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Throwback Thursday - Roswell - Tess, Lies, and Videotape

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Throwback Thursday is a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from the past.

Previously on Roswell, Max and Liz broke up, but they got back together, but then they broke up, but then they got back together, and then a petite, blue-eyed blonde came to town. We all know where this is going. We knew it in 2000, and to this day, it rankles. It’s why I hate love triangles. Max and Liz were my first OTP—One True Pairing for those that don’t speak fandom. I thought they were meant to be, so it should come as no surprise that I almost quit the show when I realized my OTP was in danger. I eventually quit the show, but that was Season 2, so we’ll leave it for another Throwback Thursday.

We first meet Tess Harding (Emilie de Ravin) in “Crazy,” episode 17 of Season 1, where she befriends Isabel Evans. Max and Michael are immediately suspicious because it’s what they do—stay suspicious. They had reason to keep their guard up, but all too quickly, they dropped it because there is something powerful about finding your people. There is also something powerful about pouty girls with great posture.

The episode opens with Max and Liz putting on a show for everyone at the Crashdown, but only Isabel pays attention to their cutesy PDA. Valenti stops by for a coffee refill, and the aliens and Liz freak out about the alien orb he took in the previous episode. Before they can get too deep into their discussion, Tess walks into the Crashdown. Max stares at her like he’s confused, experiencing flashbacks as he does. These flashbacks are pretty tame, Max and Tess holding hands in front of some alien symbols and Tess in her pod as a child. For some reason, these relatively chaste flashes propel Max to some sexy storage room kisses with Liz. I guess he plans to kiss the Tess away. Alas, the flashes continue, and Liz turns into Tess. And all that happens before Dido and the opening credits.

The next day at school, Tess mentions her thing for Max to Isabel. Isabel tells her to forget it because Max and Liz have that forever love. Tess casually drops that she was picking up some vibes from Max. Did the show ever address if these flashes were genuine or a mind warp? This has to be mind-warping, right? No way this was just Max feeling feelings for Tess. Conveniently, the science teacher decides that Max should be Tess’ new lab partner since she’s new to Roswell. One, do we know the science teacher’s name? We see him more than any other teacher. Two, this is absolutely Tess manipulating the situation.
Max leaves his seat beside Liz to join Tess and starts having steamy flashes about her. The show is clever with the way it inserts this little “let’s get it on” moment. It definitely leaves the viewer wondering whether or not it was really happening. And despite my loyalty to my original OTP, everything that happened in this scene between Max and Tess was far sexier than anything that ever happened between Max and Liz. Blame the late 90s and early 2000s; only the bad girls and sidekicks were allowed to get down and freaky. The good girl got a few hot kisses and a lot of romance. I digress, but I digress about this subject a lot.

It was just a flash, but Max is totally and completely freaked out by the intensity of it. Also, he managed to set himself on fire while it was happening. Maria tries to tell Liz that something is up, but Liz just declares that all is well while insecurely applying lip gloss. Over in another bathroom, Max worriedly confides in Michael about his sexy Tess fantasies because he’s so in love with Liz. However, Michael doesn’t care because he’s still brooding about Max slapping his hand and telling him “bad Micahel” in the previous episode. Well, Max also punched him in the face. Also, Michael liked to pretend he cared more about the alien than the emotional at this point in the series.

Later that same day, Valenti and Max talk about the need to trust one another in front of a sign that says “Trust No One.” Not heavy-handed at all. We do learn that Valenti is well on his way to becoming the ally these alien teens need. Later in the episode, he returns the orb to Max, trusting so he will be trusted. Just as important, this scene is followed by a little dramatic irony. The audience discovers that someone has planted a camera in Michael’s apartment. Who could it be? Since this is a throwback article, I’m guessing we all know the identity of the man behind the camera.

