Roswell, New Mexico
Just when you were beginning to wonder what happened to Project Shepherd, the shadowy anti-alien government/military organization introduced in the pilot and barely referenced since, this midpoint episode opens with a little backstory on that dangling plot thread. The project dates all the way back to 1947, and was originally led by Lieutenant Colonel Harlem Manes (presumably Manes’s father and Alex’s grandfather), who in the opening scene is overseeing a literal alien autopsy. Project Shepherd’s team of scientists examine a dead “unidentified subject” from the crash — confirming that our trio were not the only ones who fell to Earth that night — and find a familiar three-point symbol that means nothing to them, but is familiar to us from the show’s opening titles.
Back in 2018, Liz is prompted by Alex to realize that she’s been a pretty bad friend and has allowed Maria to go seven episodes with almost no character development at all! And as it turns out, Maria has been going through a lot while playing sounding board for all Liz’s problems; her mom Mimi (Sherri Saum of The Fosters) has spontaneously started to lose her mind, rambling about an imminent alien threat and ships glowing in the night, lost in delusions which mostly seem to be drawn from Independence Day.
“I wanted to be the fun friend. I thought I could do that for a while,” Maria admits by way of explanation for keeping it to herself for so long. I love this line as a little bit of meta commentary about how supporting characters work, and more specifically the trope of the Black Best Friend. The latter never exactly applied to Maria for a number of reasons (she’s not propping up a white protagonist, for one), but nonetheless, this is a smart scene that efficiently fills in a lot of gaps. Maria explains that there’s no diagnosis yet, but it’s not dementia, a toxin, or a tumor, and why is schizophrenia not being brought up here? Especially given Liz’s mom’s history, it’s surprising she didn’t raise it as a possibility.
In her altered state, Mimi keeps mistaking Liz for Rosa, which is painful, but leads to a really beautiful scene where Liz willingly plays into the delusion. “I’ve been clean for ten years,” she says as Rosa, giving her sister back the future she never got to have, one in which she traveled and loved and lived, and I’m not crying you’re crying. But Mimi also has moments of revealing lucidity: She tells Alex that his aura looks the same as his father’s, which has to be pretty high on the list of Things Alex Never Wants To Hear. She says that the energy around Manes became dark the day he “learned too much,” and seems to know that Alex is holding onto the alien shrapnel from Valenti’s cabin, warning him that artifacts from another world will corrupt him: “Don’t let it do to you what it did to your father, or poor sweet Jimmy Valenti.” Mimi also recalls that “everything changed when Isobel told Rosa her secret,” and intriguingly refers to Isobel as the blonde who was “hunting” Rosa.
The blonde in question spends most of this episode gradually coming to the same conclusion she seemed to have already reached last week: that she’s a threat and needs to be neutralized. Michael and Max can’t bring themselves to do it, but Isobel points out — not a moment too soon — that it’s not up to them, and that they’ve proven themselves to be extremely bad at making decisions for her. So Isobel checks herself into the hospital under a temporary psychiatric hold, and seems at peace for the first time in a while, reassured by the fact that she’ll be locked in “in case I go all Dark Willow.” Love a Buffy reference, Isobel, but Willow was arguably in full control of her actions when she became Dark Willow, and definitely wasn’t possessed, so a better comparison for you might be when Spike was being controlled by The First, or at a push when Angel lost his soul and became Angelus. (Why yes, I am fun at parties!)
On the same evening, Maria finally makes the awful decision she’s been putting off and checks her mom into an assisted living facility. Michael, reeling from Isobel’s decision, goes to the Wild Pony to find the place closed, and Maria on the verge of tears she’s obviously been holding back for months. Not even realizing how closely their awful evenings parallel one another, Michael comforts her, and … uh-oh. Do I ship Michael and Maria now? I think I just want something good to happen for them both, and also I low-key ship Guerin with everybody while still maintaining that Alex is his soulmate and his endgame. I think. I’m working through it.
