By 2017, the world economy has collapsed, and food, oil, and other natural resources are all in short supply. Unable to meet the needs of the general public, the U.S. government has likewise collapsed and given way to an iron-fisted police state divided into paramilitary zones.
The media is controlled by the state, and all forms of communication are subject to rigid censorship. Despite the jack-booted, no-tolerance suppression of dissent, a resistance movement continues to survive underground.
A police helicopter flies through the night sky in Bakersfield, California. A decorated officer and captain, Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is piloting. Investigating a disturbance, he reports a food riot composed of 1,500 unarmed civilians, many of them women and children. Police command issues orders for Richards to open fire on the rioters, and to slaughter as many as possible. Stricken with disgust and shock, Richards refuses to carry out the orders, and announces a mission abort. The lieutenant that serves as second is ordered to detain Richards and proceed with the orders. Richards melees with the other officers aboard the chopper and is handling them all, until he is pulled toward the back of the copter and proceeds to throw an officer forward against the controls. The chopper pitches over and Richards almost falls out of the helicopter. Under orders to detain Richards alive, the other officers pull him back in and bash him with a rifle butt, telling him he's going to fry for this. As a result, Richards is framed as the Butcher of Bakersfield.
18 months later in the Wilshire detention zone. Prisoners are forced to toil at hard labor. Each inmate is fitted with a collar containing a small explosive, that will detonate if the collar is tampered with, or if the inmate attempts to cross beyond sonic boundary posts. Detonation of a collar is instantly fatal. Ben Richards is an inmate at the prison; the state has pinned the Bakersfield massacre entirely on him as a bloodthirsty rogue officer going against orders. A work crew is being moved to go beyond the sonic perimeter. A perimeter guard enters an access code to deactivate the perimeter just long enough for the inmates to pass through safely. Behind the guard, a prisoner named Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre) carefully looks at the guard's monitor and notes the code.
A few moments later, Weiss nods to Richards and a fellow inmate, Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto), who start a fist-fight as a distraction. The inmates all riot, killing several guards and seizing the control device for the sonic perimeter. Weiss enters the deactivation code- recalling it from memory. But other perimeter guards have become alerted to the revolt, and are using another control device to override and prevent the code from being accepted. More gunfire is exchanged as the guards try to hold the line. Weiss manages to get the code in, but the sonic deadline is not up, and one inmate who makes a mad rush for freedom is killed when his collar detonates. Finally the perimeter guard manning the control device that is blocking the code, is also killed, and the sonic perimeter is deactivated completely. All the inmates run out of the detention zone to freedom.
Richards, Weiss and Laughlin are walking through a barrio in Los Angeles, on the outskirts of the working-class and wealthy-class districts of the city. A large television screen shows a reporter droning about various zone pass regulations and a midnight curfew. The screen then switches to a game show known as 'The Running Man,' which has become the most popular television program in history. The Running Man is a savage, sadistic gladiator-style program where criminals are thrown into a 400-square block area of ruins left over from a major earthquake, as contestants. The game zone is divided into four quadrants that the contestants must pass through. As they struggle to run through the zone, the contestants are ruthlessly pursued by 'stalkers--' gladiators armed with lethal high-tech weaponry-- who hunt the contestants down and slaughter them. The program runs three hours each week and is co-produced by the Department of Justice, broadcast on the state-run television agency known as ICS.
Richards, Weiss and Laughlin meet up with a contact named Stevie (Dweezil Zappa) who is part of the underground resistance movement. Stevie and his cohort, Mic (Mick Fleetwood), have the technology to remove the explosive collars, and disposal units that contain the detonations once they're removed. As they work, everyone listens disdainfully to state-provided propaganda used to brainwash young children into believing in, and following, the behaviors that the state wants them to. The resistance is searching for an uplink to the satellite network that the media uses to broadcast the propaganda, that will let them take control of the satellite network and broadcast the truth of the state.
