Home theatre: Run series - Lovers on the lam
A fortnightly column that focuses on notable content available on the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Run, currently streaming on Hotstar
An overhead shot of cars lining a supermarket parking lot. In one of these cars sits a woman with a harried look about her. Her phone rings, it's her husband calling. He wants her to be home to accept delivery of his new speakers. She doesn't want to but gives in and says she'll make it back in time. Her phone beeps again. This time, it's a message from someone called Billy. The message is brief, just three letters long — RUN — but she's visibly shaken. There's a short internal struggle, then she nervously replies with the same message, 'RUN', puts her car in reverse and is off...to the airport, getting a ticket on the next flight to New York (from somewhere in California). Thus begins Vicky Jones' 7-episode HBO series Run.
The premise of Run — streaming in India on Hotstar — is textbook romcom. Two former lovers have made a pact that if one of them texts 'RUN' and the other replies with the same within 24 hours, they will drop everything, meet at Grand Central Station in New York, and go on a cross-country train journey together. In a romcom, this would probably result in a cutesy romance and harmless humour, ending with a happily ever after. But the romance in Run is abrasive and the humour, mostly dark. The protagonists, Ruby (Merritt Wever) and Billy (Domhnall Gleeson) are 30-somethings who haven't seen each other since college when they were a couple. A lot happens in 15 years and two adults cannot simply leave their lives and run away without consequences. Ruby leaves behind her husband and children, while Billy is running away from his career as a self-help speaker and author. Run, thus, also involves drama, and through Billy's means, it turns into a thriller as well. The mix of genres makes this quite an unpredictable show. We never know where it's going to (pardon the pun) run off to next.
Much like with people, unpredictability can be both exciting and tiresome for a series. However, the performances of the two leads and the crackling chemistry between them more than make up for any missteps. I started watching this show for Gleeson, but it's Wever (whose turn in Marriage Story I really liked) who steals the show. She shines in her author-backed role. Ruby's character is much more well-defined than Billy's. Her frustration with her life, especially with having had to just give away her own life, such as it was before her marriage, is very understandable. When she says the only way she could make herself seen to her family was to disappear, we feel for her even if we cannot condone her decision. Ruby has had to repress herself to fit in with her normal life. She's indecisive and lacks confidence at the beginning (cannot even choose between an aisle and window seat), but as soon as she is with Billy, we see a very different Ruby (knows what she wants after just a glance at the menu and orders for Billy too).
Billy's backstory is more amorphous and his motivations less clear. However, Gleeson still manages to sell him with his irrepressible charm. And his vulnerability and goofiness provide the perfect foil for Ruby's aggressive sexuality and stronger presence. Run is essentially a two-hander and it's hard to think of two better-matched actors than Wever and Gleeson. There are a few supporting players, notable of which are Archie Panjabi in a rather wacky role and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (a long-time associate of Jones' who also double here as an executive producer) in a wackier one. But it was Tamara Podemski as the police detective Babe Cloud who was the standout for me. I'd love to see a spin-off featuring Chief Deputy Sheriff Babe Cloud. Run, though, is strongest when it holds focus on Ruby and Billy.
The series begins and ends with Ruby making a choice. Her choice in the finale may not result in the most satisfying of ends, but it makes sense. In the third episode, when Ruby and Billy are on board a tour boat (I wonder if the Before Sunset references — this boat tour, a cab conversation — were intentional), she tells him how she'd fantasize that she was two people — a normal one who lived with her husband and a fun person. Billy asks her, "Why did you fantasize you were two people? Why not just the fun one?" Ruby says she doesn't know, but therein lies the clue to the show's ending. There's no confirmation yet about a second season though Vicky Jones has said in interviews that they would like to continue the story. I'm not sure how I feel about that; the messy end we got befits the story. I am, however, definitely glad that I got to watch this engaging piece of television.