In other plot news, sentient trash heap Wyatt Long claims to have no memory of killing Grant Green or trying to kill Liz, and his story about blacking out would be more convincing if it weren’t for Isobel’s situation. Max isn’t buying it, but when Long draws a doodle of that mysterious three-point symbol — seemingly involuntarily — Cam recognizes it from a tattoo on Max’s shoulder, and Max barely even tries to come up with a convincing cover story. Cam has already ended their FWB situation at this point (and called Max her “scratching post” a bunch of times, a euphemism for which I was living) but coupled with the mark Max left behind on the hospital generator, she now has enough ammo to advise Manes to look into Max.
Liz is busy trying to develop a serum that will harm aliens, or at the very least dampen their superpowers, knowing what Isobel is now capable of. She has a change of heart by the end of the episode — doing harm is the opposite of why she became a scientist — but Max, surprisingly, encourages her to keep working on what will henceforth be known as Chekhov’s Serum. He’ll never stop protecting his siblings, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want Liz to protect herself. This was a nice and striking moment of maturity, but between the woman he loves trying to develop a personalized poison for his family, and the woman he’s sleeping with selling him out to the military, I’m thinking Max may want to just stay single for a while, and do some mindfulness work on himself.
• When do we think Max found out about Michael and Alex? I went back and rewatched the scene where Michael breaks up Alex and Kyle’s fight at prom (which is, I think, the only time Max, Michael, and Alex have all shared a scene so far?). There’s a quick reaction shot of Max, right after Michael asks Alex if he’s okay, where I think maybe he realized. It’s at 14:30 in last week’s episode, if you feel like channeling your inner Monocle Emoji along with me.
• “I haven’t hit stage three yet. In fact I might never get there, because rage feels a lot better than sadness.” Okay but stage three is bargaining, which actually strikes me as exactly what Liz was doing with the serum — if she can’t turn Isobel in, and she can’t live with doing nothing, she’s going to find a compromise.
• The situation with Rosa and Isobel remains confusing, but here’s what Liz assumes happened: Isobel confided in Rosa that she’s an alien, Rosa freaked out and was thinking about telling Arturo, and Isobel (or whatever was possessing her) killed Rosa to keep her quiet. There’s no way it’s that simple, right? Maybe Isobel confided in Rosa about the desert drifter who attacked her and was killed by Max. Or maybe she confided that she was interested in girls and/or had feelings for Rosa in particular — but does it make sense that Rosa would be freaked out by that admission? It would certainly add another layer to the, “You’re a lot, you’re too much,” line from Rosa to Isobel last week.
• “It’s just him, you know? Screws me up.” On the one hand, it has now been four full episodes since Michael and Alex interacted in the present day. On the other, the writers sure find ways to keep the Malex flame burning strong.
• Arturo’s undocumented status comes up twice in this episode, as the reason Liz won’t go to the cops or government about Isobel, and as the threat that prevents Max from pursuing justice against Long. I’m nervous that this all has to be building to something, i.e., Arturo being deported in the series finale, and none of us are prepared for that scene. Liz has already lost too many people!
• “We aren’t meant to touch things from another world, Alex.” That ship sailed like ten years ago at the museum, Mimi. (I am sorry and I will show myself out.)
• Is there any chance at all that Wyatt Long is an alien? He’s having blackouts just like Isobel’s, he looks a lot like Max, and what if all his hateful MAGA rhetoric is coming out of his own fear about being uncovered? Not all aliens can be good and honorable citizens.
• “Liz Ortecho is my hurricane.” Nathan Parsons can really deliver the hell out of a terse, poetic one-liner.
• The mysterious “Charlie,” who Manes offered to help in exchange for Cam’s intel, turns out to be Cam’s sister, a whistle-blower who “broke some rules” based on principles, and wound up going to jail for it. I’m assuming Charlie was also in the military, but what did she blow the whistle on?
• If Mimi is referring to the 1947 crash when she says, “Something broke in this town once, and the pieces shattered,” was Manes onto something after all when he claimed that the aliens originally came to Earth to do harm? She doesn’t seem to share of Manes’s biases, and she clearly has insight despite her mental state, so if she says that the energy from Max, Michael, and Isobel’s world is dark, should we take her at face value?