“I hate how the rules of this world keeps changing,” says Nico Minoru at one point in the third and final season of Marvel’s Runaways. It’s a really easy quote to apply to the entire season, which continued the last season’s trajectory of turning this Hulu teen drama from a guilty pleasure to a convoluted, frustrating mess.
Characterizations are still strong, and these super-powered kiddos are objectively in a better and more interesting place by the time all is said and done by the end. Unfortunately, the story and plot structure of this ten-episode season does little to support them, with plot lines being rushed and abandoned. It isn’t too good a send-off.
Runaways (Season 3)
Showrunners: Josh Schwartz & Stephanie Savage
Release Date: December 13, 2019 (Hulu)
It isn’t easy to describe the premise of Runaways season 3, because it makes so many odd shifts. The first season was based on the amusing premise of “what if your parents were actually evil?” with the second focusing on the consequences of running away and their growing independence.
The third season is about… figuring out how to defeat aliens and a sexy evil witch lady. There isn’t any thematic thread keeping the season together, whether it’s about growing up, growing apart, coming of age, or whatever other teen archetypes one can think of. Everything is so scattershot that even after finishing the season, I had no clue how I was supposed to come out feeling about it.
And the sudden status of this being the final season certainly didn’t help; sources claim that the show comes to a natural end, and the last episode does revisit some early parts of the show to feel somewhat full circle—however, so many plot threads are still loose, and although the season doesn’t end in an absurd cliffhanger like the previous one, it is clear in my view, at least) that a season 4 was being set up in the very last scene.
So the plot is a mess, but do the characters at least do anything interesting? It’s a mixed bag. The season is predominantly Nico-focused, with her main rival eventually emerging as Morgan le Fay (Elizabeth Hurley), and her connection to the Dark Dimension, which MCU viewers will recognize from Doctor Strange, being essential to the plot. There is a growing darkness within her, and although the season constantly questions if she’s becoming too dangerous, the series ends before it is ever really answered.
Alex Wilder, the powerless one of the group, also goes through some dark turns. Karolina Dean’s half-extraterrestrial character seems pretty much done with her character arc as of end of season 2, so all focus involving her is solely with her romantic relationship with Nico. Same goes with Chase, who only spends the season chasing Gert, who seems to have solved her mental health issues, and although the season begins with her learning some new tricks with her raptor Old Lace, they never come into play. Finally, Molly begins discovering some things about her deceased parents, but it ends up being one of those loose threads.
Meanwhile, the parents of all of these kids begin to decrease in importance, and one hint that does support the possibility that this was planned to be the last season was that many of the characters in this show drop like flies. But because the show’s plot jumps around so much, and the characters have far too many crazy details to worry about, none of these moments are impactful.
I mean seriously, after the earth-shattering developments and set-up from the previous season, the entire alien family plot line ends up flaccid and wraps up so quickly, almost in comical fashion. Immediately after, focus shifts to this Morgan le Fay, a character whose backstory and motivations are barely expanded on. At least… she has a really cool outfit?
So you have two and a half season about this intricate plot with aliens and teenaged sacrifices, only to be completely abandoned in the last few episodes for an entirely new villain? Especially since it’s a villain that only one of the main characters has any strong connection to it. And by introducing all of these new supernatural elements to the show through the Dark Dimension, too much time is spent on trying to flesh out these concepts, with unintelligible explanations coming with them.
But it’s okay, because Cloak & Dagger from their eponymous (canceled) show appear in a grand total of one full crossover episode. And they brought some of their own show’s elements into the mix, including awful exposition, inorganic and contrived dialogue, confusing world-building rules, and ear-piercing musical cues. This season comes across as a viking funeral for Marvel Television’s teen line-up.
The only reason I don’t totally hate this season is because again, the characters are so strong and distinct. Gert and Chase are able to engage in intelligent and often-amusing conversations. Nico and Karolina aren’t idealized in their relationship and go through all of the same hardships and problems that any couple would go through. Quips from both the parents and kids are snappy and entertaining.
But it’s such a strange bunch of episodes, especially considering that the previous seasons, for all of their flaws, felt like they had some sort of vision. With this season, they needed to literally show moments from the very first episode just to remind viewers of who these characters were and what this show was about.
Perhaps I was a fool for investing myself so much in this “O.C. of the Marvel universe” in the first place, but give the show credit where it’s due: it contained the first significant queer romance in live-action Marvel, and its overlap with the still-popular teen drama is still significant and laudable. If the studio politics with Marvel Television weren’t what they were, perhaps this show would have gotten a better ending.
Especially since the raptor never ended up eating a live human being.