Marvel’s Runaways has always felt different from all the other Marvel superhero properties on both the big and small screens. The show’s protagonists — a group of superpowered teenagers – have always helped frame the show in a commonplace trope: the angst and rebellion that characterizes one’s teen years. This being a Marvel show (based on the long-running title created by Brian K. Vaughan) that trope turns its metaphor into its very premise: Rather than merely bickering with their parents or rebelling against them over menial chores, the titular “Runaways” are fighting them off because they are evil. Their parents, in fact, all belong to an organization called PRIDE that despite billing itself as a charity is instead a front for their nefarious alliance with Jonah (first played by Julian McMahon) a powerful alien that demanded sacrifices in order to stay alive. Over the course of its first two seasons, Marvel’s Runaways has explored that rift to create a streaming heir to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teen Wolf and The Vampire Diaries, juggling tender emotional moments with (admittedly budget-friendly) action set-pieces that make teenage issues feel near-cosmic and world-ending. Now, in its third (and, as it turns out, final) season, the show continues to pave its way, even as its increasingly complex world-building feels ever more insular to new viewers. (Warning: This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)
The show’s second season ended in a cliffhanger, with two of the Runaways — the alien Karolina (played by Virginia Gardner) and smart jock Chase (Gregg Sulkin) — along with Chase’s mom, Janet (Ever Carradine), finding themselves captured and trapped by what the show calls the Magistrate family, aka Jonah (now inhabiting Chase’s father, played James Marsters) along with his wife and daughter (now inhabiting two other PRIDE members). The goal of those three aliens was to keep the three humans alive and dormant until they’d need to feed again. Only, as we soon found out, there was one alien still out there who had likely taken over a body of someone we already know, perhaps even one of the kids. As superpowered Molly (Allegra Acosta) had put it at the end of last season, the Runaways, despite thinking they’d killed Jonah, were now set up to take on not just their parents but this family of aliens as well. And that’s precisely what the first episode of the third season sets up.
The remaining Runaways — Molly, witchy Nico (Lyrica Okano), nerdy Alex (Rhenzy Feliz), shapeshifting alien Xavin (Clarissa Thibeaux) — have a clear mission as the season begins: Rescue Chase, Karolina and Gert (Ariela Barer). But while they all believe that last member was also held by Jonah, our purple-haired heroine was, in fact, kidnapped by her own father (Kevin Weisman) and driven far away from it all, and triggering a soured father-daughter-dinosaur reunion. The question becomes how to navigate this new reality wherein they’re still trying to make their parents pay for the many atrocities they’ve committed while saving their friends, trying to fend off Jonah’s family, and, during it all, double-guessing whether any of them is the final alien in disguise. With such a wildly scattered team, it’s no surprise that this first episode ends up leaning heavily into exposition, eager to catch us all up with the intricacies of the various relationships at play, which, given the “alien host” angle, make for a rather confusing set of circumstances — like seeing Nico’s mom acting like a bratty alien teenager who doesn’t know how to eat eggs but has somehow mastered the art of selfies.
Add in the fact that Chase, Janet and Karolina are in “the algorithm” reliving made-up fantasies dreamed up to keep them pacified and asleep (Chase always saving Gert, Janet enjoying a home-cooked breakfast with her husband, Karolina marrying Nico) and you have a number of titillating and soft-focus shot set-pieces that set-up “What If?” scenarios that still feel bittersweet. Thankfully the show, amidst all its recapping, finds time to give us actual heart-to-hearts that anchor all this convoluted plotting, like when Molly and Xavin share a moving talk about what it means to be the kind of ruthless soldier Nico and Alex want her to be while trying to stay true to the warm-loving person she’s always been. “I think you’re on your way to being both,” Xavin comforts her, before asking whether that’s the point where humans stretch arms around one another — a reminder that her stilted alien ways remain the show’s clunkiest bit of lighthearted humor.
More of a set-up episode than anything else, with some low-key action sequences featuring Gert learning new ways of controlling her genetically engineered dinosaur, Old Lace, and the Runaways all-too-briefly facing off the Magistrate, this season opener doesn’t quite hint at the kinds of Big Bads our young heroes will be facing. Indeed, the presumed villainess of the season (Elizabeth Hurley’s powerful sorceress Morgan le Fay) makes only a brief appearance in Nico’s swirly, CGI-heavy dreams where she poses as more of an ally than a foe. And while the mystery of the fourth and final alien would have made for yet another thrilling season-long question, the episode dispenses with it quite quickly, as if eager to move on to more interesting (and bigger? perhaps better?) storylines though also setting up quite a shocker when their identity is revealed to the Runaways. As always, though, the chemistry within the ensemble – the playful banter, as well as its kookier elements (the show features a puppet raptor, after all!) – make this third season of Marvel’s Runaways a distillation of what’s always been fascinating about Hulu’s superpowered teen drama.
Marvel’s Runaways season three is now streaming on Hulu.