The first scene in Runaways’ season 2 premiere not only is a great little nod to Spaceballs, but also sets the thematic tone for the sophomore season of Marvel and Hulu’s children-of-supervillains series: the members of Pride rush to the police station, believing that their children have been apprehended after missing only 24 hours… only to walk in on a group of lookalikes who are complete strangers. “Those aren’t our kids,” Geoffrey Wilder snaps, as if it should be so easy for the cops to recognize their children—but the truth is that nobody knows who the Runaways really are, not even the Runaways themselves.
Season 1 established the adolescent rite of passage of learning that your parents are not only imperfect, but actually evil, but the Runaways haven’t automatically become one big happy family. Learning the truth about their parents was one thing; this season, they have to examine their own complicated heritages and figure out which of their tangled bonds—to parents and to each other—to honor, and which bonds need to be snipped.
Confession: I fell off watching Runaways last year, giving up two episodes short of the first season finale. It wasn’t that I disliked the slower pace of the series compared to the comics; I was all for actually making the estranged Runaways become friends again, and in the meantime to delve into all the soapy shit their parents got into thanks to Pride. But the action started to taper off, and I failed to keep up with the penultimate chapters of the first season. Well, little did I know that that was when everything would happen at once: Gert and Chase have sex, Karolina and Nico kiss, the Pride open a crater in Los Angeles (?) to dig up something primordial and probably evil (??), the Runaways almost lose Karolina (!) to her dad Jonah (!!—OK, that bit I saw coming). Creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage delivered on the drama before the kids finally went on the run.
Runaways season 2 has this same feel. Watching the first episode, I can already tell that it’s definitely building to something… but the premiere (“Gimmie Shelter”) itself is just a chapter in a larger narrative, and a setup chapter at that. What makes it intriguing, however, is how it delves into what it actually means to become a Runaway.
Marvel screened the Runaways season 2 premiere at New York Comic-Con, 10 weeks ahead of its premiere on Hulu. While this is a non-spoiler review, I will be touching upon a few minor plot points to discuss the episode.
Part of confronting the Pride’s nefarious reasons for its success involves the Runaways reexamining their own privileged lives, built upon the same pile of innocent bodies. Cutting themselves off from their parents doesn’t just mean escaping the Pride’s ever-constant watch through cameras posted all around Los Angeles; it means cutting themselves off from every resource that would make it easier to rebel in this battle of good versus evil. No phones with Uber apps; no snatching the keys to the folks’ spare Bimmer for transportation; not even spare change for a payphone. All these kids have left are their wits, and they haven’t had to rely on those for a long time, if ever. Case in point—losing the money Alex got from Darius in his “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” deal in the first few minutes.
The writers do an excellent job of reminding us that these are half-formed adolescents who have never had to fend for themselves, who make dumb mistakes then assign blame and sulk instead of determining their next step. Part of this is the growing friction among them: Alex’s wounded pride at seeing Nico turn to Karolina; Molly’s frustration at wanting to protect Graciela, the one innocent relative in all this; Gert shrugging off Chase’s attempts at affection; and the lingering mistrust that any of them could turn back to their parents, whether for money or emotional support, at any time. Like the Avengers or the Defenders in their early days, they haven’t yet gelled; there are too many reasons for any of them to give up the fight and take the easy way out.
It’s humbling to be a Runaway, but it’s when their failures lay them the lowest that they get the most inventive: harnessing their privilege when it will get them resources, pooling their various powers or weapons against a common foe, and confronting the realities of life on the street. The most powerful moment of the episode involves the Runaways seeking out shelter at a homeless camp, witnessing what it means to survive outside of the bubble of the Pride.
Within that bubble, unrest is brewing. The Pride is, as the kids say, back on their bullshit: squabbling amongst themselves about how to fight Jonah, forming mini-alliances or assuming positions of power within what is supposed to be an egalitarian cabal. The Yorkes are as ditzy as ever on their particularly unsavory assignment, a welcome reminder that not everyone in Pride is completely evil. There’s not as much focus on the parents’ end in actually worrying about their kids as I was hoping for, but there is at least one case of blood ties overcoming any other alliances.
By the end of “Gimmie Shelter,” the Runaways have found their home base for at least the next few episodes—the sole triumph of this humbling ordeal, and the first sign that they might be able to make this mad plan work. It’s the kind of premiere in which not much happens, but it lays the groundwork for the season, as these could-be superheroes must first figure out who they are without their parents.
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