RUNAWAYS Episode 4 "Fifteen"
Visual Design
Acting
Plot
Summary
Though the episode loses some emotional weight in the latter moments, RUNAWAYS Episode 4 is the first episode to feel like a superhero story. With an interesting fight scene and in depth characterization, this is one of Marvel's best shows yet.
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The Hulu original series RUNAWAYS has taken some liberties with the canon of the comic book series. As I have discussed in my previous reviews, the addition of the Church of the Gibborim and the exclusion of Molly Hernandez’s parents represent only two of the largest changes, and each has only added layers to the overarching story. The biggest change of all, however, is the inclusion of Amy Minoru, the late sister of Nico. Very little has come out about this new character in the course of the early episodes. We have learned that Amy acted as the glue for the young Runaways, and her death led to the crumbling of their friendship. However, RUNAWAYS Episode 4 gives us a glimpse into the past as we explore the death of Amy Minoru when Nico was only “Fifteen.”

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In the opening flashback, Nico stumbles into her sister’s room, cold and pale. A bottle of pills lays on her bedside table. Nico runs off to call an ambulance, but her mother uses the magical Staff of One to knock her out and proceeds to cover up the death. Fast forward two years and the Runaways continue to reel from what they have learned so far. Chase begins work on a device to protect himself from his evil father. Alex and Nico plan on approaching the police. Meanwhile, Karolina and Gert, the only Runaways who believe in their parent’s innocence, begin an investigation of their own. Things begin to spiral out of control for our young heroes and their parents in this action-packed episode.

Into the MCU

RUNAWAYS Episode 4
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

RUNAWAYS Episode 4 is the first episode in the series that felt like a true superhero story. While the inclusion of superpowers, high technology, and genetically engineered dinosaurs signaled the show’s comic book roots, it always felt distant from the MCU. The first three episodes felt like a young adult drama or a crime thriller with the addition of superpowers. Episode 4 feels like a young adult superhero show. The team starts to grab hold of the reigns of their own destinies and individual abilities. These young heroes all have a sense of joy about their innate capabilities. When Gert learns that she can control the dinosaur, Old Lace, this sense of joy floods off the screen. The same goes for Karolina, who finally starts to experiment with her powers.

This episode also showcased the first fight scene of the series, and this only added to the superhero aesthetic. Late in the episode, Molly Hernandez is attacked by an unknowing Old Lace. Through the course of the battle, Molly gets to play with her super strength, and Old Lace shows off the length of her ferocity. For the most part, this battle, while incredibly small scale, was well done. While I still think that the special effects on Old Lace’s character are not the top of the industry, this fight felt good in its lack of extensive choreography. Molly is not a fighter but a high schooler, meaning that martial arts would be foreign to her character. The fight is handled well in the context of the show and with the budget available for production.

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Building and Breaking

RUNAWAYS Episode 4 succeeds on a number of counts. The tension within the plot rises throughout, giving weight to the high school drama moments of the episode. Meanwhile, much of the cast is at the top of their game, bounding past the heights of the previous episode. However, as you will see, the plot is far from perfect, lacking a defined focus. This foible makes the result a bit more confused than previous episodes. Despite this, the episode is thrilling and incredibly interesting, carrying a psychological weight and examining important social issues. ** From here on, though, beware of spoilers! **

“Fifteen”

Runaways Episode 4
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The episode’s title stems from the opening flashback, in which a fifteen-year-old Nico stumbles onto her sister’s body. The scene itself is one of the most powerful in the entire series thus far. While we do not get a clear view of Amy Minoru, the flashes of pale blue skin and Nico’s reaction force feeds emotion into the scene. Lyrica Okano’s Nico runs the gammon of emotion, sobbing and openly grieving. Her reaction feels so real and creates a nice dichotomy against her parents’ calm, calculated tone. In fact, Brittany Ishibashi and James Yaegashi (Tina and Robert Minoru) add an element of menace into the scene that is easily unsettling. The memory of this scene drives Nico further into the investigation against her parents, even if it falls a bit in context.

Typically, an opening flashback will highlight important elements of that episode. Either through characterization or narration, we learn something of deep importance to the present events. In RUNAWAYS Episode 4, I didn’t feel like this was the right place for this flashback. While elements of the memory pop up throughout (including a rogue detective working with the Pride), it is only ever mentioned in passing from there on. I enjoyed the bit of world-building and history involved with this scene, but it felt extraneous and unimportant otherwise.

Victor’s Psychosis

I have applauded James Marster’s acting in the role of scientist Victor Stein. This abusive character has had the spotlight many times throughout this series’ early episodes, and he always comes across as vicious, calculating, and easily scary. RUNAWAYS Episode 4 continues this trend by adding a new element of psychosis into the mix. In Episode 3, after Victor’s sacrificial device fails and he kills the Pride’s sacrifice on his own, he saw visions of the dead girl. In this episode, these visions continue, as Victor attempts to make up for his mistake with new sacrifices. His psychosis steps in the way of his progress as he falls further and further into the depths of his own mind.

