“Marvel’s Runaways” Episode 110 Recap: Sweet Karolina

“Hostile,” the season one finale of Marvel’s Runaways, picks up where we left last week: with the teens directly facing down their parents. After Dale takes out Gert’s dino with a tranquilizer and Molly, Chase, and Karolina all fail to penetrate the forcefield protecting their parents, Jonah steps in to raise the stakes of the battle. The teens remain resolute in their determination to fight back, but it’s immediately clear that they aren’t powerful enough. Karolina, the selfless angel that she is, tells them to save themselves while she stays behind to hold off Jonah for as long as possible. It’s a dramatic start to an episode that remains adrenalized throughout but also makes sure to weave more nuanced and emotional character work into its frenetic plot web, reminiscing of a lot of the strengths in the show’s pilot.

When Karolina asks the others to run, Nico at first refuses. “You can’t do this alone,” she pleads. “I’m not leaving you.” I haven’t praised Lyrica Okano enough this season for her performance as Nico. She’s funny in Nico’s dryer moments, but she also has been killer in these more intense scenes. Previously, we’ve seen this level of emotion from Nico when talking about her sister Amy. As she begs Karolina not to essentially sacrifice each other for their sake, it’s clear that she can’t bear to lose someone else she cares about. But Karolina convinces her to go, and the rest of the teens get away, unsure of Karolina’s fate after a massive explosion of energy that wipes out all technology in the immediate area. Nico’s barely hanging on at this point, begging the others not to talk about what may or may not be dead, insisting on returning to the site to see if Karolina made it. “We gotta be smart. I mean look at us,” Alex tries to reason. “Yeah, we’re missing someone,” Nico points out.

Karolina and Nico’s arc has been one of the best developed stories of the season, and I don’t think that’s just my gay-bias (lesbias?) speaking. Marvel’s Runaways has been moving fast—too fast sometimes. And in its attempts to make the parents complicated, the show has perhaps muddied the waters a little too much. After hinting at it for a while, the finale confirms that the parents have basically become so entangled with Jonah because they all thought they were going to discover a renewable energy source that could save the world and make them rich? I’m still not totally convinced by Jonah as a character: He’s too broadly written, too cartoonishly evil. And the parents are starting to seem dumber by the day. Frank’s sudden allegiance with Jonah—even if it is to protect Karolina—happens hastily. So does Leslie’s realization that even she can’t trust Jonah.

Runaways? More like RunaGAYS

And this all brings me back to Karolina and Nico, a shining beacon of strong character development and a satisfying slow-burn romance on the show. There’s something distinct about Nico’s dynamic with Karolina compared to her dynamic with Alex. Nico and Alex got together quickly, and that doesn’t by any means diminish what they had, but the more measured pacing and subtlety of Karolina and Nico’s flirtations has led to great payoff, especially since so much of the build-up was really fixed in Karolina’s perspective, making it harder to discern where Nico might be in all of this. I was fully expecting an unrequited-crush-on-a-friend storyline, but we end up getting something surprising, raw, and happier than that. Nico likes Karolina back.

She likes her a lot. When Alex tries again to insist that they need to keep moving forward, she reminds the group that they have to think about each other; they’re a family now, and Karolina did everything she could to protect them, so they have to do the same for her. In fact, when Karolina wakes up in Leslie’s room in the Gibborum church, the first words out of her mouth to Jonah are “where are my friends?” Nico’s desperation is fully felt, and the others agree, hatching a plan (involving appallingly bad “disguises”) to break Karolina out of the church. It works, and the family is back together again.

Then Nico and Karolina kiss again in the woods where the teens are camping out, but not before the following exchange:

Karolina: You should have run.
Nico: Some of us wanted to.
Karolina: Not you.
Nico: Nope, not me.

Between Nico’s nervous energy and Karolina’s big goofy smile, it’s the most tender scene of the season. Even though so much bad shit is happening all around them, Nico and Karolina can’t ignore their feelings for one another. It’s like they kissed last episode and realized they had to protect one another no matter what, the first kiss opening up new intimacy between them that has been hinted at all season—in little glances, smiles, the way they stood and sat way too close to each other when getting ready for the dance. Now here they are spooning in the back of the stolen Gibborum van! My heart! Runaways needs this touch of sweetness. It needs the moments that remind us that these are a bunch of teens with insecurities and hormones and compounding emotions that can sometimes feel as big and pressing as the end of the world even when they’re about seemingly trivial things like whether someone likes you back or not. Nico also makes sure to tell Gert that Chase is every bit as into her as she is into him.

tfw you realize your evil girlfriend is more evil than you thought

Little do they know that while they’re just starting to explore each other, their mothers are breaking up. Okay, I know that Leslie and Tina weren’t actually dating (a girl can dream), but it has been firmly established that they were two members of Pride that actually had each other’s backs—or so Tina thought. Leslie reveals that she knew that Jonah killed Amy. The hurt and anger in Tina’s eyes slices.  “If we killed you tonight in the basement, no one would ever know.” But Leslie reminds her that she’s their best shot at getting close enough to Jonah to take him out. So at its most fractured, Pride—minus the Wilders who have decided to go their own way—has to come together as a united front against Jonah. The parents are maybe sorta trying to do the right thing now but only because they’re in too deep with Jonah, only because their own kids are now the ones in danger.

But they only have themselves to blame for losing their kids’ trust. The faceoff at the pit (which, by the way, Dale and Stacey have discovered contains a living creature rather than an energy source) acts as the final catalyst to get the teens to runaway for good. They turn away from their parents, who might not be wholly bad people but who definitely have done bad things for selfish reasons, resolutely. But as they’re about to hit the road, the Wilders play their card, issuing an AMBER alert for Molly and tying the rest of the teens to Destiny’s death, making them all wanted by the authorities. So now they’re on the run quite literally, with Old Lace—the name Gert officially gives her “emotional support dinosaur”—in tow.

