguing, but it also goes back to what I wrote last week about Runaways feeling like several shows happening at once. On a purely character-study basis, this series is stellar. But story-wise, very little action has an effect on what follows. Much of the forward momentum comes from lucky coincidence (“I guess 15% Tina is enough for it to think I’m my mom”) or characters just sort of knowing things because the story demands it (“I was just wondering, are you kind of into Nico?”).
With only four more episodes left in the first season, I feel a bit like Molly sending ill-advised texts to Catherine Wilder. I’m going to need some info, because “TIME IS RUNNING OUT!!!”
- Strange that a character introduced as Tina Minoru’s shady tattooed informant was brought back as bumbling comic relief so he could hit on a high school student. Here’s to Kincaid one day being necessary.
- “Your secret is that you’re super smart, not that you light up like a glowstick” is such a simple, perfect takedown of Chase’s entire being.
- Stan Lee showing up in Marvel movies and shows is something I genuinely hope happens until that wonderful man is 150 years old.
- So, a bit of an explanation of what’s going on with Jonah and Pride: Victor Stein’s machine enables the “pure conversion of matter to energy, in a form that can be consumed by the human body.” Basically, Pride is turning kids into vitamins and Jonah is taking them.
- At this point, I hope they never actually explain the term “Ultra” out loud. I hope Runaways lasts for ten seasons and characters continue to say stuff like “you went Ultra, you just don’t know it.”