Roswell: Season Two, Part One

“They're among you now.”

(This review covers the original series Roswell episodes 2.1 through 2.10, and includes spoilers!)

As we enter Roswell’s sophomore year, it's immediately evident that there’s been a shift in tone. Gone are the days of secret eraser room meetings, double denim and Meg Ryan-in-an-electric-storm hair-cuts. Suddenly the show seems more serious, more sexed-up, and a lot more high concept. This is mostly thanks to sci-fi vet Ronald D. Moore joining as co-producer during the hiatus. From the outset, this season doubles down on the alien mythology, throwing us into a world of foreign chemicals, skin-shedding enemies and mysterious alien keepsakes.

This new direction is not something the series struggles to pull off; much the opposite, since it’s actually a lot of fun and still remains relatively light at this point. But by placing the hardcore fantasy elements first, we lose that human focal point that made the series so special in the first place. Liz, our leading lady and the person who was our window into this world early on, is effectively sidelined for most of this season, as Max, Michael and Isabel’s alien past becomes priority number one.

We do get a taste of what we used to love about the series in one of my favorite episodes ‘The End of the World’. Just as Liz finds her old feelings for Max resurfacing, a future version of Max arrives at her bedroom window (from 2014!) looking for her help. The news that their love was to be the cause of future turmoil forces Liz to take drastic action to save everyone she cares about. After staging a romantic encounter between herself and Kyle, she succeeds in pushing Max away, though she potentially loses out on the wedding her future self shared with Max. What I love about this episode is how it so easily marries the new supernatural elements of the second season with the romantic earnestness of the first. It culminates in a beautifully directed scene of Liz sharing the wedding dance with future Max that she would have gotten had she not made this tremendous sacrifice to save everyone from their enemies, of which there are plenty in present day Roswell.


The majority of this first arc is devoted to the fight against the most pressing of those antagonists: the Skins. Working vehemently against Max, Michael and Isabel, they came to Earth decades ago in search of the Royal Four (and the granolith) and are desperate to return to where they came from now that their "husks" are starting to dry out. Not to be confused with the shape-shifting Nasedo who arrived with the pods in ‘47 with the sole purpose of protecting the Royal Four, these guys are team Kivar, and support the leader who usurped Max and took over the hybrids’ home planet. The writers play these guys up really well, and their arrival in Roswell is heavy on mystery, with two out of the three new faces in town secretly forming part of this antagonistic group.

One such masquerader is Congresswoman Whitaker, whom Liz just happens to be interning for (yes, Liz is out of Crashdown uniform for a while). In the stand-out episode ‘Surprise’, we learn from Whitaker herself that Isabel is not the woman she thought she was. Her former self – Vilandra – turned on her family and sided with her secret love, Kivar. It’s a gut wrenching moment for someone like Isabel, who we knew before now to place family first. Not unintentionally, the episode reveals a side of Isabel that longs for something more outside of both her home life and her alien one. In this case, that something just happens to be Grant, another new arrival in town whom Isabel is immediately taken with –despite his age. Isabel keeps her past betrayal a secret from everyone for most of this run of episodes, despite it being eventually ousted by someone else. It's the first taste of any kind of rift between Max and Isabel, who have been a relatively solid sibling unit up until now.

It’s not just Isabel’s inner turmoil over her past self that serves to push the Evans siblings further apart. Max’s discovery of his role as leader of an entire race of people only worsens the tension between them, and everyone else around him, as he struggles to make sense of his new role. When Nasedo is killed by one of the Skins at the start of the season, Max is suddenly burdened with the safety and survival of everyone he cares about. His skills are tested time and time again throughout this arc, notably in episodes like 'Wipeout!', where he has to rally those he trusts to save the entire town of Roswell. He doesn’t quite hone his leadership qualities here, but he does prove several times that he maintains a few of the traits that made his past self such an honourable, if ineffective King.


After the majority of the Skins are finally dispatched by Tess, the Royal Four meet the occupants of the second set of pods; the Dupes. These hybrids were raised in Brooklyn, which the Roswell producers interpret as wearing OTT eyeliner, leather and uncountable piercings. The cast try their best to make these weird caricatures work, but the heavy New Jersey accents and dreadful wigs are just too silly. I did appreciate that this groups’ dark nature was all down to them being a little less “human” than the Royal Four we’re used to. It also explains why this group would so easily kill their own Max, or Zan as he’s known to them, all in the interests of attending a summit to get home. I was glad to see the back of them after their failed attempt to kill the real Max, though I am left wondering how in the hell Tess was able to fight them so easily on her own, as the encounter in question occurs offscreen. One member of the remaining Dupes I found myself intrigued by was Tess’ counterpart Ava. She was so docile and gentle that she could have easily slotted in with the real group. Sadly, we never see her again as she heads off on her own after the gang return safely to Roswell. Isabel and Michael's counterparts remain similarly elusive, though that remains a very good thing.

The real Tess is somewhat of an issue, here. Following her initial allure when she first popped up, there’s a clear concerted effort to make her one of the group. Emilie de Ravin puts in a fine effort to make her more likable, and there are many things that the series throws her into, but largely, these attempts don’t really do much. I did appreciate the upgraded Valenti dynamic with her now an honorary member of their household following Nasedo’s death. I especially like her relationship with Kyle, who is now a changed man following his near brush with death in the season one finale. His upgrade from jealous ex is a joy to see, and Nick Wechsler manages to make a seemingly unimportant role his own.

Elsewhere Michael and Maria are still at each other's throats. What strikes me a lot about re-watching this show years later is how... awful Michael is to Maria. He winds up kissing another woman, who happens to be the second undercover Skin, he blows Maria off with very little thought, and is just generally a rude jackass to this young woman who is clearly head-over-heels for him. Thankfully there’s more substantial material on the horizon for these guys come the latter part of this season that makes up for it... mostly.

Plus

Another highlight is ‘Summer of ‘47’, an episode that depicts the events of the ‘47 crash through the eyes of an ex-soldier who came face-to-face with the two aliens who came to Earth with the pods, and was a witness to the cover-up that followed.

Though most of this arc is made up of serialised alien drama, the holiday themed ‘A Roswell Christmas Carol’ acts as a nice epilogue, even if it's a little heavy on the religious guilt-tripping.

Alex is hardly featured in these episodes, which is a shame given how wonderful Colin Hanks is.

Valenti is also hard to spot, though he continues to act as protector to the group.

A further new face this season is Brody Davis, a billionaire who believes he was abducted by aliens. As it turns out, he’s not completely wrong, as his body serves as a vessel for the alien Larek, an ally of the Royal Four.

He Said, She Said

Max: "I know what you said... that things couldn't go back to the way they were, but pretend they could for just one second. Could you and I go back, too?"
Liz: "I can't pretend, Max."

Whitaker: "Your name was Vilandra, and you were beautiful... even more beautiful than you are now. You had a great love... and for him... for us... you betrayed your brother, your race."

Liz: “There’ll never be another you.”

While I miss the nostalgia of Roswell’s debut season, this run of episodes is still a great burst of teen sci-fi. Parts of it have aged badly, especially the aforementioned Michael and Maria dynamic, but it’s good to see the series succeed in pulling off a whole new approach to story-telling. Highlights like ‘The End of the World’ and ‘Surprise’ also demonstrate that the series is more than capable of honing its new elements to tie into what came before.

7 out of 10 Skins.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

Thanks so much for this one, Panda. I'd spaced out most of what happened this season, but you brought it all back for me. :) I wasn't wildly happy with this season. It was pretty weird.