I didn’t write about this in my initial review of Marvel’s Runaways, but the near-rape of Karolina Dean is a very troubling storyline that continues on into the show’s fourth episode “Fifteen.” The writers employ sexual assault as a way to develop Chase. He stopped his teammates from raping her, so he’s the hero, the good guy, different from his horrible lacrosse peers. Using a woman’s sexual assault as character development for a male hero is an incredibly frustrating trope. It’s hard to look forward to Karolina’s impending coming out arc, which is taking the slow-burn route, when her most significant storyline so far has been that she was almost raped and that Chase stopped it from happening. Writers, stop doing stories like these!
In “Fifteen,” Karolina spends much of the episode unsure of whether she was raped or not, but the show practically brushes aside that horribly traumatic and harrowing uncertainty for the sake of plot. Karolina teams up with Gert to try and prove that their parents are innocent (the rest of the kids are pretty resigned to the fact that they have murderers for parents) and says that figuring out an alternative explanation for how Destiny turned up dead on a beach is the only thing that could make her feel better at the moment. Sure, compartmentalizing is a common response to trauma, but it still just seems like the writers are trying to minimize her emotional response to what happened at the party.
And it’s especially frustrating because the show has so far dealt with other stories about trauma in much better ways. At the end of “Fifteen,” Karolina reacts to Nico informing her that all of their parents are serial killers and that Karolina’s mom Leslie hand picks the victims from the group of runaways that make up her congregation, and that reaction is so much more intense. Never once does the show really focus on Karolina processing what might have happened to her at the party. Instead, it’s all about Chase and how he saved the day and quits his lacrosse team. In fact, in the conversation he has with Karolina when he finally lets her know that he stopped the rapists before anything could happen, she thanks him and then also apologizes to him? It’s off-putting and gross.
The rest of the episode, at least, has some really strong character moments as the teens all grapple with the revelation that their parents could be very bad people. Nico decides to report her sister Amy’s suicide as a murder as well as the murder of Destiny, but when she goes to the cops, she and Alex realize that their parents have the police in their pocket. Alex and Nico are squarely on Team Our Parents Are Bad, especially after Alex finds a gun in his father’s desk. Karolina and Gert want to see the best in their parents, and there’s a sense that Gert and Molly’s parents Dean and Stacy are in over their heads with PRIDE, but does that make them any better than any of the other more overtly nefarious parents? They keep saying that everything they do is for the sake of their daughters, but while they might not be the ones hitting innocent people over the heads with tire irons like Victor is, they’re certainly complicit.
In the superpower department, we see Tina use her magic staff on Nico on the day of Amy’s death. Gert learns that she can communicate with and control the dinosaur in her parents’ basement, which she’s thrilled to learn is a girl. Karolina reveals her mysterious glowing abilities to Chase, which is a beautiful moment except for the fact that their intimacy is predicated on this whole sexual assault plotline. At least we get some Gert and Karolina bonding in the episode.
Runaways is still very much so at the beginning of its story, with more and more questions compounding at every turn. It’s balancing a lot of characters at once quite well, and the teens and parents are compelling in equal measure. But Karolina Dean deserves better.