Virginia Gardner, Allegra Acosta, Rhenzy Feliz, Gregg Sulkin, Ariela Barer, Lyrica Okano (Photo: Greg Lewis/Hulu)

I was worried there would eventually be an episode like “Doomsday.” After three-quarters of a season over-stuffed with mysteries, overlapping storylines, flashbacks, and roughly sixteen main characters to follow it was almost inevitable that everything would come to a head all at the same time and almost none of it would feel genuine or earned. “Doomsday” is, in fact, that episode. Suddenly everyone is kissing, the fate of the entire world is at stake but the authorities can not be called, and the teens (not The Runaways, as the show makes clear) face off against their parents as a unified front, even though it appears they all mostly hate each other 95% of the time.

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For once, the main issue of the episode lies squarely with the teens. I can’t for the life of me nail down what dynamic the writers want this crew to have. The tone of their interactions change on a line-to-line basis, much less between episodes. Nico’s coldness toward Alex I understand, but even that seems overstated when the group treats Chase’s story-changing laptop smash from last week like a general annoyance. “Wilder, I said I was sorry,” Chase says, a day after destroying any evidence these kids had against their criminal parents, evidence they staged an elaborate heist to procure.

The characterization is almost worse when it comes to these characters liking each other. I’d love to analyze Chase’s sudden change in feelings towards both Gert and Karolina. But there is nothing there, besides maybe a line admitting that “every once and a while, she makes a good point.” She makes a good point. It’s lazy storytelling. It’s claiming you climbed from Point A to Point B and hoping nobody notices you just took the elevator.

It’s a shame because the scene at the dance between Gert and Chase is an endearing one, thanks mostly to the performances by Ariela Barer (by far Runaways’ best young actor) and Gregg Sulkin (doing his strongest work here). I’m not sure who exactly Marvel’s target audience is for a sex scene between high schoolers set to smooth R&B, but the lead-up is at least believably sweet because Barer and Sulkin understand their characters, and that includes the layers. Barer, especially, knows when to make her snipes at Chase sound genuine and when to look down just so because she’s saying them out of instinct. The tortured popular kid and the misunderstood misfit is the stuff teen romances are made on. “I always saw you” would be a moving, John Hughes-ian line...if it also wasn’t clearly bullshit. There’s been no indication from the writing, the performances, the framing to this point that it’s true. That any of this is true.

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The falseness of it all hurts the bright spots around it. At least with Karolina kissing Nico, the show did some homework to get us there. And the moment itself effectively sells the fuck it the world is ending tone that the episode was so awkwardly striving for elsewhere. But as a small, too-quick part of this very disjointed whole, it didn’t land with nearly the impact it could—or should—have. It felt more like a reminder, like don’t worry this storyline is still happening.

Which all leads to a line, from Alex, that I can’t stop turning over in my head:

“We’re friends again and I didn’t think we ever would be. I wouldn’t want to save the world with any other crew.”

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In a perfect world, this is Runaways’ defining moment. These six kids put aside dozens of differences and decided to stick together because in the heightened worlds of comic books and high school saving your friendships is the same thing as saving the world. It’s a great moment that rings so hollow if you think about it for more than a second. We’ve spent so much time with Pride, with flashbacks, with whatever the hell it is Darius Davis is up to, that the most disappointing realization about Runaways is I’m not even sure they are friends again.

“Doomsday” ends with a stand-off, kids—glowing, Fistigon-wearing, and eyes lit up—against the parents of Pride. Director Jeremy Webb frames it perfectly, both epic and personal, the kids firmly planted shoulder-to-shoulder across from the people who raised them. Writers Jiehae Park and Kendall Rogers give the necessary exchange to Stacey Yorkes and Gert, who nods to the friends beside her:

Stacey: We’re family.

Gert: We’re a family.

Like I’ve said, I want so badly to love Marvel’s Runaways, and I wanted so badly for this moment to feel big, to be the beat that turns this show from occasionally promising to great. Instead, it’s a perfectly crafted scene without any soul to support it. You’d think a series so entrenched in high school would know that the right answer still gets a red X next to it if you don’t show your work.

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Stray Observations

  • It’s almost impressive how often this show crafts a scene that perfectly works as a metaphor for its own biggest flaws. This week: A character literally suggests they become The Runaways, and everyone else is immediately like oh God no why would we do that?
  • It is hilariously unnecessary for Nico to call Alex from her dead sister’s phone just to say, “it’s me.”
  • There was something very...off about the videotape from Molly’s parents. Especially Vladimir Caamano as Gene Hernandez, who recited a series of possible cataclysmic events with the enthusiasm of a shopping list.
  • Trying really hard not to take it personally that Runaways calls the A.V. Club a place for losers.
  • Flashback: Leslie Dean was directly responsible for killing the Hernandezes. “It’s done. Gene and Alice are no longer a problem,” she tells Tina Minoru, also complicit. Tina then actually burns her hand on the stove, an absurdly unfortunate thing to do when claiming you totally didn’t just commit arson.

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