Before I saw a single trailer for the new HBO series Run, I was hooked. Why, you ask? Three reasons. One: Run hails from executive producers Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve) and Vicky Jones, and their talent alone is enough. Two: Run stars Hollywood sweetheart and MVP Merritt Wever and the brilliant Domhnall Gleeson, and with that kind of star power, you can’t miss it. And finally, three: Run is a romantic comedy-thriller, which is a genre I never knew I needed until right now. Run follows Ruby and Billy, two college sweethearts who in the first episode abandon their old lives to run away together based on a promise they made fifteen years ago. But what are they both running from? And why did they make their promise in the first place?
After watching the series premiere (which is available in full on HBO’s YouTube channel), I am hooked on this addictive show, due mostly to the quality of the writing and the incredible acting by its two leads. The show so far is like a combination of Fleabag and Killing Eve, yet it’s unique enough that it stands on its own. The writing is perfect and the acting is spot-on, and the twist at the end makes me think there’s a lot more to learn about these characters. If Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson do not win every Emmy for this show, I will be outraged. I’ve never seen two actors with this much instant chemistry. You believe that they would drop everything for each other even after fifteen years, and that belief is necessary to understand what comes after that fateful text. But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Read on to discover what happened in the first episode, entitled “Run” …
We open with Ruby sitting in her minivan in a Target parking lot. She’s every suburban housewife: slightly exhausted, yoga mat sitting on the front seat, a little defeated behind the eyes. She’s staring into space until she gets a phone call from Laurence, her husband. She instantly turns on her personality, sweetly asking how his day is going and telling him about her upcoming yoga class. It turns out Laurence is asking her if she can be home for the speaker installation that’s happening at lunch. She protests that she already signed up for the yoga class, but eventually she acquiesces. Merritt Wever really sells the defeat in Ruby’s eyes: this is her life now, and so much of it is about playing the role of a dutiful wife. She hangs up with Laurence, but then she receives another text, this time from a contact named Billy. It’s just one word: “RUN”.
Ruby’s demeanor totally changes, and the music flips to thriller mode. Her hand shakes as she locks her phone, and she seems ready to ignore the message. But then in a moment of physical comedy, Ruby is literally as trapped in her car as she is trapped in her life. As her frustration builds, her phone buzzes again: “RUN.” This time, Ruby texts back: “RUN.” She throws the car in reverse and peels out of the parking lot. We then get a montage of Ruby running to the airport and buying a plane ticket to New York City, throwing away her yoga mat as she goes. As she arrives in New York and heads straight to Grand Central Station, we see Ruby loosen up, the tension we saw earlier dissipating. We still don’t know who she’s running to, but it’s clear they matter to her. In a hilarious touch, Ruby buys dry shampoo and lipstick from a kiosk at the station, obviously trying to make an impression.
Ruby reaches an Amtrak train heading to Chicago. She enters, clearly looking for someone but not finding them right away. But then she walks right into an Irish man who is talking with someone named Fiona on the phone, lying and saying he’s in Scotland. It’s Billy, and the moment Ruby hears him speak she visibly relaxes. When he turns and sees her standing there, he smiles back at her. The two have instant chemistry. They sit down across from an older woman named Marjorie, claiming not to know each other. Even this stranger picks up on the electricity between them, asking if they are together even after Billy lies and says they aren’t. He’s charming and witty, making small talk, and Ruby stares at him as if she’s drinking him in. It’s easy to see why Ruby would want to see him again (I, too, would uproot my entire life if Domhnall Gleeson asked me to), but where are they going and why? And how do they know each other?
Billy mentions that he can “read palms,” to Marjorie’s delight. He agrees to “read” Ruby, holding her hand and looking into her eyes. He says she’ll be seeing the love of her life again soon after a long break, and it seems this is the truth of who these two are to each other. Marjorie asks if this is why Ruby looks so “sad,” and Billy replies that it’s just her “resting face,” teasing her. Ruby then pretends to read Billy’s palm, also gently teasing about something in their past (yet still not fully revealing how they know each other.) They are interrupted by the arrival of John, Marjorie’s husband. Marjorie pretends not to know John, and John responds with one of the most outright funny lines of the episode: “Marge, let’s not play Alzheimer’s right now.” John and Marjorie have the same sort of chemistry Ruby and Billy do, and they get up to leave.
Once they leave, Ruby and Billy stare at each other in disbelief, as if they didn’t quite believe the other would come. They let out a series of exuberant expletives as they fully realize what they have done. They talk, revealing that it has been fifteen years since they’ve seen each other and that they had some sort of plan to catch the “first train after five” out of New York. Ruby’s face falls all of a sudden as the consequences of what they have done becomes clear. She says this is unforgivable, and Billy asks who she needs forgiveness from. It seems they haven’t really spoken in those fifteen years, and Ruby proposes a moratorium on personal questions until the next day. Billy protests, but then Ruby asks who Fiona is and he quickly agrees.
