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Alex tries to bring the old gang back together, to disastrous results

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November 21, 2017 at 11:15 AM EST

A brain. An athlete. A basket case. A princess. A criminal. And a mutant.

Fine, the comparison doesn’t totally work — some L.A. beaches do allow you to build your own bonfires, Satanic or not — but that’s the gist of Runaways’ hook: It blends comic-book adventures with the angst of adolescence, flashy superheroics with uneasy friendships. And it works for both fans of the comics and those going in cold. (I belong to the former group, and there’s a real thrill to seeing the series really nail its casting. It’s not perfect, but it’s smart, with modern spins on many of the story lines I can’t wait to see the series explore further. And we’ll get to that. In the meantime, I’m hoping Molly gets to wear more hats.)

The series premiere opens with an intriguing tease: A girl named Destiny who’s clearly run away from home gets picked up by the “Church of Gibborim,” an organization run by friendly looking middle-aged women who don’t like the word “cult,” and one that spooks even the creepy men who had been threatening her seconds earlier. Enticed by their offer of a meal and a place to sleep, Destiny boards the van full of other lonely teens, and disappears for much of the episode — until, well, you’ll see.

Six months after Destiny’s pickup, we get to meet our main rat pack. Here are the basics: Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz) is the nerdy son of super-rich lawyer Catherine (Angel Parker) and gangster-turned-real-estate developer Geoffrey (Ryan Sands). Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano) dresses goth and barely tolerates her tiger mom Tina (Brittany Ishibashi), the CEO of a large tech company, and her father Robert (James Yaegashi), who’s a little more sympathetic to Nico’s teenagehood. Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin) has brains and brawn, but still fails to impress his genius inventor father Victor (James Marsters), who lashes out at both his son and his seemingly meek wife, Janet (Ever Carradine). Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner) is the picture-perfect daughter of Church of Gibborim leader Leslie (Annie Wersching) and onetime-A-List actor father Frank (Kip Pardue). And finally, Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer) and her adoptive sister Molly Hernandez (Allegra Acosta) round out the bunch with their parents Dale (Kevin Weisman) and Stacey (Brigid Brannagh), a pair of scientists who keep a menagerie in their basement.

Growing up, the children were best friends, hanging out constantly while their parents worked together as part of an organization called The Pride, which frequently held fundraising meetings to benefit their altruistic volunteer ventures. But two years ago, they lost one of their own: Nico’s sister Amy died, and the group’s never been the same. Alex is friendless, unable to find another clique to join. Chase has abandoned the rest, opting instead to build muscle and join the jocks. Nico wanders the halls with headphones in, hiding under her new look. Karolina dove into church activities, taking after her mother completely. Gert’s dyed her hair and now rails against the patriarchy, while Molly — well, Molly’s just growing up and dealing with puberty.

But because it’s the two-year anniversary of everything falling apart, Alex starts getting a little nostalgic, deciding that it’s time to try to bring everyone together after looking longingly at a photo of them from years back, in which he has his arms around Nico. His first approach backfires in spectacular fashion: Chase, distracted by his designs for fistigons some fun glove things, is shocked to find Alex speaking to him and leaves as quickly as he can. Gert and Karolina clash over their judgments of each other — Karolina points out that Gert tears other women down more than anyone despite how feminist she claims to be, while Gert skewers Karolina’s “religion” — and Nico doesn’t even bother chatting with her old friends. After looking at an award for her sister still displayed in one of the school’s many trophy cases, she runs into Alex, who explains that he’s trying to do all this for her and that he misses her. She pretends she doesn’t hear, but inside a girls’ bathroom, she cries.

So does Karolina, who had just found out that people altered a selfie she took earlier with the hashtag “blessed” to mock her and call her brainwashed. The pair awkwardly bond, with Karolina pointing out that Nico doesn’t need makeup to look good, while Nico reminds her that everyone uses something to hide — like a smile, for instance.

Or a generous offer to tutor someone in Spanish. Gert, who clearly has a thing for Chase, offers to help him bring up his Spanish grade , and Chase, completely missing Gert’s true offer, says yes to meeting that night for coffee and a study sesh. He promptly forget it, though, when his jock friends tell him of a party he has to attend.

Speaking of parties, Alex has chosen to move forward with a potential reunion the same night his parents will be holding another Pride meeting. But as Catherine points out to her husband, two get-togethers can happen at the same time in their mansion. Teenagers, after all, would never be interested in what their parents may be up to.

Which is a good thing, because these parents are up to no good. Leslie in particular is hiding a disturbing secret right inside the church’s offices: A barely alive man, skin peeling everywhere with a facehugger-like gas mask attached to his head, rests in an all-white room straight out of the third act of 2001: A Space Odyssey. She assures him that “tonight, another becomes eternal.” That sounds…ominous. (Next: Pride and Destiny)

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