Mic recognizes Richards and is reluctant to remove his collar. Richards has been branded 'The Butcher of Bakersfield' after being framed for the food-riot massacre. Weiss argues that it's all network propaganda and that they owe him their lives, though Laughlin argues back that Richards definitely isn't part of the resistance movement. Mic believes that Richards has seen too much of this movement, but Richards silences them all by saying that all he's seen is talk and dreams, which he knows isn't going to get anything done. He tells them that if they want to change things, they need to 'put up or shut up.' Mic is impressed and consents to removing Richards' collar.
The next morning, Richards joins a truck ride ferrying barrio workers into the city proper. Richards' brother has agreed to help him get somewhere safe so he can try to start a new life in anonymity.
We get a glimpse of the wealthier parts of Los Angeles as a limo arrives at the ICS television headquarters, delivering Damon Killian (Richard Dawson) and his personal assistant, Brenda (Karen Leigh Hopkins). Killian is the host of The Running Man, and a much-beloved figure for the state. Killian's charming persona merely being a front for his actual crude, better-than-thou personality quickly shows through as he shakes the hand of a janitor whose mop he stumbles over, telling him he's doing a good job, but making note of his name and, once in the elevator, warning Brenda that she'll be mopping the floors all week if the janitor still has a job the next day. Arriving at his offices, Killian consults with a 'talent agent,' Tony (Kurt Fuller), for potential contestants for The Running Man.
Walking through the upper-working class neighborhood of the city, Richards arrives at his brother Edward's apartment. Knowing the security code to open the door, he lets himself in, and promptly notes something very wrong... the furniture isn't how he remembers it... and there are women's garments strewn about. It isn't long before the woman to whom these garments belong, shows up... a working class woman named Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonso). Mendez quickly sets about changing into exercise clothes and tuning into ICS channel 1 where a workout program is playing, hosted by ten-time national champion Running Man stalker, Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura), now retired from stalking. As Mendez is doing sit-ups on her exercise bench, the program is interrupted for a special news report on a door to door search being conducted by police for Richards, reminding viewers that he's the infamous Butcher of Bakersfield who massacred innocent civilians eighteen months ago. Mendez starts resuming her sit-ups only to find Richards himself standing over her.
Richards orders Mendez to tell him who she is and why she's in his brother's apartment. Mendez says she moved in last month, knowing only that the last tenant was taken away by the state for 're-education...' Richards' face changes to show he knows that his brother has met with a very harsh fate. In the distraction, Mendez tries to run away, but she doesn't get far.
Meanwhile, at ICS, Killian and Tony are looking through Justice Dept. profiles on convicted criminals and enemies of the state, for potential contestants. Unfortunately, Killian isn't satisfied with the latest potential prospects, as they are physically unimposing and wouldn't last long enough to give the audience watching the show, an entertaining experience. Then Killian sees a video feed of the prison break where Richards escaped from the Wilshire detention zone. Instantly his eyes light up with ratings points. Brenda reminds Killian that military prisoners are excluded from eligibility due to his department's contract, but Killian is undaunted and has some influence with the right people... he places a call to the president's agent.
Richards has tied Mendez down to her exercise bench and is taking some time to learn about her... Mendez writes music and sings theme songs for the ICS media network. Richards is amused to find that her closet has a box filled with music and clothing that's all on the censored list and only available on the black market; something Mendez says everyone does on the side. Mendez watches distastefully as Richards scans her travel pass into the Cadre infonet to book a trip for both himself and her to Hawaii-- he plans to use her as a hostage and as a traveling companion who has the necessary clearance to travel. Of course, Mendez doesn't see any reason why she should comply with Richards' plans... until he takes hold of the exercise bench, which is bolted into the floor, and, using only one arm, tears it loose from its moorings, lifting the foot of the bench four feet into the air with her still tied to it. He gives her an unsettling smile and says that this is how he says, 'please.'