They head to the dining car, literally chasing each other in a very sexy way. It’s so sexy, in fact, that once they reach their table Ruby immediately excuses herself to the bathroom to … ahem … relieve the tension (what did you expect from the creator of Fleabag?) It’s a funny scene that Merritt Wever absolutely sells, but it also says a lot about Ruby that this is the most excitement she’s seen for a while. While she’s gone, Billy rifles through her bag, obviously looking for hints about her life. As she comes back from the bathroom, Billy is watching a video of himself on his phone, apparently having some sort of public breakdown. But he shuts it off quickly when she sits down.
The two agree to share one thing about themselves to hold them over until tomorrow. Billy asks what Ruby is doing for work, and Ruby says she’s the lead architect at her own firm. Billy seems thrilled to hear this, saying she’s doing exactly what she dreamed of all those years ago. But then Ruby lies and says she was at work when Billy texted, seemingly not wanting to admit that her life isn’t exactly what she thought it would be. Billy says she can ask him about something other than work, assuming she already knows what he does. She tries to act like she doesn’t know, but he is incredulous that she’s never heard of him. Ruby admits that she knows he’s a well-known life coach, but she absolutely eviscerates him for his choice in career, saying that she never watched his viral videos because, “I didn’t want your new career as a prick to make me hate you.” She also teases him for his latest book titled Amazing, Period., which she says sounds like a self-help book about a woman’s period. Billy pretends to be offended and heads to the bathroom, but it’s actual a cover for his arousal. Like Ruby, he “relieves” himself in the bathroom, making it clear the desire is mutual.
When he returns, she is gone, and as he finds his way back to his seat a concerned stewardess comes up to him. She hands him an enormous wad of paper towels to “clean himself up” and says his girlfriend is currently getting him a new pair of pants. He’s confused, but then Ruby saunters in and sits next to him. It’s a prank, and he laughs, mentioning that she’s still pulling pranks fifteen years later. Ruby checks her phone and sees that her text to Laurence saying she’s okay never sent because there is no signal. They go back to Ruby’s “roomette,” a small sleeping area on the train. They look like they just want to make up for lost time, but then the room steward arrives to turn down the bed. He asks what they’re traveling for, and Billy essentially tells him the truth by saying they are running away to be together.
Ruby gets another panicked text from Laurence, who says he’s calling the police if he doesn’t hear from her. This dampens Ruby’s mood, and Billy asks what’s wrong. Wanting to deflect attention and finally realizing what it is they’ve done, Ruby asks why he texted her in the first place. If his life is so perfect as he described, he wouldn’t have texted her and they wouldn’t be here. Billy correctly notes that she is trying to put the blame on him for her actions, and Ruby says maybe this was a mistake. Obviously seeking to hurt her, he says he was drunk when he texted. This enrages Ruby, who wonders if she really walked out on her life because Billy was wasted. Billy says yes, but it’s not convincing.
She starts to have a panic attack, but he hugs her and calms her, saying that, “It’s still me behind the stupid smile.” Ruby asks who Fiona is, and Billy says Fiona is his production assistant and he lied to her about being in Scotland so she wouldn’t panic. He tells Ruby that when he was in the bar getting drunk he had, “A moment of clarity that there wasn’t one other person in my life who I wanted to see again … and then I thought of you”. Swoon. Absolute swoon. It works on Ruby, and it definitely works on the audience.
The train is making a stop for twenty minutes, and Ruby realizes she needs to get a signal to reach Laurence so he won’t call the police. She doesn’t say this to Billy, just telling him she needs a break to smoke. He happily watches her leave, but then as she gets further from the train he’s clearly worried she’s not coming back. Ruby finally gets a signal and reaches Laurence, who is frantic on the other end of the line. He simply asks her to come back, saying they’ll deal with everything else once she’s home. She pauses, seemingly considering this. Billy is sweating back on the train as they start moving again. He desperately checks each car, not seeing Ruby. This sequence is brilliantly edited and scored, building tension as Billy breaks down. Domhnall Gleeson, so funny and charming just minutes earlier, shifts to a dramatic performance that sells Billy’s heartbreak. It shows just how miserable Billy was before he sent that text. But why is he so miserable? And is it related to the breakdown he was watching earlier? It seems like Ruby didn’t make it or deliberately left him, and he rips the handle off the bathroom door in frustration.
But then he sees Ruby, who just made it and is panting from exertion. They have an amazing exchange:
Ruby: Did you pull the handle off the door because you thought I wasn’t coming back?
Billy (trying to play off his fear): No, toilet door handles are really bad for germs, I find it’s best to bring your own.
Ruby (teasing): What about the flush? Or do your poops flush themselves?
Only Merritt freaking Wever could sell this dialogue. They’re clearly relieved to still be with each other, and Ruby notices she dropped her phone. They look for it, and Billy finds it. He activates the home screen and he (and the audience!) is shocked at what he sees. Ruby didn’t just leave Laurence: she also left two children. As “I’m Not Running Away” by Feist plays in the background, Billy hands Ruby the phone, and they exchange a look as the episode fades out.
Run airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO, with episodes available on HBO Now and HBO Go after they air. Check out the trailer for season 1 below!