This Roswell, New Mexico review contains spoilers.
Roswell, New Mexico Episode 2 Review
Much better than the pilot, this episode takes the story further and sets up a new, more complex paradigm. The pilot leaves you with these people who are in love and all these questions, whereas episode 2 leaves you with a woman on a war path and a man who says he loves her but is clearly lying to her. It also makes great thematic use of its nostalgia, employing Third Eye Blind’s underrated self-titled album in a variety of ways across the episode, including a great female cover and the through line of the song God of Wine.
In the original show, Max Evans was a paragon of virtue, but Rosa’s death places an intriguing obstacle between Liz and Max’s love story. In this reimagining, he’s secretive and prone to anger. In a word, human. While there’s a lot that seems like a paint by numbers remake, more complex characters open up more interesting storytelling possibilities, and Max’s imperfections are a big part of that. Alex and Michael’s fraught relationship, which I’m already more invested in than Max and Liz’s, is another high point, with the tension between their chemistry and very real obstacles practically sizzling off the screen.
Another strength is one that always made The Vampire Diaries and The Originals compelling and endlessly remixable: an ensemble with varied micro-loyalties and perspectives. With each new challenge and antagonist, various townsfolk will be thrown together in different and unexpected ways as their loyalties and goals temporarily overlap. The underlying mistrust or surprising romances those alliances may yield, only to ultimately dissolve when the wind shifts, gives everything a sense of urgency and adds stakes where there normally would be none. If the TVD empire was going to have one legacy (other than impossible leather pants), I’m glad it was this.
This episode gives us a better sense of the rest of this ensemble cast, and a better lay of the land, so to speak. Again, diversity is a strength here, across a couple of dimensions. Instead of Sheriff Jim Valenti, we have his wife, also a Sheriff, after her husband’s passing. She referenced her immigrant heritage in the pilot (presumably Latinx) and is played by a Latinx actress. Her son, Liz’s high school ex-boyfriend, is Kyle, currently a surgeon. Kyle is played by Mexican-American actor Michael Trevino from The Vampire Diaries franchise, in which his character was every kind of supernatural impossibility, yet so white his family practically came over on the Mayflower. It’s always nice to see actors getting to play their actual race instead of being whitewashed.
Trevino does restrained, smoldering anger well, and it’s great to watch Kyle carve out a unique point of view within the town. He doesn’t trust Max as far as he can throw him, but he doesn’t trust Manes, either. That said, he knows Sgt. Manes can be useful and he wants to keep Liz safe. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pull of Liz, his father’s legacy, and the town’s wellbeing keeps sending him back to Manes and this world, one way or another.
Alex, played by Colin Hanks in the original, is a queer disabled Air Force veteran played by Pretty Little Liars favorite (and indigenous actor) Tyler Blackburn. It’s unclear whether Alex is meant to be indigenous here, but the man playing his father is white AF and his mother is nowhere to be found. Alex is even more closely folded into the story early on in this iteration, with a military father, Sgt Manes, who carries on his mission, once shared with Jim Valenti, to protect the town and the world from the aliens, whom he believes to be violent. More on Alex Manes in a minute.
Maria, once a whitewashed character played by Venezuelan Majandra Delfino, who has both Venezuelan and Cuban heritage, is now explicitly Latinx and played by American afro-Latina actor Heather Hemmons, whose mother is a black Costa Rican and whose father is white. The bartender is referred to as Liz’s high school BFF, but it seems like she was closer to Rosa, Liz’s older sister. She and Liz have an easy rapport that’s enjoyable to watch, as is her on-screen chemistry with friend Alex, who I hope is a more frequent scene partner in the future.
Michael’s actions toward Alex are often crushing. It’s hard to tell if Michael’s attitude toward Alex is internalized homophobia or just plain old twentysomething fear of commitment. While the episode seems to come down on the latter, it took far longer than necessary for the script to confirm that Alex is an out gay man – why leave that up in the air? And what about Michael? Any one of these things alone might be fine but, taken together, it feels unnecessarily vague. If the issue is commitment, make that clear.
That being said, the Michael/Alex relationship is still one of the best things happening on Roswell, NM. Their chemistry has crackled since their first scene together. It’s impressive how much of a breakthrough it feels like to see Michael’s vulnerability during the “I never look away. Not really,” scene, after only two episodes. I can’t wait to see where this relationship goes and how it blows up the town’s delicate balance.
Coming back to the main thread of Max, Liz, and Rosa’s death, Max’s illness adds another interesting wrinkle, one that can highlight Liz’s science background. The memory handprint from earlier in the episode was a decent flashback device – it’s something the show can’t use all the time, so it’s necessarily limited, and it’s helpful to the viewer to get to know Rosa early on. Separating the lovebirds for much of this episode was a good move. It helps realistically move Liz from wanting to kiss Max to plotting to take him down, and makes sure we’re right there with her, even if we’re pretty sure there’s a reasonable explanation for all of this.
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