At the airport, Richards uses a distraction and idle prattling, and the line of travelers behind him, to get past the front security checkpoint with Mendez, despite the two of them having only one travel pass. He maintains control of Mendez with a hand around the back of her neck, having warned her that he can easily break it. However, as they walk through a crowded airport corridor, Mendez sees a police/military soldier on a balcony above her and makes a move, pounding a fist into Richards' groin and screaming for help, yelling his name to everyone. Richards makes a break for it, running out onto the airstrips as the airport security goes into full alert. A police cruiser and several motorcycles give pursuit and take him down with a device that launches a heavy, weighted net.
Richards is thrown into a holding cell where he finds himself face to face with Killian and his hulking, burly bodyguard, Sven (Sven-Ole Thorsen). Killian wastes no time going into his 'sales pitch,' talking about how he created The Running Man, but has a contract with the government, who sends him felons to put on the show. Killian was fortunate to be able to pull a few strings to get Richards as a potential contestant after watching a video of the prison break. Killian wants Richards to volunteer as a contestant, but quickly shows he's ready to blackmail him into it; Laughlin and Weiss have also been recaptured, and Killian is ready to put them on the show in Richards' place if he refuses to volunteer. As Killian points out, Laughlin and Weiss would be "B-list" contestants that would be fortunate to get far into the first zone in one piece.
Richards is prepped for the show with several chemical injections that will allow show agents and stalkers to track him through the zones. He's then tossed into a holding cell that's quickly filled with knockout gas.
The next morning, Mendez is watching a TV broadcast of Richards' capture. She's stunned as the report shows the ticket agent and security guard they passed, bloody and unconscious, and the reporter says that Richards shot them at point-black range as he entered the airport. Both men are at Cadre Memorial Hospital in 'guarded condition.' Mendez, of course, knows Richards didn't shoot either of them, and she's not at all pleased at the thought of who else could have.
It's Friday night; time for the Running Man to go on the air. Large crowds assemble at the ICS game show stage, various social gathering spots around the city, and in the barrios, all eager for a thrilling show. Beautiful, costumed young women dance to opening music as the pre-show begins. A crowd outside cheers fanatically as one of the favored current stalkers, 'Buzzsaw' Eddie Vatowski (Gus Reithwische), arrives in a limo, and demonstrates his strength by pressing a special-made motorcycle he rides as a stalker, over his head.
Mendez is on duty at the ICS headquarters, with a co-worker at a soft drink vending machine as Richards is escorted past; a court-appointed 'theatrical agent' reading a legal contract/waiver out loud. Richards and Mendez lock eyes as he is escorted past her; Mendez looking badly unnerved. She politely excuses herself, telling her co-worker she has some paperwork to finish.
Killian is introduced and comes out on stage, easily milking the crowd for fanatical cheers and applause. As he opens the show, Mendez is seen entering a room and showing her employee pass to a guard. Killian has the main show announcer, Phil Hilton, announce tonight's guest runner. A monitor plays a carefully doctored video recording from the helicopter Richards was piloting at the time of the Bakersfield massacre, making it look like the dispatch ordered a mission abort, but Richards overpowered the guards and used the helicopter's machine guns and rocket launchers to slaughter over sixty civilians, including women and children. People watching the show all around the city bow their heads in numb silence as the doctored video is re-played and Killian gives a well-crafted closing to the video aimed at stirring the audience and all viewers into a frenzy and desire to see Richards butchered. Everyone responds appropriately as Richards is brought onto the stage.
Mendez walks through a control room for the show and quietly slips into an information retrieval room as Killian continues with show dialogue; that Richards appearing on the show as a volunteer entitles him to various perks if he should win. Three running men from the previous season, named Whitman, Price, and Haddad, are shown in Hawaii with beautiful women; as winners from the last season, they've received full pardons and are now living a good life. Making sure the blinds are closed completely, Mendez starts looking through media folders in a cabinet.
