Roswell, New Mexico
Every time you think you’ve cracked a mystery in the world of Roswell, New Mexico, another springs up in its place. When tonight’s very special flashback episode showed Rosa stepping out onto the Crashdown’s rooftop to hold hands with Isobel while stargazing, I felt briefly thrilled to have my theory vindicated, and then immediately confused again because … was that even Isobel? There’s a Jekyll and Hyde thing happening where Isobel is a tightly wound mean girl one minute and a disaffected rebel the next, and whatever’s causing the schism in her ultimately leads to the deaths of Rosa, Kate, and Jasmine. We’ve got a whole lot of answers, and a whole lot of new questions to unpack tonight.
But first, a flashback to 2004, and the night when Isobel’s blackouts began. During a birthday camping trip with her brothers, Isobel comes close to being abducted by a silent and terrifying desert drifter. Max, who up to this point hasn’t been able to figure out what his powers are, attacks the drifter and kills him with a hand over his chest, in a direct reversal of his healing ability. Michael buries the man, and this cover-up ends up becoming a blueprint for what the trio will do four years later. After that night, Max tells us in his pensive voice-over, he was a killer, Michael an accomplice, and Isobel a slightly broken version of her former self.
Cut to 2008, where everybody is living their best lives and embracing their best accessories! There is just so, so, so much to enjoy here, and I urge you to pause and rewind as many times as feels appropriate for your needs: Isobel’s bangs and huge hoop earrings! Max and his surgically attached backwards baseball cap! Alex’s eyeliner and nose ring and choker and overall My Chemical Romance vibe! On that note, look, let’s just talk about Malex. As we now know, Michael and Alex both come from abusive homes — a string of them, in Michael’s case, which is why he’s living in his truck by senior year and playing a guitar he stole from school. Alex, understanding a lot without needing to ask much, offers Michael a place to stay at night, a toolshed where Alex himself goes to escape when things get bad at home.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” Michael asks, casually breaking our collective hearts; he has no experience of human kindness without an agenda. He’s fully floored when Alex shows up at the toolshed to bring him a guitar of his own, and admits that playing music is the only way he can quiet the “chaos” inside him. Criminally, we are robbed of a full Guerin guitar number here (like, I get it, there’s a lot to fit into this episode but …) and when Alex leans in to kiss him, Michael nervously recoils.
Max, meanwhile, is finally ready to take the plunge and ask Liz out, after the pair share a tender, Shakespeare-quoting moment on prom night. “It felt like one of those moments that’s worth fighting for,” Max tells Michael, who is like “wait, same!” and runs over to Alex’s work to kiss him. After making out for a while in Grant Green’s weird alien museum (you’ll understand the foreshadowing someday, Alex) they go back to the toolshed to have sex, and Alex asks Michael if he’s ever done this before. He has, but not with a guy, and “not with someone that I’ve liked as much as I like you.” As ever, the chemistry is absolutely off the charts with these two, and their connection feels deeper now we know how they started: two people desperately looking for safety, and finding it in each other. Except not for long: Manes catches them in the toolshed, flies into a violent rage, and smashes Michael’s hand with a hammer when he tries to protect Alex.
From this point on, the sense of overwhelming dread hanging over all these flashbacks really starts to pay off. Liz and Max share a pretty wonderful afternoon out in the desert, drinking beers and dancing to Bright Eyes (#2008) and making plans for a summer road trip together. Liz wants to kiss him but resists, since she knows she’s leaving to explore America, and so Max offers to tag along. This means that Liz and Max’s first kiss has now been more than a decade coming, and wow wow wow, those are some high expectations to meet, both for the characters’ internal lives and for the show!
But that kiss is probably still a long ways off, based on the awful truth we finally uncover. After several weeks of worsening blackouts, Isobel disappears, and Michael finds her in a desert cave with her hand over a dying Rosa’s face, whispering, “I did it for you. Everything I did was for you.” Those words never follow anything good! Kate and Jasmine’s bodies are nearby, and though Max shows up, his healing abilities don’t work (maybe because they died of an alien cause?). Gotta note that we don’t actually see Isobel kill anyone; even Rosa is ambiguous, since all we see is her hand over Rosa’s face and then Rosa collapsing. Isobel collapses too, and wakes up with no memory of what happened, suggesting that she’s somehow being possessed or bodysnatched or controlled.
Horrified, Max and Michael agree to cover for Isobel, and when she regains consciousness Michael pretends he’s the one who did it, fearing she’s too fragile to handle the truth. They stage the car accident, setting fire to Rosa’s car for good measure, and live the next ten years of their lives in “a comfortable lie.” Liz, now knowing the truth, is furious and devastated: Max and Michael let the Ortechos — a Latinx family with undocumented parents — take the fall for a murder, making them a target and destroying Rosa’s memory. “I never want to see you again,” Liz tells Max, and it is very, very hard to imagine how their relationship comes back from this.
In the present day, Isobel is done with that lie, telling Michael that since she’s having blackouts for the first time in a decade, that means she’s dangerous. Maybe they all are. “It’s time to face the truth now,” she says, sounding unusually resolved. Is she about to turn herself in? And if so … to whom?
• Wait, if Max set the car on fire, why were there no burns on Rosa’s body in her autopsy photo?
• Theory: There’s more to that Silent Terrifying Desert Drifter than meets the eye. It just feels too convenient for a random hobo to chance upon Isobel and try to abduct her, especially since we know her blackouts started that night. Maybe he was also possessed by whatever force is periodically taking over Isobel’s body?
• I’ve never felt more for Liz than when she admitted to wanting her mom. “If she was here, she’d probably just be drunk and selfish. But I still want her here.” This is the truest thing about having a parent who is in any way unstable.
• Isobel sunbathing in shades with her old-school iPod and her total lack of caring about anything is a MOOD, and was giving me strong early-season-two Marissa Cooper vibes. Let Isobel have a screaming meltdown and throw lawn furniture into a pool, you cowards!
• On that note, it’s still not totally clear to me which is the real Isobel: the rebel who doesn’t care about school or prom and wants to watch horror movies with Rosa? Or the mean girl, straight-A student? The fact that she had no memory of making plans with Rosa or telling Max she didn’t care about prom suggests the latter is the real her, which is kind of a bummer.
• Max and Michael’s former closeness is really emphasized in this episode, and it’s all the sadder now we know the reason why they drifted apart. Isobel was able to maintain a good relationship with them both because she had the luxury of denial.
• “Kyle isn’t all that bad”? Liz, girl, you are better than this. I’m glad she kicked Kyle to the curb after seeing how he treated Alex, but you have to wonder how much she’d already turned a blind eye to by that point.
• When Manes attacked Alex, I was expecting Michael to lose control of his powers and telekinetically smack him down. But then it occurred to me that Michael’s grown up in a series of abusive group homes and foster situations, so of course he’s had to learn how to control his abilities under extreme emotional stress. (It’s fine, I’ll just be over here having a lot of Guerin-based feelings.)
• “I … speak Spanish.” “I know!” Bless Arturo, whose instincts about high-school Kyle were 100 percent correct.
• So as it turns out, Kate and Jasmine were real pieces of trash who pressured Rosa into supplying them drugs when she was trying to get clean, and spray-painted racist graffiti on her car when she refused. I’m not saying they deserved to die, but it makes it even more galling that they’ve been painted as innocent victims while Rosa’s the bad influence who got them killed.
• “You know Tess likes you.” “No thank you.” Showrunner Carina Adly MacKenzie has confirmed there won’t be a Tess in this version of Roswell, so this little shout-out is probably the closest we’ll get.