This review originally published on March 30th, 2020
Who hasn’t, at some point, fantasized about just running off and leaving it all behind? No time to pack, no time to think, just go. That is, essentially, the premise of HBO’s new half-hour series Run. Merritt Wever (Unbelievable) and Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars) star as a pair of college exes (Ruby and Billy) who, 17 years later, are making good on a promise that if one texted “RUN” to the other and they responded in kind, they would do just that. Their plan—involving planes, trains, and automobiles—thus ensues over the course of a week, where the duo then decide to stay together or never see each other again.
It sounds glamorous, but the reality is anything but. Slowly, we learn the truth about Billy and Ruby’s lives outside of this adventure, and where they are now (at the age of mid-30s-ish). Most of the early episodes (5 of which were available for review) take place on a cross-country Amtrak train, a wonderful cramped space that director Kate Dennis incorporates into the beats of the story itself. There are moments of fantasy or excitement, but mostly the interactions (between two people who have been apart for almost two decades) are believably awkward. There’s a lot of emotional honesty hidden between their conversations though, as they flirt with the natural rapport of people who were once in love yet hold back so many truths about themselves.
Run, which comes from Vicky Jones—a frequent collaborator of Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who appears in a brief and distracting cameo)—is billed as a comedy, but it feels more like a quirky, dramatic stage play. Wever and Gleeson are outstanding together and apart, as Ruby and Billy try to hold on to the glimmer of a faint ideal while being repeatedly reminded of what (and who) they are running from, and the consequences of it. There’s no break from the consideration of their real lives amid this crafted escape, and it leads to constant, natural shifts in tone from joking to uncertainty to sniping to partnership. The two are insecure and and hesitant with each other in some ways, charmingly in sync in others. The strange in-betweenness of their circumstances is reflected in the setting; conversations happening at twilight, dawn, an afternoon spent in a new city for hours waiting for your hotel room to be ready; being tired, not having brought the right things, not having showered—but still managing to find joy and adventure.
Things start to take a turn, though, with the increased presence of Billy’s emotional baggage made flesh, his personal assistant Fiona (Archie Panjabi) who is tracking the couple. There are clues that Billy may be running from something much more concrete than Ruby’s more existential woes, and at that point Run starts turning into a thriller. While Run maintains its worthy gaze on the ever-changing relationship between its leads, Fiona’s almost super-powered abilities of disruption start to turn the show in an entirely new direction. By the end of the fifth episode, it feels like it’s on a new and far more heightened trajectory entirely. That change could be fine, although those who (like me) appreciated the stripped-down closeness and realism of the early episodes may start to wonder where this new path ultimately leads.
When Run is at its most authentic, it truly shines as a character study, honestly searching for how something so outlandish would really work. In those moments, it never shies away from the truth that we can’t run from ourselves, and Wever and Gleeson plays that sadness with aplomb. But again, once things start spiraling so out of control that it reaches territory that can never be undone in these characters’ lives, it has the potential to lose some of that authenticity as it moves towards bigger and bigger moments (it’s the same problem Killing Eve has had as it’s continued). In Wever and Gleeson we trust, though, as we watch two people do everything we, at the moment, cannot: Get on trains, share small spaces, and just run away from it all.
Run premieres Sunday, April 12th on HBO.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.