Richards is placed into a sled-like vehicle on the stage that will be launched into a tube-tunnel that will ferry him from the main game show stage into the start of the first actual game zone. No sooner do the heavy manacles close, locking him into the sled, when Killian announces a special surprise: Richards' cohorts from the prison break, Laughlin and Weiss, will be sent into the zone as contestants along with him. Richards stares in outrage as two other launch tubes open to reveal Weiss and Laughlin similarly fettered into launch sleds.
As Killian continues his monologue, going over more game rules (runners have three hours to cross through all four game zone quadrants while the stalkers hunt them down) and working the crowd into a near-rabid state, Mendez continues looking through various media information folders. The sleds are launched through the tubes into the first game zone quadrant. Meanwhile, back in the private media information room, Mendez makes a curious find: two folders for the Bakersfield massacre. One media card is edited for television, and the other is raw footage. She secretes the raw footage card into her clothing and puts back the other one, closing up the cabinet... and a hand comes down onto her shoulder, spinning her around.
Richards, Laughlin and Weiss arrive at the start of the first quadrant; their sleds halted by special tension barriers as ground crew get them out of the sleds so they can start running. Killian pulls a randomly selected audience member to choose the first stalker to send in after them. As she's given ten seconds to think it over, a small barker crew in the barrio ruins is working a betting board, taking wagers on who will go in and how fast they'll make the kill. The audience member chooses 'Professor' Subzero (Professor Toru Tanaka), a beavily built but squat man in a high-tech hockey outfit, complete with helmet and ice skates, and a hockey stick made out of heavy metal that can chop through solid steel.
The ground crew, both on foot and motorcycles, herds the contestants through the start of the game zone as various other show staff are seen in a backstage room, including Captain Freedom, who does guest commentary on the show from time to time.
Richards, Laughlin and Weiss are herded into the first part of the first quadrant; a huge indoor area where the air is very cold. A gate drops down behind them and lights come on, cameras coming to life as Subzero moves in for the kill. His skates giving him more control on the floor of the chamber than the running men, Subzero bashes them about and then pushes Weiss across the chamber like a human hockey puck... right into a 'hockey goal' that quickly snaps closed like a Venus flytrap around him. The audience and viewers around the city eat it all up. The audience member who chose Subzero as the killing stalker is given a number of prizes, including a 'Running Man' home board game.
Richards and Laughlin try to get to Weiss and free him, only to find Subzero ready. Knocked against a chain-link fence, Richards tears loose a piece of pipe to which a coiled length of razor-ribbon wire is attached. He pulls it along with him as Subzero pursues him. Suddenly Richards dives off to one side, pulling the razor ribbon taut across the narrow corridor... and Subzero's charge carries him right into it; the razor ribbon wrapping around his neck. Richards yanks on the piece of pipe mooring, digging the razor ribbon deeper into Subzero's unprotected neck. Viewers all around the city watch, aghast and numb with shock, as Subzero falls. Richards and Laughlin mock Killian over their victory before freeing Weiss and moving on. Killian appears at a loss for words as he says a great champion has fallen... and then quickly cuts to 'important sponsor messages.'
Back in his office, however, on the phone with an agent from the Justice Department, Killian is rather dismissive of Subzero's death, saying a stalker being killed by running men was inevitable, and part of the violent element of the show that keeps people in front of TV sets instead of picket lines.
Back on stage, Killian is getting the crowd incited again, and has picked a new audience member to select the next stalker. He's torn between two of them and can't decide... so Killian offers a big surprise; to send in both stalkers together as a tag-team. Buzzsaw, who was the previous year's champion with the most kills racked up, wields an oversized durasteel chainsaw that can cut through almost any man-made compound. Dynamo (Erland van Lidth) is likewise big and burly, clad in a metallic suit covered with multicolored lights, with electrical generators that let him discharge electric surge... and he has a penchant for singing opera.
As the stalkers are introduced, Killian takes a brief backstage break where Brenda tells him that ratings are up eight points... and she has more news: ICS security caught Richards' airport hostage pulling classified Bakersfield video files.
