This Roswell, New Mexico review contains spoilers.
Roswell, New Mexico Episode 5 Review
Roswell makes the absolute most of its flashback episode, treating us to the full story of what happened to Rosa Ortecho, fresh insight into Isobel, Alex and Michael, and some choice 2000s style.
Like the Riverdale throwback, this episode succeeds because it’s more than a mere indulgence. While Liz and Max’s story plays out largely how we had previously seen and heard, everyone else gets new layers to their character, making their actions more understandable and even heartbreaking. We got a nice moment seeing Rosa putting on “her song,” which became the milkshake crash moment with Liz that Max remembered, and learned why Manes sent Alex to the military, why Isobel is afraid to be honest with Noah, and why Michael and Max are so rough on each other.
After learning last episode that Isobel is the one who killed Rosa, I didn’t think Roswell could reveal anything new about Izzy that would be either surprising or exonerating, but they somehow managed to. Isobel and Rosa’s relationship makes sense of the mystery relationship Rosa had and Isobel’s refusal to let Noah in. Isobel’s chill, queer alter-ego seems like a much better, more interesting person than the Stepford Wife she became because of what happened in those caves. Isobel’s line about not being able to trust Rosa suggests that Rosa found out what Isobel is and didn’t take it as she’d hoped. Rosa’s death was already a tragedy, but the personal nature of it, the cover-up, and the hurtful way Isobel treated her leading up to the murder, even if it was all unintentional, are particularly wrenching.
I’m not sure how Maria’s feeling that Rosa hated Isobel fits into all of this – was Rosa keeping up appearances, or is that a reflection of how hurt she was by Isobel’s hot and cold routine? Later in the episode the divide between Isobel’s personalities becomes more wishy washy, as she seems to remember everything and exhibit both halves of her personality when she spoke to Rosa by her defaced car. When she “awoke” to find the boys staging the bodies and watched Michael crash Rosa’s car with her dead body inside, was she crying for the girl she loved, or just for the brothers she thought were once again criminals?
I have a feeling, given how tightly Max has held onto the idea that Isobel isn’t herself during the blackouts, that we’re going to find out she has more autonomy than he thought, even if the memories are repressed. After all, much of Roswell’s secrets now exist solely in Isobel’s fractured memory, and they’re a lot more interesting if they’re revealed.
More than anyone else, Rosa was redeemed by this episode. We learn that while she was intoxicated, she was no longer using substances and was actively trying to improve her chances of recovery. The way that she protected Liz from knowing the truth about their mother or their small town’s racism is likely something Liz will never know. Even staying as long as she did, though it imperiled her recovery, was out of concern for Liz. The white girls assumed to be Rosa’s victims were instead using substances themselves, pressuring Rosa into continuing to deal even after she stopped, and punishing her with racist graffiti when she didn’t comply.
The town of Roswell will likely never know the truth, but at least Liz finally does. It’s not surprising that she doesn’t want to have anything to do with Max. As she says, he chose his sister over hers. While he did try to revive Rosa, he didn’t even consider how she would obviously be blamed. It’s understandable to be short-sighted when covering up a crime in a panic. But his refusal to take full responsibility for creating a situation that led to slander of Rosa and racist hate crimes toward the Ortecho family, including what should have been Liz’s murder, is a concerning manifestation of white fragility.
In spite of ostensibly being the stars, Liz and Max are the least interesting people in this episode. That’s not a knock at them so much as it is a testament to the strong writing and fascinating revelations around everyone else. This episode frequently got away from the conceit of Max telling the story to Liz – he makes it clear at the end that he doesn’t know the true nature of Rosa and Isobel’s relationship, and it’s likely he still doesn’t know anything about Michael and Alex. Still, it’s hard to be annoyed by that when everything beyond Max’s knowledge was so rich and his blind spots are going to make for great stories for the rest of the season.
Finally, Michael and Alex had a truly lovely origin story, with Michael surprisingly vulnerable and tender. Seeing the way they tried to protect one another from Sgt. Manes was a painful demonstration of how much they love one another. Michael checking on Alex after his fight with Kyle. I was glad that the writers resisted the urge to have Alex completely victimized by Kyle and goons and then rescued by Michael.
Speaking of Kyle, we finally see him as a true bully and coward (as Alex rightfully points out), rather than just a competing love interest. He doesn’t say the word “f*ggot” but it’s clearly the bigoted instigation that we just missed. Alex and Kyle coming to an understanding in the last episode feels retroactively less powerful than it could have been, had we seen exactly how awful Kyle was to Alex beforehand. Furthermore, it adds to the bitter taste I had from seeing Alex comfort Kyle about the latter’s homophobic bullying. It feels like a piece of Kyle’s evolution is missing here.
The de-aging worked better on some actors than others – Max looks so off that at first I thought he was a different actor entirely. I’m also wondering where Maria was in all of this – wasn’t she Rosa and/or Liz’s best friend? Wasn’t she close to Alex? I know this episode was packed, but the fact that she wasn’t even in the prom crowd or briefly in the diner makes me concerned about her future on the show.
A few other notes:
Great music choices: Oxford Comma, Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes.
Alex wins for best 2000s look with his low-key punk styling (gauges and a septum piercing, which was a bigger deal back then) but even moreso for his UFO Emporium uniform: The visor! The guyliner! Spiky hair! Black nail polish!
In the original, Max worked at the UFO Emporium – love seeing that brought back somehow, as well as Alex’s Colin Hanks-esque costuming, minus the Jynco Jeans.
Okay, the one time they subtitled Mr. Ortecho was legit. As was his threatening Kyle in Spanish knowing full well that he could understand it.
Liz wears the “sometimes a girl needs armor” red dress to the prom!
I need to know more about Liz and Rosa’s mother.
Michael must be very incredibly powerful and precise to be able to move the gear shifter, the keys etc. so precisely.