Review of “Missing”

I found this review on Space.Com.

TV Review: Roswell ‘Missing’

by Robert Scott Martin

A journal containing Liz’s first-hand accounts of teenage aliens in Roswell disappears, but otherwise this episode seems more concerned with marking time than breaking new ground.

(originally aired November 4, 1999)

Additional credits
Julie Benz – Ms. Katherine Topolsky
Jo Anderson – Nancy Parker (“Mom”)
Robert Clendenin – Mr. Cowan
written by Jon Harmon Feldman
directed by David Semel

What Happened
Liz’s diary — which contains incriminating evidence of the aliens’ presence in Roswell — goes missing, causing a round of finger-pointing and accusations among her friends. Kyle meanwhile continues to sulk over his breakup with Liz last week, while Michael expresses his obsession with that bizarre dome-like object through the visual arts…. (more detailed spoilers)

Quotable Moments
Maria [about the lost diary]: I mean this is Roswell, we can’t just ignore things like this.

Liz [at the UFO Center]: I seem to be finding myself her quite a bit lately
Max: Maybe you’d be interested in the season pass.

Like many new dramatic series, Roswell painstakingly built its initial round of momentum out of suspense and foreshadowing. This is sound practice in any episodic format — start by grabbing the viewer’s attention and then string the audience along by slowly unwinding hints and teasing glimpses as the pace picks up.

Sooner or later, however, a program has to start answering the riddles it posed in early episodes if it’s going to satisfy the viewers. You’ve got to provide the viewers with payoff, or they feel (rightly) cheated by the broken promise of answers to come.

Shows like The X-Files and Babylon 5 demonstrate just how difficult it can be to switch dramatic gears in this way. While later seasons of The X-Files have suffered from an apparent refusal to give loyal viewers any meaningful payoff to the mysteries outlined in early episodes, Babylon 5 sinned in the opposite direction by solving too many mysteries too quickly and leaving the audience confused. Ratings of both series fell, perhaps not coincidentally.

What does this have to do with Roswell, and with this episode in particular? The fact is, “Missing” felt like an episode that only existed to move dangling plot threads along, and so it can only be judged on a plot-oriented basis.

We learn very little about any of the characters — in fact, many have regressed substantially, forgetting whatever hard-won personal growth they’d learned in previous episodes. Isabel becomes an angry cipher again. Max backslides in his new resolve to be more emotionally open, lapsing back into the alienated gloom that won the character widespread Internet criticism.

Liz and Maria spend her time either victimizing poor hapless Alex (if he turns against them, it’s no wonder) or, in Liz’s case, being victimized by Kyle, who now seems comfortable with being an all-purpose bad guy. What’s happened to these complex characters? They’ve been relegated to the sidelines so the series can advance the plot.

Maria doesn’t even get any good lines. The humor displayed so far on Roswell has always been a very subtle, almost fragile component of the show, and “Missing” writer Jon Harmon Feldman (best known as an executive producer of Dawson’s Creek) seems unwilling — or unable — to make this episode funny.

Instead, we resolve a dangling plot thread: That thing Michael’s been obsessed with is a geodesic dome!

Even then, the method in which this information is relayed to the viewer seems both forced and hollow. After sitting through an entire episode (several of them, in fact) setting up this revelation, we want the discovery to be dramatically satisfying.

We want it to mean something. Instead, we get an offhanded deus ex machina resolution in the form of Isabel’s accidental discovery of the dome in the book.

Moreover, the nominal main plot — Liz’s missing diary — is almost entirely a circular one more suited to a situation comedy than a program that is ordinarily so well-crafted as Roswell. What do we learn from the diary plot? We already knew Michael was an accomplished cat burglar, so that doesn’t count.

The “revelation” of Topolsky as a spy should come as no surprise to any but the least observant of viewers.

In short, a disappointing episode, the first for the series so far.

Tune in Next Week
The gang takes a road trip as the aliens attempt to find that pesky geodesic dome somewhere on “285 South”.