Killian comes back on stage to announce another surprise for the audience, a special guest running man-- or running woman. Mendez is dragged on to the stage to be thrown into the game. Phil Hilton, the game show announcer, has wasted little time fabricating a whole propaganda story of Mendez as a school cheater, and a lifetime lawbreaker, culminating with having been a secret lover of Richards. Mendez is instantly disgusted at the lies spouted about her, but she has little time to berate Killian about it before she's fettered into another sled and launched through the tube and hustled through the start of the first zone.
Richards, Laughlin and Weiss are crossing into the next quadrant when Weiss notices a camera relay that strikes him as odd; because it's pointing into the zone instead of straight up. Hurrying to investigate, he sees a number of camera relay dishes all pointing toward the middle of the game zone. This means that the uplink center to the satellite network is there... a perfect spot to hide it, a place where nobody ever goes. Richards is immediately at odds with Laughlin and Weiss; he wants to focus on surviving the game, while Laughlin and Weiss now have a new mission; to find the uplink center, crack the code and give Mic and his people the means to jam the state TV network and broadcast their own transmissions.
As Buzzsaw and Dynamo are given a relay by the trackers on the runners' position, Richards, Laughlin and Weiss are trying to hide from a sweeping light underneath one of the cameras. As they're hiding against a ruined piece of wall, Mendez catches up with them... just in time for Buzzsaw and Dynamo to reach the scene.
All four contestants scramble for cover. Richards hefts a big, thick piece of timber as a weapon, but Buzzsaw's chainsaw cuts it clean in half like a toothpick. Weiss and Mendez get separated from Richards and Laughlin; Dynamo pursuing the first two while Buzzsaw goes after the latter two. Weiss and Mendez manage to hide from Dynamo and stumble across the uplink center for the satellite relay. Insisting to Mendez that the resistance movement has spent five years trying to find it, and that it's more important than any of their lives, Weiss hurries toward it.
Laughlin and Richards run through the ruins and suddenly find themselves in the cross-shine of several light relays. Buzzsaw comes screaming out of an alley on his motorcycle, wielding his massive chainsaw easily in one hand. Laughlin shoves Richards aside-- and the chainsaw slices across Laughlin's upper chest, mangling the flesh and bone. Richards ducks and tumbles to the side as Buzzsaw makes a second ride-by attack, and again hurries to tend to Laughlin. Turning again, Buzzsaw turns his chainsaw off and hangs it from the front of his cycle, pulling out a weighted bola attached to a long metal cable. He snags Richards in it and drags him behind the motorcycle across the ground. Viewers all around the city cheer wildly, eating it up. Killian gives the audience member who selected the stalkers, a selection of take-home prizes, again including a 'home edition' Running Man board game.
Buzzsaw finally drags Richards past a ruined section of wall where Richards is able to wrap the cable around a piece of metal jutting from it. Audience members and fans all groan as Buzzsaw's motorcycle is halted, pitching him a number of yards forward rolling across the ground.
Meanwhile, Weiss is leading Mendez through the uplink center and finds the interface. To his dismay, however, the interface is encrypted with a hexagonal decode system, an extremely tough form of coding to crack; certainly not something they can afford to waste any time over with Dynamo still on their trail. Mendez paces and frets as Weiss works feverishly to decode the uplink code system, pleading with Mendez to ensure that the code gets to Mic and the resistance if Weiss doesn't make it through himself.
Richards slowly walks toward Buzzsaw. He reaches for the chainsaw when suddenly the burly stalker awakens, grabbing Richards around the neck. He yanks Richards down the ground and seizes his weapon; the chainsaw roaring to life as Buzzsaw tries to rip Richards apart. The two battle hand to hand as Richards struggles to keep the buzzing blade away from him. When Buzzsaw taunts Richards, the ex-cop reaches down deep for extra strength and pushes Buzzsaw's arms down, forcing him to twist the chainsaw further downward. By the time Buzzsaw notices that the blade has been pushed down between his own legs, Richards then yanks his arms upward... and the blade rips into Buzzsaw's groin. The stalker falsetto-screams in wild agony as his own weapon mangles the weakest part of his own body, and he crumples to the ground in a bloody heap. Fans all around the city again groan in profound sadness and grief.
