“Monsters” Review

This review is from

TV Review: Roswell “Monsters”

December 30, 1999
by Robert Scott Martin

Maria has a chat with Sheriff Valenti about the alien kids, while Max gets a job in one of Roswell’s finest tourist traps.

(original air date: October 20, 1999)

Additional Cast
Julie Benz – Ms. Katherine Topolsky
written by Thania St. John
directed by David Semel

What Happened
Maria and Isabel, Max’s alien sister, don’t like each other, but the situation only gets worse after Isabel has car trouble and Maria gives her a lift. Eventually, Sheriff Valenti, who can smell Maria’s fear, starts pressuring Maria to tell him the truth about the aliens.

Meanwhile, Katherine Topolsky, the sinister “guidance counselor” who may or may not be a government alien hunter, continues to snoop around the student body at West Roswell High. Whether she’s actually trying to help or not, her efforts get Max to loosen up. He even ends up getting a job at the Roswell UFO Center, although it’s all a colossal misunderstanding.

Quotable Moments
Max: All these movies of humans fighting aliens. Evil aliens … green aliens.
Isabel: I�m telling you, this evil alien thing can work for us in this situation. We have to make De Luca afraid of our shadows. My shadow. Your shadow. Michael�s shadow!
Michael: How about we just kill her? …Kidding!

Liz: The first time I walked into a chemistry lab, I just knew. There was this smell, this sulfur smell, and I knew I was at home.
Topolsky: Other than the smell, how did you know science was for you?

Tour guide: After all the fireworks had been shot off, after all the apple pie had been eaten, They came.

Max [of Maria]: She seems to be a little, ah–
Liz: I know–
Max: …high-strung.

Now that the supporting cast have received some much-needed screen time, the slow build-up of this series is starting to pay off, rewarding patient viewers with robust characters and complex motivations.

In particular, this episode gives Maria a moment to emerge from Liz’s shadow. After spending the first few episodes of “Roswell” as yet another avatar of that television archetype, the “wacky friend,” Maria is now an interesting person in her own right, forcing the viewer to wonder about who she is and where she comes from. What happened to her father? Why does she live so far out of town? What’s her home life like?

A series handled with less care and craft would simply tell us the answers to these questions in the creators’ hurry to get the episodes out there every week. At its best, “Roswell” doesn’t tell, it shows — or rather, it hints at the answers, encouraging its audience to answer the questions for themselves and, while they’re at it, ask new ones they don’t often ask about television characters.

This fine attention to character was one of the hallmarks of “My So-Called Life,” where “Roswell” creator Jason Katims first broke out as a television writer, and it’s nice to see that he didn’t lose sight of that show’s other strong suits — subtlety and nuance. While “Roswell” is not so compulsively nuanced a program as “Babylon 5,” it’s still far better than most U.S. television output at rewarding those viewers willing to watch the episodes with an attentive eye.

Unlike “Babylon 5,” which relied on an increasingly impenetrable subtext of hidden detail and foreshadowing to tell its complicated story, “Roswell” can be enjoyed on an episode-by-episode basis. The dialogue has remained clever even though Katims is no longer responsible for all the writing duties, but Thania St. John has done a more than adequate job of extending the tone and style of the initial episodes here. If anything, “Monsters” may be both funnier and more inviting than earlier installments to the casual viewer.

What We Learn
Either Maria’s parents are divorced or her father is dead or missing

“Sergeant Martian” Valenti was indeed the sheriff of Roswell in 1959 when the Hand Killer struck. However, his obsession with UFOs caused him to lose his job.

Dangling Plot Threads
So what happened to Maria’s father, anyway?

Reality (or Roswell) Check
Details pulled from the tour guide’s prepared lecture early in this episode come from the Roswell crash literature.

July 4 is indeed the commonly accepted date when the famous object crashed in the Roswell desert in 1947. As such, the incident would indeed have occurred “after all the fireworks had been shot off” and “all the apple pie had been eaten.”

According to at least one eyewitness account, the material recovered from the desert was indeed covered with “purple hieroglyphs.” However, it is uncertain whether it was “metal,” as the tour guide claims — the eyewitness said the material was “like wood.”

Tune in Next Week
Liz begs Max to use his miraculous healing powers to bring her comatose grandmother back to consciousness in “Leaving Normal.”