“There are moments that define our lives, and there are moments that divide our lives, incidents that divide us into two people, who we were before, and who we will be, after. Forever,” Max says in a voice-over as the episode opens, and never has a voice over been more spot on. Roswell, New Mexico goes back to high school in “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and, as always, secrets are revealed, emotions are felt, and drama is the one thing we can count on to happen in this little town.
Back then and now.
Maybe more back then, actually. Because this episode, the midpoint of the first season of this show, is a turning point, because it took us back to just that: the turning point in these people’s lives. Who these characters are, what they can be, it all goes back to the decisions they made the night Rosa Ortecho died, for better or for worse.
Did Isobel really kill those girls? Is she suffering from some sort of alien split-personality disorder? The answer seems to be yes, and yet, this is so open and shut that I just don’t trust it. Not because it doesn’t fit, it does. It’s just too simple. Too cut and dry. And also, we’re only in episode six. How often do shows give us all the answers in episode six?
Yeah, how about never.
However, the ramifications of this episode, of this knowledge, will likely be felt in this show for seasons to come. Because this isn’t just about Isobel, in fact, I’d even go as far as saying it isn’t even mostly about her. This is about Max and Michael and the decision they made, the people they became because of that decision.
Sure, they did it out of love, and love can make us do wonderful, beautiful things, just as it can make us do horrible things. Max didn’t decide that he loved Isobel more, that isn’t how love works, you don’t choose, you just react, instinctively, but his decision made Liz and her father a target, his decision made them outcasts, and maybe more importantly, his decision robbed both Liz and her father of the memory of Rosa.
You try not to remember the final moments, try very hard to remember just the good times, but the final moments always come at you, like a freight train. You close your eyes and they’re there, taunting you. You can’t escape them. And Max and Michael made Rosa’s final moments seem like the kind of thing no one could ever forgive, and essentially, robbed Liz and her father of the chance to mourn her properly.
And that, no matter how you slice it, is heartbreaking.
Sure, they changed too, because of what happened. Maybe they changed for the better – Max certainly seems to have become a good person, someone kind and someone who tries. Michael hid in his anger, and his pain, and turned even more inward, because, let’s not forget, Michael had another very traumatic thing happen to him in this episode, and in the end, he absolutely couldn’t let go of the last thing in his life that was certain.
So, let’s try to break this down as much as we can as we examine those moments, the ones that change your life.
AN ‘ECHO’ OF A LOVE THAT MIGHT NEVER BE?
It’s hard to ship Max and Liz right now. It’s hard to feel anything but the all-consuming rage Liz herself feels as she yells at Max and tells him she never wants to see him again. Because Max is the reason she’s where she is, just as much as Isobel is, and maybe even more, because Isobel wasn’t in control of her actions, but Max and Michael were, and for someone who always claimed to love Liz, Max sure was willing to hurt her to protect someone else he loved.
Now, a part of me isn’t even truly mad at Max, not as a fictional character. I understand his motivations, I do. Just as before I was unwilling to condemn Liz for her feelings regarding her sister, I’m hesitant to, as mad as I am, make Max into the villain of this story. He made a choice, and it was the wrong one, and his choice hurt people for ten years, but he didn’t do it to hurt Liz, he did it to protect someone he loved.
That doesn’t mean I’m exactly rooting for them at this point, though. How can I? There’s so much baggage, so much to make up for, and a part of me feels like the thing that stands between them now is more insurmountable than Rosa’s death. But this is TV, and I know how this whole thing goes …first I suffer, then I doubt, and then, finally, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
It might just be a hell of a long tunnel.
What would I do for my sister? Anything. Everything. When this show started I argued that Liz sharing Kyle’s secret wasn’t an unforgivable offense for me, because she was doing it out of love, she was doing it for Rosa. It’d be pretty hypocritical of me to not give Max a little bit of that same benefit, as I said before. Love makes us do crazy shit. But love isn’t an excuse, and the path forward cannot be traveled without, first, as Max did, coming clean, and second, getting to the bottom of what happened that night.
Not just for Liz now, but for Isobel as well.
A BROKEN MIND
Brilliant writing is making the real question of this episode not why did Isobel do this, but which Isobel did this? Because it seemed like there were two Isobels present at different points of this episode, the one that was friends with Rosa and didn’t care about prom, and the one that blew off Rosa and has spent the last ten years being this superficial version of the perfect girl.
Which, if you think about it, puts into perspective everything that’s happened the past few episodes, every second she’s spent with Noah, every thing that we’ve seen from her. We don’t know who she is? That’s not even the biggest issue, the biggest issue is Isobel Evans Bracken herself doesn’t know who SHE is, and that simple fact makes her the biggest mystery on this show.
Is there a real Isobel? Was she always just both? Does this have something to do with her encounter in the desert, as a kid? Was she, somehow, programmed to keep the three of them in Roswell, and her programming kick in when they were making plans to leave? Is there something more sci-fi lurking behind her issues, or are we dealing with your garden variety mental health problems, because yes, aliens can also have those?