At the uplink center, Weiss finally completes the decode, making Mendez say the alpha-numeric code sequence out loud and memorize it. But time may be out for the two... Dynamo has found them. Raising his arms, Dynamo looses a surge of electric charge, blasting into the two of them. Mendez is hurt but alive... but Weiss, still touching the metallic housing of the uplink interface, takes the full blast of the discharge, and is killed.
Richards hears Mendez scream and rushes to find her. Dynamo has dragged her out of the complex into the open and plans to indulge in a little fun before killing her. Richards runs toward them, yelling to distract Dynamo. The stalker sends a mild electric charge into Mendez's body to subdue her before sending a larger, lethal blast at Richards. Richards ducks out of the way, and Dynamo climbs back into his race-car-like vehicle to pursue Richards. The fans cheer wildly again as Dynamo, singing more opera, races after Richards. But Dynamo gets too reckless and caught up in the moment of the kill, trying to drive his vehicle up the same mound of debris that Richards has started to climb. Dynamo's vehicle overturns, tumbling back down the mound. Fans again react in shock and numb horror as they see that Dynamo is now trapped and helpless, without power to his surge generators, as Richards advances toward him with a huge piece of metal pipe.
Even more stunning, however, is when Richards slowly tells Dynamo that he refuses to kill a helpless human; even a bloodthirsty, ruthless killer like Dynamo. The amount of boos and jeers from the equally bloodthirsty fans is shocking.
Richards drops the pipe and walks off with Mendez, who sadly tells him that Weiss is dead; but she has the uplink code for the satellite relay. They find their way back to Laughlin, who is on the verge of death. With his dying words, Laughlin pleads with Richards not to let his and Weiss' deaths be in vain; to carry out their mission and get the uplink codes to Mic, who has a broadcast center in the fourth quadrant of the game zone. Knowing that Laughlin died for him, Richards is filled with the resolve to avenge him.
Back in the locker room, a woman's voice comes over speakers, summoning 'Fireball' to wardrobe. A tall, burly man among the viewers (Jim Brown) slowly nods and rises to his feet as Killian, still on stage, calls for the halftime show.
A monitor near Richards and Mendez lights up with a video transmission from Killian, who's in his office only with Sven, Brenda, Tony, and a couple of camera personnel. Killian is delighted with Richards' performance and the super-high ratings for the show. Richards listens in disbelief as Killian offers him a three-year contract deal to become a stalker on The Running Man, complete with a lot of trappings wholly unavailable to most people. Ripping a camera off its moorings and glaring into it, Richards vows that he's going to survive, and win, and come back for Killian himself... and kill him in brutal fashion.
Just as Richards hurls the camera to the ground, smashing it, the phone rings in Killian's office. Brenda tells him the attorney general is calling.
Fireball comes onto the stage to roaring cheers and applause. He wears a flame-retardant suit and goggles, a rocket pack on his back, and wields a high-powered flamethrower. As the fans cheer, Captain Freedom, back in the backstage lockers, takes some pills with a drink and looks nostalgically at a poster of himself from his days as a champion stalker.
As Fireball heads out into the zone, Killian calls another audience member up and asks her to predict who will make the next kill: Fireball, or Dynamo, who's not out of it yet. The elderly woman thinks hard, and suddenly announces that she feels that Ben Richards will make the next kill. The audience and fans around the city are surprised, but the old woman stubbornly defends her choice.
In the barrios, several men suddenly shout that they want to place bets on Richards. As the idea catches on among the barrio viewers, the men running the betting shrug and agree, writing his name on the odds boards and taking bets on Richards.