The next day, Michael breaks into the school records closet. Is that a thing? He’s checking out Tess. See, Max. He heard your pain, and detective Micahel is on the case. Being on the case means peering into the windows at Tess’ house. Turns out they have no furniture. It also turns out they have conspicuous men in humvees wearing trench coats entering the home while an armed soldier stands guard outside. Michael hides mere inches from the soldier. It works because the soldier doesn’t have peripheral vision.
After Liz overhears Michael talking to Max about his “new girlfriend Tess,” Max returns to the Crashdown in the pouring rain to reassure Liz that she’s his one and only. Meanwhile, Tess’ car has conveniently broken down right across from the Crashdown. Max doesn’t believe her, and neither do I. Doesn’t matter because Max can’t fight whatever whammy has been placed on him. He inches closer to Tess while declaring his unconquerable love for Liz. They have a sexy rain kiss. I do wonder if it was actually raining. The rain falling and coating their skin looked a little . . . thick. Weird way to describe rain, I know, but it had a gelatinous quality to it that made the kiss seem extra moist and messy. Oh, and Liz sees the kiss through the Crashdown window. The scene would have been better if Jason Behr was shirtless during the kiss. We could have all looked respectfully like we did during “Sexual Healing.”

Max runs to Micahel about his act of infidelity. Michael is brooding again, so they have a physical altercation. Really, a slap and tickle fight. Good thing because they discover the hidden camera. Time to tell Isabel what they know. Of course, their first suspect is Valenti. Finally, the alien trio lands on Tess. Their conversation is interrupted by Liz entering the Crashdown and walking past Max. Why do they always have their secret conversations at the Crashdown? It’s a diner. And heavily trafficked. And public.

In the backroom, Max and Liz talk. Here comes the angst. Here comes Liz yelling. Here comes Max soft talking. The conversation ends with Liz crying upstairs because Max had a flash, and she doesn’t feel special anymore. Can I tell a truth here? Max and Liz were absolutely my OTP, but Liz was occasionally annoying. Why is it taking everyone so long to realize something is very wrong?
Anyway, when people finally come to grips with the fact that good boy Max is acting out of character, the Scooby Gang concocts a scheme. It involves an abandoned warehouse and Liz planting a camera at Tess’ house. Alex, who had little to do this episode, manages to rejigger the camera for the meddling kids. Unfortunately, things go awry. Liz breaks a statue while snooping when she discovers a box full of pictures. All the images are of Max. Startled, she knocks over the camera, which means Alex, Michael, Maria, and Isabel aren’t receiving the picture. Thinking the worst, they head over to the Harding’s house.

Meanwhile, Tess’ creepy dad, Ed Harding, insists that Liz stay for dinner, so she sends an SOS to Max. Hang on, Liz, the calvaries are coming. Max ends up rescuing his lady love from Ed’s creepy questions, and Liz, the clever girl, manages to repair and place the camera before they beat a hasty retreat.

Hours later, Alex is still watching the feed from the camera when he sees something freaky. He calls the gang over, and they all watch as Tess uses her alien powers to repair the broken statue. We’ve got a fourth alien, my friends. And just like that, the alien mythology expands while dealing a minor blow to Max and Liz’s love story. Honestly, the Tess reveal didn’t come as a surprise, but it did give a considerable boost to the seemingly directionless alien side of the story.
For me, it was the B plot that really made this episode shine. Jim Valenti, played by the always welcome William Sadler, turns a corner in this episode. Until this point, he was the antagonist for our alien trio and their human allies. Still, when he realizes that Ms. Topolsky (Julie Benz) was murdered, he starts watching the aliens and their friends, taking pictures, and following them. This isn’t the same alien hunting, alien hating Jim Valenti we met in the pilot. His tone toward Max, Isabel, and Michael has softened, and while he may still want the truth to vindicate his father, he’s also a protector and knows these kids are in danger.

And now for the elephant in the room . . .

Tess isn’t a popular character, and fans basically crucified her and, sadly, the actress. I was never rooting for Tess, but it wasn’t the fault of Emilie de Ravin. It was, as is usually the case, a problem with the writing. Tess was never given any depth. She was, from her first scene to her last, a prop. Tess was a thing used for the sake of conflict, drama, and angst. Something to push the star-crossed lovers, Liz and Max, apart, yet again and then again. She lacked a backstory and agency, moved from scene to scene, episode to episode, season to season like a pawn. Her ending was never going to be happy or satisfying because she was never anything more significant than the strange symbols in River Dog’s cave or the underwhelming black orbs. And with no backstory, Tess’ redemption arc was entirely anticlimactic and unearned.

I think Tess deserves another opportunity and a brighter future. On Roswell, New Mexico, we could get the whole gang back together, but this time give Tess a backstory, something better than pretty and pouty, conniving killer queen. Use her to advance and expand the alien mythology, then give her more. Give her character. Give her connections. Give her a chance.

Do you watch Roswell, New Mexico? Do you think Tess deserves a second chance?

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