The pilot episode of any television show can often feel like an information dump to the audience. This is especially the case in Marvel’s RUNAWAYS pilot, considering there are six characters each with their own series arc.

The most important thing studio execs ask themselves when picking up a series is, “Do the characters themselves provide enough opportunities to drive the plot of the show?”

Story vs. Characters: the RUNAWAYS Pilot

Take a look at MODERN FAMILY. The pilot episode introduces us to three different families and all of their children; yet, each of the characters shares a unique bond with the others. In just one episode, we learn that Phil is attracted to Gloria, his wife’s outrageously young stepmother.

We learn that Jay is a slightly homophobic ‘man’s man’ that struggles to accept his son Mitch having a boyfriend. We learn that Claire’s daughters are juxtaposed in personality and that Phil is too laid-back to help Claire parent them. The pairing opportunities between contrasting characters seem to be limitless.

A pilot doesn’t take on the best storyline, but rather, it aims to present the audience with these fertile characters seamlessly. However, even though Marvel’s RUNAWAYS pilot feels too ‘on the nose’ at times (okay, a lot of times — SUPERAMY164. Last time online: 2 years ago), I’d argue that they still do a decent job of creating a unique set of teens and the world for them to inhabit.

RUNAWAYS pilot
Lyrica Okano as Nico Minoru in Marvel’s RUNAWAYS pilot, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Will RUNAWAYS be an ensemble-based series like MODERN FAMILY? Or will one character eventually fill the role of the leader? I have not read the comics, and everything I mention will be purely based on the pilot episode.

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Into the Wilder: Is Alex the Main Character?

In screenwriting, the main character is defined by who has the strongest desire overall. Not by who has the most time on-screen. In many cases, the main character ends up being on-screen most frequently. That is not what constitutes their “main character” status, and that is not how RUNAWAYS tackles their pilot.

The first episode of RUNAWAYS splits screen time equally between each of the six characters. I have an inkling that Alex Wilder will eventually become the leader of the pack. Despite that hunch, he certainly isn’t on-screen longer than the other characters, which makes it harder to determine.

Remember: this is merely an indication of the main character, not part of the definition. I also have some doubts about Alex being the main character, which I’ll flesh out later.

Sticking to Your Guns

When a film or series seems to be multi-protagonistic, you can look to the ‘third act’ and pick out the true protagonist based on who ‘takes the reigns.’

This character will always follow through with his or her true desire. They take action to fulfill their desire when everyone else has given up. From the start of the episode, we see that each of the six of the teens has a desire.

  1. Gert wants to start a feminist club.
  2. Molly wants to join the dance team.
  3. Chase wants to be popular.
  4. Karolina wants to be rebellious.
  5. Nico wants to be left alone.
  6. Alex wants to reunite the friend group.

Alex might be the main character solely because he seems to be the only person out of the six kids who works towards his goal without allowing it to become muddled. In fact, the characters end up abandoning their desires altogether, expressing interest elsewhere. All except Alex.

Alex Wilder’s Desire: Staying True

After setting his plans in motion by having his mom order pizza and sodas, Alex works the hardest out of the bunch to achieve his goal. He first approaches Chase after class, who coldly rejects Alex due to his social standing with the cool kids. Following in suit of that rejection is Gert, who thinks the idea of reuniting is laughable, and Karolina, who is busy with other plans. However, this doesn’t stop Alex.

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Next, Alex confronts Nico in the hallway, admitting that he misses her and would like her and the rest of the group to come over to his house. In response, Nico just taps her earbuds, as if to say, ‘I can’t hear you.’ Interestingly, Alex doesn’t say anything to Molly, but it’s assumed that if Gert didn’t go, her adopted younger sister probably wouldn’t either.

Even though Alex is unsuccessful (at first) at achieving his goal, he never abandons it. He sulks at his home alone, playing video games and eating the pizza himself. Alex doesn’t say, “I guess I’ll just have to make new friends,” or, “Mom you can cancel those pizzas.” He sticks to his guns in a way that the other characters don’t in reference to their desires.

RUNAWAYS pilot
The cast of Marvel’s RUNAWAYS pilot, available on Hulu.

Abandoned Desires: A Comparison

“The other characters have strong desires, too!” Yeah, but here’s how all of them f*ck it up for themselves.

Gert is a headstrong women’s rights activist. In the car with Molly, she describes the dance team as, “…reinforcing hegemonic masculinity while marginalizing women’s identity.” However, when Chase, the jock-esque epitome of an enemy to her philosophy, needs a Spanish tutor, she throws her ideology out the window to help him. She is eventually stood up, the consequence of letting go her feministic attitude.

Chase abandons Gert for her tutoring session to attend a party with his new friends, the jocks, in hopes of gaining popularity. His disinterest in kids of lesser social status is seen in an interaction with Alex.

“You used to make fun of kids like them”

“Yeah. And now we make fun of kids like you”

But when the jocks take an unconscious Karolina up to a bedroom, Chase stands up for her and fights his new ‘friends.’ This completely undermines his intent to be a part of the in-crowd.

Karolina utterly botches her attempt at being rebellious when she is nearly raped at the party she goes to. In a symbolic moment where she tosses the pill out of a car window on her way home, she, too, has no interest in her original desire. Molly immediately cramps up during her dance team tryout, and then goes home to push a van (enough said?).

Also, Nico is seen begging for her sister to come back to life on the beach – which tells us that the last thing she wants to be is lonely — because all of the other kids set their desires aside, they end up satisfying Alex’s desire and attend his group hangout.

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But is Alex the Perfect Main Character?

Strangely enough, I think Alex’s character could use a tiny bit of work. Although, it is just the beginning of RUNAWAYS, and I’m sure we will get more out of him in future episodes.

I don’t think Alex is undefined as a character by any means. But I think some of the other teens (Gert and Chase especially) outshine him in written strength.

RUNAWAYS pilot
Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer) and Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin) in the RUNAWAYS pilot, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Alex’s personality screams, “I am upset about my friend Amy’s death.” This is event-based and doesn’t exactly capture his essence. While Alex has some back-and-forths with his parents (demeaning their ‘charitable’ efforts and denying their comforting gestures), I feel they are canceled out by the fact that he asks his parents to provide pizza and sodas so that his friends can come over.

I’d like to blame this action on the hot and cold personality of a typical high school kid, but in my opinion, it’s more of a written flaw. He could’ve shown some dedication by picking up the pizzas himself, or by acting a little more eyeroll-y (is that a word???) when he interrupts his parents’ Pride event.

With that on the table, Alex is summed up just fine. He’s down-to-earth, a bit stubborn towards his parents, in touch emotionally, and pretty friendly and forgiving towards the other kids. Personally, I enjoyed this installment of the RUNAWAYS pilot and can’t wait to see where the writing goes into future episodes.

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