And the time for the next bout of action is at hand, as Fireball arrives at the third quadrant where Richards and Mendez have reached. Fireball lands and runs after the two on foot, pursuing them into an underground center and cutting them off, forcing them to duck for cover as he looses a blast from his flamethrower.
Shoving Mendez to one side and telling her to run, Richards hefts several large barrels and hurls them one by one at Fireball, who catches them on his arms and shoulders, deflecting them to the sides. Richards kicks another barrel over, causing the oil within to spill, and then ignite from Fireball's flamethrower. The stalker easily walks through the flames, protected by his suit. Noticing a box of flares at his feet, Richards grabs one and hurries to meet back up with Mendez, who's found her way into the ruins of a locker room, safe from the ICS network cameras. Her leg brushes against something, and she screams in terror as she sees a decaying corpse at her feet. Fireballs hears her scream and zeroes in.
Regaining her composure, Mendez notes that there are three corpses; each one with an identifying dog tag around their neck. She goes to examine the dog tags... and notes that two of them bear the names Whitman and Price. As she goes to the third one, Fireball comes there, telling her that the third one is Haddad. The winners of the last season was another state lie. Slowly Fireball turns his flamethower's nozzle toward her, ready to make the kill.
Suddenly Richards is behind Fireball, yanking the gas line out of his rocket pack and kicking him into the lockers. As Fireball struggles to regain his bearings, Richards scoops up Mendez and ignites the flare, tossing it at Fireball's feet. The gas leak in Fireball's rocket pack explodes violently, the inferno reaching out where the ICS cameras pick it up, and blasting Fireball's charred corpse into full view. The fans are in dismay again, seeing that Richards has taken another stalker down. The barrio bettors, however, are pleased, having won big money on Richards.
In the ICS backstage lockers, Captain Freedom is summoned to wardrobe.
Killian and Brenda are looking at monitor relays grimly when Captain Freedom bursts in, outfitted in a high tech suit; the chestpiece laden with a number of weapons. Freedom is outraged at the suit he's been made to put on, refusing to go out and stalk while weighted down in it. Although he misses his days as a champion stalker, he refuses to play by modern rules. Ten years ago at the height of his stalking days, he went out and killed runners with his bare hands, adhering to a strict gladiatorial code of honor. Killian is equally outraged at Captain Freedom's continued belief in this system, reminding him that people are betting on Richards winning the game, which would create a lot of unrest among people yearning for more personal liberties. Finally losing his patience, Killian yells at Sven to escort Captain Freedom out, even insulting the bodyguard by asking him if steroids are making him deaf. Sven finally turns and gives Captain Freedom a shrug, and the now-ex announcer storms out.
Richards and Mendez have made it to the fourth quadrant and are looking for Mic's secret broadcast center. It's Mic who finds them first, after they blithely walk right into one of his own traps. Mic could afford to take no chances about the location of the resistance hideout and broadcast center being discovered, which is why he couldn't send any help to Richards. But now, safe from ICS cameras, he's come for them and brings them to the relative safety of his broadcast center.
Meanwhile, needing to bring the show (and any budding hopes among the populace) to a successful close, Richards is having Tony work his digital CGI magic, taking snippets of various media logs, to synthesize a staged battle between Richards and Captain Freedom.
In the secret resistance broadcast center, excitement runs high as Mendez announces that she has the satellite uplink code, meaning Weiss and Laughlin's deaths won't be in vain. Just then, TV sets in the center buzz with renewed action from the game show. Killian has taken the stage and is telling fans that the runners have entered the final quad, and Captain Freedom has come out of retirement to finish them. The synthesized mock-up CGI battle scene is played for the unsuspecting fans, showing Richards and Mendez falling into the final game zone through a chute. Captain Freedom grabs Mendez by the scruff of her neck, lifts her up and fatally breaks her neck, and hurls her into a coil of razor ribbon, killing her. Richards engages Captain Freedom in a brutal hand-to-hand fight before Freedom charges ahead, taking Richards off balance and forcing him back-first into a heavily spiked gate. The fans all go bonkers as Phil Hilton announces that Captain Freedom has succeeded in finishing off the last two runners, upholding his name and reputation as all-time champion stalker.
