WARNING: The following article contains minor spoilers for the first three episodes of Marvel’s Runaways, streaming now on Hulu.
Despite its superpowers, aliens, otherworldly conspiracy and genetically engineered dinosaur, Marvel’s Runaways is, at its heart, a teen drama in the classic CW vein. Heck, its developers are also the creators of The O.C. and Gossip Girl, so the series arrives with a pedigree, and a little baggage. However, Runaways subverts some of the genre’s tropes, beginning by turning the camera — and the audience’s gaze — on Chase Stein.
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Played by 25-year-old Gregg Sulkin, a Disney Channel veteran, Chase is, at first blush, the stereotypical jock. A high school lacrosse player who struggles in Spanish but displays flashes of brilliance (and sensitivity), he’s forced to live up to the lofty goals of his brilliant but abusive father Victor Stein (James Marsters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame). We might presume that Chase, who’s quick to fall in step with his predatory teammates, would style himself a womanizer, but he doesn’t. Sure, he casts glances at Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner) from afar, and comes to her rescue after she passes out at a party, in the process becoming enemies with his lacrosse “friends.”
But Chase isn’t the pursuer; he’s the pursued. When the audience is introduced to him, about nine and a half minutes into the first episode, he’s shirtless and lifting weights in his bedroom. The camera, in close, slowly pans up his bare arm and torso to his face, an unusual debut for a male character. It’s no accident, either, as after he’s berated by his father for getting a C in Spanish, we later see him walking in the hallway at school, lobbying his teacher to reconsider his grade.
Well, actually, we see Chase’s butt, as the camera follows behind, roughly at waist height, for a good four seconds before cutting to reveal that we’re watching the sequence from the perspective of Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer), who clearly appreciates the view. It’s only then that the camera turns to show the faces of Chase and Señor Walter.
Before anyone grouses about the objectification of poor Chase Stein (we see you, Twitter and Facebook), Runaways addresses the double standard head on.
After the six teens discover that their parents may be murderers, they split up into teams to investigate, with Gert ensuring she’s paired with Chase to search his father’s workshop for clues. There, she immediately dons Victor Stein’s X-ray goggles and does precisely what you’d expect her to do: She gives Chase’s exposed body the once-over. He catches her and asks, “Were you just checking out my junk?” Gert mumbles awkwardly before finally admitting, “I maybe gave it a cursory glance, purely out of scientific curiosity.”
A somewhat-similar scene played out in Marvel Comics’ Runaways #4, by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, only with Chase wearing the goggles to enjoy a look at Karolina and Nico in their underwear.
When Chase and Gert change locations on Marvel’s Runaways to the Yorkes house, to investigate the monster her adoptive sister Molly Hernandez (Allegra Acosta) insists is lurking in the basement, he thinks it’s an opportunity to turn the tables. However, Gert is one step ahead of him, and stealthily dons a lead-lined apron.
“Are you serious?” says an incredulous Chase. “You saw my actual dick. Isn’t that what you call, like, a double standard or whatever?
Despite the potential danger lurking amid the caged animals stacked in the basement, Gert has a counter-argument at the ready. “After centuries of patriarchal oppression, me getting to objectify you is just called evening the playing field.”
And you know what? It’s difficult to argue with that, or whatever.
Now streaming on Hulu, Marvel’s Runaways stars Rhenzy Feliz, Lyrica Okano, Virginia Gardner, Ariela Barer, Gregg Sulkin, Allegra Acosta, Ryan Sands, Angel Parker, Brittany Ishibashi, James Yaegashi, Kevin Weisman, Brigid Brannagh, Annie Wersching, Kip Pardue, James Marsters and Ever Carradine.
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