The answer could be either, or a combination of those possibilities. Either way, the fact that I’m here, more interested in what’s going on in Isobel’s mind than anything else on this show should pretty much tell you all you need to know about how many curve-balls this show has thrown at us, and how well written those twists have been.
WHO ARE YOU WHAT HAVE YOU SACRIFICED?
Max isn’t the only one that makes a choice that night, though we could argue that Michael’s choice is easier. He’s got no personal attachment to Liz, Rosa or any of the other girls. He cared about Alex, and caring him got him where, exactly? All he has left are Max and Isobel, and he’s been hurt to much, literally hurt, he’s taken so much physical pain, and withstood it, but he cannot take another emotional hit.
He can’t lose his family.
And this takes another dimension when you consider that Michael has never had a family, not really. He wasn’t adopted with Max and Isobel, he was left in the group home, and all his life, the only people who wanted him, the only people who cared if he was hurt or happy or anything, were those two. They might not be related by blood, but they’ve chosen him and Michael has chosen them and he will literally carry any burden to spare them just a little bit of pain.
That’s why he digs that grave when they’re kids, to hide the body of the man that attacked Isobel, the man Max killed. That’s why he takes the blame when Isobel asks what happened. Because Michael is absolutely not angry at the world stereotype we thought he might turn into, he’s actually the softest softie in the history of softies, rivaling Max, even.
What would you do for the people you love? Michael has already proven, time and time again, the answer is anything and everything.
LITERAL GAY BASHING
As short as this scene was, the fact that we got to see it, the fact that it was as horrifying as it was, deserves a section. Because it was horrifying, so much I could have done with a trigger warning, and because sometimes it feels like living in 2019 this is a thing of the past. Like hey, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community isn’t an issue anymore, everyone’s happy, everyone’s out of the closet and we all love each other for what we are, no discrimination.
But that’s just …not life. It wasn’t ten years ago, it isn’t now, and I’m not exactly sure it will be anytime soon. And maybe that’s why this scene is there, for us to be as horrified as we were, for us to feel as much impotence and rage and fear as Michael and Alex both did, confronted with his very violent father ruining the first thing that has felt real for both of them.
The ramifications of this are still felt today, and we will surely get to go deeper into Alex and Michael and what the impact of that single moment was in their relationship, but for now, the whole point, in an episode that was one metaphorical hit after another, was for us to get to see, not the hit, but that moment of pure shock and fear and anger and impotence in Alex’s face. Because that’s what keeping him from moving forward. That’s where he’s stuck in. That’s what he needs to deal with.
And no, it’s not easy. It’s not simple. It’s not flicking a switch. It’s a process, and it’s hard, so hard that sometimes it feels like you’re burning from the inside out and there isn’t anything you can do to tamper the feeling other than try to be who others expect you to be. But that isn’t the answer. It never has been. Not for Alex, not for Michael, and not for any of these characters. It’s time to find the light.
It’s time to be free.
So basically, if I had to sum up this whole long-ass review into one sentence, it would be this: there’s more to the story. Let that be a comfort. This isn’t the end. No, what we saw today, that was the beginning. Now we get to see where they go, how they grow, how they fix what they themselves once broke, and how they become a team. How they rise above, if they even can.
I’m still excited for that.
Things I think I think:
- We all wanted to hug baby Michael, right?
- Every time this show gives you an answer, it also gives you 45 more questions.
- I’m glad this show is not set in these people’s teenage years, not just because I can barely handle the drama of 20+ year olds, imagine teenage drama, but also because since they’re all adults I don’t feel bad about noticing how very good-looking this whole cast is.
- And hey, these characters have noticed that too. *wink wink*
- Yes, this is my segue into saying these people are all bisexual, that’s my headcanon and I’m sticking to it.
- But also, yes, one of the Isobel’s definitely had a thing for Rosa.
- This has already been established, but fuck HS Kyle, he was a douchebag.
- Boy, am I scared for the whole story about Liz’s mom. I just don’t trust this show to make anything simple, no. It’s going to be painful AF, somehow.
- HS Michael was so beautiful, he wasn’t a jerk, and he used his words, and he went after what he wanted, aka Alex.
- Go back to Mexico is an evergreen thing, sadly.
- “I am nothing like mom, I’m here.”
- My heart. It’s broken.
- “You could never survive a quinceañera.” To be fair, no one really does.
- “All I’ve ever wanted was to change my plans for you.”
- Can a heart break more than once in one hour?
- The whole hand-print thing still makes very little sense to me. We’ve seen no power of Isobel that manifests like that, and though it fits with her leaving it, why is it there? Why only then?
- Max tried to heal Rosa too. CALLED IT. Why didn’t it work? Was it just because he didn’t know what he was doing? Because I somehow doubt he’d gotten much more practice between the time he tried to heal Rosa and the time he did heal Liz. Was it just about his feelings?
- Ironic, how the decision Max and Michael made ruined their brotherhood, too.
- “You destroyed my sister to save yours.”
Agree? Disagree? Share with us in the comments below.
Roswell, New Mexico airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on the CW.