Richards and Mendez are only mildly amused at the synthesized battle. It does give them the convenience of everyone thinking they're dead, which buys them time to help Mic plan an uprising. Once Mic steals the network signal, ICS will attempt to shunt the next one in orbit. He needs to send Stevie in with a team to the ICS building to stop them. Richards, seeing them as untrained kids, offers to help lead them, so he can fulfill his vow to Killian that he'd be back for retaliation.
Mic says he'll be sending the uplink code in twenty minutes, and ten seconds later, he'll be on the air. Mendez tells him to can any planned speech; she has something better... the raw, unedited footage of the Bakersfield massacre. She hefts an automatic machine pistol and smiles smugly, preparing to help storm the ICS building with Richards and Stevie.
The raid team storms in through the basement as Running Man dancers are doing their part in wrapping up the post-game show. Killian takes the stage, handling the post-game with his usual charm. But Killian is in for a rude surprise as Mic successfully hijacks the network signals with the uplink code and plays unedited footage for people watching the post-game all around the city: first revealing the true fates of the previous season winners, Whitman, Price, and Haddad... and then playing the unedited footage of the Bakersfield massacre, showing that the state carried it out and then left Richards as the scapegoat. Everyone watches in absolute dizzied shock as the unedited footage is being played out. Brenda and Tony, in the control room, realize the signal is coming from the network satellite, but Stevie and his team come barging in with guns pointed to stop any attempts to override.
On stage, Killian frantically tries to calm the fans when Richards comes busting in with his half of the resistance team. People watching the end of the show in bars and social centers around the city find out the full truth of things as ICS/army soldiers open fire at Richards-- and indiscriminately kill anything moving, including innocent civilian audience members trying to flee in terror, while Richards and his team do everything in their power to herd the audience to safety and keep them out of the line of fire.
Meanwhile, in a backstage corridor, Mendez is keeping guard when she suddenly finds Dynamo standing behind her. Knocking Mendez down, Dynamo plans to rape her before killing her since he failed to do it earlier in the game zone. Seeing Mendez reach for her gun, he grabs her wrist, wrestling for control of the gun. The weapon goes off and activates the overhead sprinklers, which short out the electrical controls in Dynamo's light suit, electrocuting him.
Richards and his team finish taking out the police soldiers, but Killian seems unafraid and smug as Richards approaches him; Sven is on the scene. But Sven merely throws Killian's remark about Sven being a steroid junkie, back in his face, before giving Richards a polite nod and half-smile, and walking off stage, leaving Killian at the mercy of a very angry Richards.
Forgetting that the cameras are still rolling, Killian tries to reason with Richards, giving a smooth pitch about how American people grow up on a diet of television and TV violence, and for 50 years, media and marketing experts have exploited this to go further than giving them wrestling and game shows, using commercial advertisements to tell people what to eat, how to dress, practically how to live. Richards pays no attention as he activates the sled controls at the launch tube. Grabbing Killian, Richards admits he hasn't been in show business long, but he's learned very quickly, and he thinks that right now, people would like a little something else.
Richards slams Killian down onto the sled's chair, and the manacles snap shut, fettering him in place. Richards launches the sled through the tubes. Killian hurtles through the tube system, out into the beginning of the first game zone. With the ground crew and barriers gone, the sled continues hurtling through the air until it crashes into an advertisement poster for Cadre cola, and explodes, killing the entertainment kingpin. Fans all around the city and barrio, having seen the truth about ICS and Killian, burst into wild cheers and applause.
Mendez makes her way up onto the stage. She smiles at Richards as he approaches her, and they start kissing. A large monitor on the outskirts of the city goes dark and reads, 'Please stand by.' Fade to black as the credits begin to roll.