Marvel’s Runaways has been renewed for a second season, so catch me screaming about Nico and Karolina’s height difference when the show returns.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

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  1. Oh man, I wish so badly that this show was good. I LOVED the comic but unfortunately it’s such a mess. However the change to making Karolina’s crush reciprocated is delightful!!

    Sadly I’m guessing that this, combined with the fact that literally anything magical on the show has to be ~~technology~~ means they aren’t going to introduce a shapeshifting alien to be Karolina’s girlfriend and have interesting explorations of what sexuality and gender mean when you can change your body at will…. but a girl can dream.

    • Remember, we’re in the MCU, so there is magic, but right now, most of the mojo seems to be from Jonah so it’ll have some of the same sourcing…

      Its possible in future of course we’ll see magic…

      • Totally, and the movies of the MCU have been more than willing to embrace the actual mystical magical comics material at this point, with Doctor Strange in particular. But for some reason this show has felt the need to tone down all the magic from the comics – the most significant example of course being Nico’s staff. In the comics, her staff is straight-up magic and she is a straight-up witch. The show makes it mumbledy mumble technology.

        Like, come on, we’re watching a show based on a comic! We’re here for the magic and the aliens and the time travel!


    • I actually like that they took it out of the world of the comics. While I would’ve liked for magic to exist in particular in this universe, I think the mutant angle and the hero-involved world of the comics made them a little hokey for me. Just a personal opinion.

      That being said, I have this dream that if nico and Karolina don’t work out they have xavin show up as this nb character who meets karolina while wearing sweatpants and a beanie and karolina assumes they’re a dude and is like “oh I’m really only into women.” And then the next time they meet xavin’s femmed up hard and when karolina is confused just says “it’s just clothes and makeup dude. Sometimes I dress up and sometimes I don’t.”

  2. i loved loved loved the comics, but was of course disappointed at the unrequited love storyline. the show has definitely established some really different (but imo equally strong) character dynamics, and i think it’s definitely becoming more of a “who would the runaways be in this era and the world we’ve built” rather than a straight (pun intended) adaptation of the comic series. so far, i really enjoy the show, despite the pacing problems and the messiness. i appreciate the nuance in morality for the parents, and how much parents and kids alike struggle to reconcile all these secrets. i’m hoping another season will let the show settle and the storyline issues and pacing will get resolved.

    and of course, #gaykarolinawatch2018 has helped make 20gayteen a success

  3. I really enjoyed this season, even if parts of it were too fast paced. And the finale kept me glued to the screen and made me look forward to season 2, which is what a season finale should do.

    One of my favourite aspects of the season – apart from the Nico/Karolina dynamic, Gert’s scenes with Old Lace and seeing the kids put aside their differences and working together while stil remaining very distinguishable characters with inidvidual opinions and complex emotions – was that the parents weren’t painted in broad strokes. They are quite nuanced, morally grey and despite knowing that I shouldn’t I sympathized with most of them at one point or another. Especially Tina and Leslie (Deanoru^2). The more we find out about them, the more redeamable they seem. Tina turns out to be a lot less evil than expected, and has rather good reasons for her guardedness and coldness. And considering Mommi-Dean has basically been conditioned, manipulated and brain-washed to trust in Jonah and do his bidding (he literally groomed her to worship and fall in love with him since she was a little girl, how sick is that?)her actions might not have been completely her fault. I mean, these parents are all messed-up murderers, there’s no way around that… but I still like them and empathize with them. Is that bad??!!

  4. From her purse or jacket that she brought to the school dance, duh. Don’t you bring backup make up when you go out?

    That said, the outfit was ridiculously elaborate for camping in

  5. What are people’s thoughts about the text message after Karolina is free? Who’s Jonah texting?

  6. I’m sorry I’m late to the Runaways but I just finished it and I have a LOT OF FEELINGS. Mainly a very strong headcanon re: Nico and Karolina and how quickly things happened between them, which is these kids all basically grew up together right? So I’m betting Baby Bi Nico always had a low key crush on Karolina but probably didn’t think much about it because probably EVERYONE had a crush on Karolina duh, but it would never come to anything so whatever.

    Now fast forward however many years and she’s suddenly getting those big vulnerable flirt eyes and getting her hair played with and Nico’s just like OH OKAY THIS IS HAPPENING NOW.

    Anyway I feel very strongly about this and I will die on this hill, thank you for listening.

  7. My best friend and I just finished bingewatching the first season of the Runaways toga her and we are SO INTO IT. I’m glad the kids have finally stopped wringing their hands about their terrible parents so that now they can concentrate on the fun stuff! Like, Karolina coming out to the rest of the gang, and Nico telling Alex that nope, sorry dude, she’s with Karo now, and Gert talking to Chase about the fact that it WASN”T just a one-time thing. And also the heavier emotional stuff this cast is so good at, like Karo dealing with the fact that her religion is a lie, and Chase genuinely processing his years of abuse, or Nico reevaluating her relationship with her mother. I’m so excite for all of that!

    And at the same time, I do hope we split focus so we get some time with the parents because I still REALLY want to know what the hell is up with Jonah, and how each of the parental units got hoodwinked into his murder posse, and whether Jonah is really going to kill Frank to resurrect Victor, and did the Wilders send that alert (naming their own son as a criminal?!) or was it Jonah?

    Basically, I finished the first season way to quickly and now I have to wait SO LONG till season two and I’m sad and I’m going to have to go watch those #Nicolina (sorry, that’s just a way better portmanteau that #Deanoru) scenes on youtube a few hundred times.

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