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This narrative move is nothing short of genius, illustrating a horribly vicious circle. Victor’s pride and coldness drives him to failure, which drives him deeper into his abusive tendencies and psychosis, which distracts him again and again from success. It’s also telling to see how other characters react to him. While his wife (played by Ever Carradine) blames his mistakes on herself, Robert Minoru actively expresses his disgust and anger toward Victor. Very few members of the Pride (if any) actually like his character, which only validates the viewers’ opinions.

The Yorkes Family is Back

Of the five families of the pride, the Yorkes family has to be my favorite. Despite the craziness surrounding the biological genius of Dale and Stacy Yorkes (Kevin Weisman and Brigid Brannagh), the Yorkes have a lot of love for each other. Dale and Stacy are in the Pride out of necessity, as RUNAWAYS Episode 4 makes clear. As they begin their search for Old Lace, who escaped in episode 3, they continue planning their escape from the life. This culminates in a brilliant little moment at the end of the episode where Dale and Stacy begin to open up to their daughters.

This episode helps to form an interesting dichotomy among the Pride members. As I’ve mentioned before, the greatest failing in the RUNAWAYS comics was the black and white morality of the parents. They were obviously bad guys with no redeeming characteristics. Here, the Pride feels like they are real human beings with lives and loves. Dale and Stacy have a reason for joining the Pride, and that reason is Gert and Molly. More importantly, they make sure to show that the Pride isn’t filled with a bunch of brainwashed cultists. Other characters, namely Ryan Sands’ Geoffrey Wilder, have voiced their disapproval of the Pride’s actions. Hopefully, this element is explored further later on.

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Sisterhood is Powerful

Runaways Episode 4
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

As close as the group was in the RUNAWAYS comics, I would say the atmosphere was very cliquey in the sense that bonds form unevenly. For example, Karolina Dean never became close with Gertrude Yorkes, staying closer to Nico and her alien girlfriend Xavin. This changes drastically in RUNAWAYS Episode 4, with Gert and Karolina banding together to save their parents’ names. Together, these young women search through Karolina’s home looking for evidence that their parents aren’t killers, an element that deepens the “SCOOBY-DOO” mystery angle of this narrative. As a plot element, it works well, giving a new look into Karolina’s determination. It is as a characterizing factor, though, that this moment shines.

I’ve sung Ariela Barer’s praises over and over again for her portrayal as Gert, but this episode shows a bit more balance to her forceful personality. No longer trapped in her own Social Justice jargon, she openly discusses the Gibborim’s beliefs with Karolina. This helps the episode experiment with world building, but it also gives these two distinct characters an opportunity for a long-awaited back-and-forth. Both characters are alone in their school, but neither admits that they simply want a friend. These two characters interacting together exemplifies the true focus of the RUNAWAYS: a group of young people trying to be a family.

Hard Truths (the Marvel Way)

Runaways Episode 4
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

In RUNAWAYS Episode 1, Karolina Dean was nearly the victim of rape. Moments before the act occurred, Chase Stein stepped in and attacked the bullies. For three episodes, I have been waiting for the culmination of those events. Thankfully, RUNAWAYS Episode 4 delivers. Mostly. The rape scene in the first episode was particularly powerful, giving a deep emotional weight to the crime without delving into horrifying specifics. For the most part, this same weight is reflected in this episode. Karolina, not knowing what happened, is shocked and confused when Chase is at odds with the teens behind the attack. Virginia Gardner’s Karolina perfectly encapsulates the fear and total gut-wrenching impossibility of the act, and the scene itself showcases the brutality of high school drama.

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I will say, though, that the issue could have been handled a little more thoroughly. Gregg Sulkin’s Chase and Karolina have a stirring and resonant bonding moment. These scenes, in particular, have a striking nature, mostly through the trust shared between them. However, I felt that the episode handled the rape rather disjointedly. Karolina’s initial reaction is so heart-breaking and emotionally intense that I expected the aftershocks to carry through the rest of the episode. However, the plot seemed to drop the intensity of this issue in the latter moments. In many ways, it echoes my issue with the opening flashback. By itself, the scene feels emotionally resonant. In context with the rest of the episode, it didn’t seem to fit. I only wish that the writers had given this important issue more of the spotlight here.

Final Thoughts: RUNAWAYS Episode 4

RUNAWAYS Episode 4 is not my favorite of the early episodes, but it is far from bad TV. Despite some contextual hiccups and some faulty characterization at points, the cast is at the top of their game. The young Runaways each have the opportunity to flesh out this side of the MCU. The extra touches to the Pride are especially nice, giving a more human and terrifying glimpse into the show’s villains. While this is the end of the preview episodes, RUNAWAYS Episode 4 convinces me to keep watching. Already RUNAWAYS is stronger than most of Marvel’s TV offerings (Netflix excluded). Though Episode 4 could have been stronger, it still showcases the best of Marvel TV.

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