There’s a certain funereal atmosphere surrounding the impending release of the third season of Marvel’s Runaways. Season 3 has already been announced as the series’ last, as Marvel’s original television programming arm is slowly being smothered in the name of corporate synergy.
The consolidation of the Marvel brand—and all iterations of the MCU as we understand it, whether on the big screen or the small—underneath the umbrella of Disney+ isn’t unexpected. In fact, it makes a lot of sense, allowing viewers a one-stop shop for all their superhero programming needs.
But it’s also deeply unfortunate, since one of the primary reasons Marvel’s television universe was so interesting was because it was dispersed across a variety of platforms, which all made different kinds of shows. Netflix was the home for dark, grittier fare like Daredevil, more mainstream Marvel properties like Agents of SHIELD landed on ABC, and more teen-focused stories like Cloak and Dagger aired on Freeform or Hulu. A platform like Disney+ isn’t that likely to be interested in these sorts of series, which are either too niche-y, too violent, or too experimental for what likely they see as their primary audience.
Because, while Runaways may be a teen show, it’s hardly what you’d call a safe one. One of the strangest and yet most entertaining members of the Marvel television world, it tells the story of a diverse set of characters with an array of truly bizarre gifts. From dark witches to light aliens to genetically-engineered, telepathic dinosaurs, Runaways pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a superhero within the Marvel universe. It features LGBT leads and characters of color, tells dark stories, and deals with complicated topics like suicide, abuse, adoption and more. Yet, it’s also not afraid to embrace traditionally-teen stories of friendship and romance, all of which help give the series’ most outlandish plots real emotional stakes.
Season 3 of Runaways is everything that makes the show great, turned up to 11. The result is quite often moving and generally a lot of fun, but will nevertheless leave viewers with a bittersweet taste in their mouths. Because it’s also a reminder of everything we won’t see again—either on this show or any of the other Marvel series whose runs have been ended this year.
Perhaps the folks in charge at Runaways had a sense of what was coming, though, because this season swings for the fences in big ways, as though everyone knew they might not get another chance to do so. And the results are straight up ridiculous in the best and most entertaining of ways. This final season of Runaways takes some narrative risks, and while they don’t always entirely work, they’re certainly exciting to watch.
The Magistrate-formerly-known-as Jonah and his alien family members have possessed several of the parents’ bodies and are not just seeking a way back to their home planet, but maybe also to start an alien invasion of Earth in the process. Karolina, Chase and Janet are held prisoner in a waking simulation that mimics their dreams of an ideal life. And Nico seeks the help of sorceress Morgan Le Fay to save them, which involves guest star Elizabeth Hurley swanning around in a glittery feather dress and thigh-high boots.
And that’s just the stuff that happens in the season’s first episode.
Runaways successfully expands its narrative beyond the conflict between our heroes and their pseudo-supervillain parents in Season 3, giving each character realistic internal conflicts to face. And the show is all the better for this realignment.
One episode sees the Runaways in the Dark Dimension, living out their worst fears. Another features the much-hyped and thoroughly satisfying guest appearance from Cloak and Dagger stars Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph. There’s even an installment set in the future. Throughout, the group of friends must make difficult decisions—whether to sacrifice or save one another, to trust those who have harmed them in the past, or to support those whose decisions they don’t necessarily agree with. And if that’s not growing up, then what is?
Sadly, Season 3 doesn’t feature nearly as many grounded, real-life moments as Runaways once did. But the events of last season involved possession and the possibility of alien invasion, so maybe we’ve left the world of small scale high-school stories behind for good. Your mileage may vary, of course, on whether that’s a good thing. (On some level, however, I do miss the gang’s petty squabbles with teen cheerleading queen Eiffel at school.)
As the season progresses, Runaways leans further and further into its more fantastical elements, focusing on magic, witches and dark alternate realities, and things get stranger than ever before. The show is suddenly less concerned with the machinations of the gang’s parents than it is with the battle that each character has to wage within themselves. And though parents are still around—in various forms, thanks to the alien body swapping plot that drives several of the season’s initial episodes—they’re less directly involved in the story than they’ve ever been, for both good and ill.
Given that Season 3 is so heavily focused on magic and its consequences, Nico naturally takes center stage in much of its story, emerging as the de facto leader of the team. Unfortunately, this does mean that some of the other Runaways have considerably less to do this season—Gert, in particular, feels like she doesn’t get much of an arc outside of her relationship with Chase, and though some very dark and fascinating things happen to Alex, they’re also events whose fallout seems meant to be addressed in a Season 4 we’ll never see.
Nico’s relationship with Karolina is also an important of the season’s overall narrative, as the two struggle to find a balance between the dark and light sides of their personalities and powers, and whether they can learn to exist in harmony. Luckily, the “Deanoru” romance has always been the series’ strongest, and Lyrica Okana and Virginia Gardner remain perfect scene partners. They’re easy to root for, and Runaways makes the smart choice to keep the pair fighting to stay together in the face of increasingly dire circumstances, rather than at odds with one another for most of the season. (Sorry, Chase and Gert, fans.)
Thankfully, for once, Runaways doesn’t end its season on a massive cliffhanger, perhaps another sign that the showrunners had some reservations about whether or not a Season 4 would ever happen. There are a few dangling plot threads left out there, but for the most part, the series’ final, surprising hour is a fitting tribute to the friendship that formed between this group of misfits, and how much their lives have come to impact one another. It’s been a pleasure to be on the run with them all this time.
Lacy Baugher is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Paste Magazine, Collider, IGN, SyFyWire and elsewhere. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or the CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.