Eamonn Docherty isn’t an antihero, Cathy Connor isn’t a naïve victim, and The Runaway, for all its posturing, isn’t a love story but something uglier and more necessary.
“Episode 1” starts when Eamonn (Jack O’Connell) and Cathy (Joanna Vanderham) are teenagers. Raised like brother and sister by Cathy’s mom (Kierston Wareing), a prostitute, and Eamonn’s dad (Mark Womack) her live-in boyfriend, people forget they aren’t related. A secret romance blooms and, when their parents split, neither takes well to separation. Soon after Eamonn and his dad move out, both he and Cathy commit serious crimes, the results from which spiral all the way into the final, sixth episode.
The miniseries tracks their relationship through the late 60’s and early 70’s, but the signs of abuse are glaring from the beginning. This isn’t one of those shows where the young man from a bad neighborhood slowly get corrupted and seduced into a life of crime. All Eamonn needs is an “in” with local mob boss, Danny Dixon (Keith Allen), and he is ready to embrace the excesses of illegality.
The antihero trend has generated some of the most memorable characters TV drama has ever seen but it has also created a perception that every bad guy needs to be sympathetic to be real—that redemption must be feasible at all times. Such portrayals are important, towards ending the vilification of people who get mixed up in crime that the media can perpetuate. The Runaway shines a light on these public misconceptions with Cathy’s story. However the other extreme isn’t good either, where crime gets glorified into something we give its perpetrators an endless supply of justifications for.
Refreshing is probably the wrong word but it feels good to be allowed to dislike a main character who is violent and cruel, without likewise feeling compelled to forgive or apologize for him at every turn. Eamonn doesn’t even play the mobster-who’s-cruel-but-gets-redeemed-for-having-one-exception card. Crossing a line in the first episode that permanently mars his character, Cathy is as much Eamonn’s prey as anyone else.
Girls who love the guy, but not the life style, are also common (Black Donnellys, Sons of Anarchy, The Sopranos) but usually as secondary characters, and usually next to a torn-between-two-worlds male. Eamonn isn’t torn, and Cathy is tougher than people give her credit for. More than anything else the show is about acknowledging the choices she makes to survive and try to find happiness. As Joanna Vanderham’s first role, Cathy is absolutely riveting.
Violence creeps into Cathy’s life against her will, multiplied by injustices related to her gender, age, and mom’s occupation, which everyone assumes she shares. Cathy is self-aware enough to recognize how their unhealthy home changed her and Eamonn against trusting people. With Eamonn it’s less clear. Either his cold selfishness is harder to unravel, or worse, his dad is right and he doesn’t have a conscience. On most shows such a statement would be provoking exaggeration. Here, it could be true.
That despite this there are times when you come close to understanding, or wanting Eamonn and Cathy to find a way to be together, speaks volumes. As a look into how an abusive relationship thrives—when an abuser seems like the best of bad options—The Runaway is terrifying.
5 Interviews; Set Design; Costume Design
At around two minutes each there’s not much time for deep discussion but none feel like filler either, as is often the case when they’re this short. The highlight was getting to hear Martina Cole’s take on the main romance and how the show did at adapting her book.