Runaways could’ve been great. The show’s basic premise, about a group of teens who discover that their parents are all supervillains and run away to fight them, is beautifully on the nose. Teenagers rebelling against parents who are actually evil! Also, there are superpowers and a pet dinosaur? If no one else tries it, Riverdale will.
Unfortunately, Runaways, Hulu’s TV series based on the Marvel comic created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, stumbled with the execution almost immediately. Its first two seasons were oddly paced and imbalanced, sapping all momentum from the show by decisions that didn’t end up working out so well — first in choosing to slow down the story so that the eponymous Runaways don’t actually, well, run away until the first season finale, and then in choosing to focus on their parents just as much. (Parents are boring, everyone knows that.)
In its third and final 10-episode season, out today, Runaways goes for broke and resets everything — but slowly. The first half of the season is dedicated to tying up the majority of plot threads introduced over the last two years. The second half barrels headfirst into something new: the show it always should have been.
It’s a lot like watching the show clean up its own act before it goes off to a bright future in college, one episode at a time. The last season left the cast — teen polymath Alex Wilder, power-goth Nico Minoru, reformed jock Chase Stein, dinosaur owner / intersectional feminist Gertrude Yorkes, super-strong kid sister Molly Hayes, and secret alien Karolina Dean — split up and pretty much beat. Their parents, formerly members of an evil cult of alien worshippers, now possessed by the even-more-evil aliens they worshipped, have captured half the team and imprisoned them in a low-budget version of the Matrix. It’s all part of a scheme to open up a portal to another world and, well, you know what? The show doesn’t really care.
I can’t stress enough how strange and funny it is to watch Runaways completely change its mind about its direction mid-season, as its cast gets whisked away to another dimension in order to give the show a hard reset. In a way, it’s remarkable. It’s incredibly rare to see a show address and internalize a critical dressing-down and make a hard pivot for the better, but that’s what Runaways does.
The parents and their cult-related schemes are almost entirely dispensed with, only brought back when it makes sense. With their reduced presence, the teens actually get to indulge in some teen drama and weird comic-book-y shenanigans involving alternate dimensions, teen covens, and double-crossing. One of the most frustrating character changes, rewriting Nico Minoru’s character from the teen witch of the comics to someone who just owns an alien staff, is completely retconned. She’s a witch now. Magic is now a confirmed thing on the show.
It’s so much of a thing, in fact, that the final villain of the season is Morgan le Fay, the sorceress of Arthurian legend (and also a Marvel comics character). Also making appearances are Ty Johnson and Tandy Bowen, the light- and darkness-powered heroes of Marvel’s other doomed-too-soon teen show on Freeform, Cloak and Dagger.
Runaways’ final season is a bittersweet watch. For years, the comic it was based on was one of the best points of entry for comic books, more interested in believable characters and fun pacing than any of the normal trappings of superheroics. Its TV adaptation could have been just as refreshing, but too often, it looked like a pale, confused imitation.
At the very least, it gets to go out with a bang.