Roswell, New Mexico creator takes us inside that game-changing flashback episode
Who doesn’t love a trip back to the early 2000s? Well, probably most of the residents of Roswell, New Mexico could’ve done without it after horrifying truths were outed during Tuesday night’s flashback episode, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
*SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet watched this week’s episode of Roswell, New Mexico, then come back when you have.*
While Max (Nathan Parsons) relays senior year incidents to Liz (Jeanine Mason), Michael (Michael Vlamis) fills in Isobel (Lily Cowles) on what really happened the night Rosa died. And they all go to prom! And wear amazing 2000-era clothing! But, yes, very serious revelations are uncovered as Isobel has to come to terms with the fact that there’s a killer inside her and Liz realizes Max’s lies destroyed her sister’s memory.
With SO much going down back in 2008 and also in present-day Roswell, EW caught up with show creator Carina Adly MacKenzie to find out if there’s anything salvageable in Max and Liz’s relationship, who in the cast had to shave their chest to look 10 years younger, and which character was obsessed with Panic! At the Disco in his teens.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with the fun stuff: How much of a nostalgic kick was it to get to write an episode set in 2008?
CARINA ADLY MACKENZIE: It was a really fun episode. It really brought me back to the excitement and the fear of going out on your own. It’s an exciting and scary time in your life and I really wanted to explore both sides. Max is excited to go see the world and be a writer, but notice that he hasn’t made college plans yet. We sat down with Nathan and I told him Liz was Max’s plan. He couldn’t really move forward with his life because there was this possibility of Liz that was hovering over him all the time. That was why he was able to say, “I’ll be the guy who changes his plans for a girl, all I’ve ever wanted is to change my plans for you.” It’s so cute but every once in a while a fan will say something and I’m like, “You know this is weird, right?” I really love Max and I don’t think we get into Twilight stalker territory because he’s not asking for love in return, but it’s still kind of weird. The challenge of this episode was to show what it was about her that made him hold on for so long. They were never together, but what was it about the little moments, and the almost-getting-there that made him fall so hard for so long? We show a little brief moment in the pilot where you just see little seven-year-old Liz reach over and share her headphones with Max and it’s such a small glimpse, but if you really dig in and think about it, this is a kid that doesn’t have a language and someone is sharing music with him. It’s world-altering for him. He’s been completely helpless since he was seven.
Speaking of them being much younger, to what lengths did you have to go to make the actors appear ten-ish years younger?
The first thing was, the boys had to shave multiple times a day. They were very mad at me. When I asked Michael Vlamis (Michael) to shave his chest, I was kind of kidding — chest hair is a real thing for him. I asked him at a table read and his face went completely white and I was like, “I’m kidding, I’m kidding, you don’t have to! It’s your body; I’m not going to make you shave it.” And then days later he was like, “I don’t want to wax it, but I think I’ll shave it. I think I can do it.” Then when they were actually doing it he was texting me like, “You know I can’t wear deep V T-shirts all seasons now!” and “Do you want it off my stomach too?” I’m getting a million texts and I’m like “Vlam, whatever you feel good about.” It was very stressful. Nathan had to do New York Comic Con with a fully shaven baby face. It’s like if somebody told a girl to shave half her head and then go walk out in the world; it’s just not how they present themselves to the world anymore. Weirdly enough, I discovered that a lot of my actors carry their confidence around in their facial hair. The one that was really fun for me was when [Michael] Trevino stepped out of the trailer in his makeup and his fake face — it was like a true flashback of his life. It was like, “Carina MacKenzie, this is your life” because that was how I first met him as a little quarterback on Vampire Diaries. I was like, “Tyler Lockwood, I missed you so!”
Can we talk about Alex’s (Tyler Blackburn) goth look?
Yes! We’ve seen two versions of flashback Alex: the younger version we saw in the pilot where he has kind of like long, straggly skater hair and looks like he’s trying to hide. Then, in our minds, this was when people started noticing he was gay without him telling him anyone — people notice looks, people notice the way that you speak — and then he decided to lean really hard in the opposite direction and really try and rebel against his dad. So he went full Panic! At the Disco and My Chemical Romance. Panic! At the Disco would not let us use their poster on the wall so the poster on the wall of Alex’s room says: “Danger! At the Picture Show” because I was determined. I was like, “No, he listens to Panic! That’s who this guy is!”
So you didn’t have to add any youth-ifying effects in post?
We did definitely go in and do work because as you grow up the shape of your face, the angle of your jaw changes so, particularly on the boys we did but the girls just needed makeup and they look like they’re 12 anyway.
How was the process of playing younger for the actors?
Working with the actors was really interesting in this because we’re asking them to do two things: to play much younger and also to react to what’s actually happening to them. Nathan would drink an extra coffee and come in with a real pep in his step. He’s got permanent werewolf voice so he was pitching his voice a little higher and then it’s like, okay, you’ve just stumbled upon the worst thing you’ve ever seen in your life, do all of that and also now you’re sad. They all worked really hard to get this right.
Max and Michael are so pure, carefree, and unafraid of their powers despite the incident in the desert when they were even younger. It marked such a contrast to how they are now.
I think it’s that thing when you’re that age and you feel like you’re invincible. They’ve had this secret for a really long time but they had gotten away with that secret for a really long time. They were about to have successful lives and they were really good at hiding the fact that they were different, but the thing the boys didn’t realize, was that the thing they were super excited about, which was moving forward, was the thing that was breaking Isobel (Lily Cowles) apart. We tried to center all these sci-fi instances around real human trauma and real human emotion. When the idea of something happening to Isobel when she was young that traumatized her and now she has triggers was brought up by my cowriter Eva McKenna the whole story started to crystalize, because that is a feeling that is very human. A lot of women can relate to an incident or one man doing something awful and then suddenly your sense of self gets shaken loose and that’s what Isobel was going through.
So every instance we see Isobel and Rosa (Amber Midthunder) being friends, Isobel has blacked out?
Yes, all of Isobel and Rosa’s friendship was something she blacked out afterwards. In the present day, Isobel doesn’t even remember knowing Rosa. She remembers her as the girl who worked at the diner; it’s a small town, everyone knows everyone, but she doesn’t remember having any connection to her. If you go back to episode 4, when she kind of got obsessed with finding out why Rosa hated her when Maria told her that, it seemed weird that Isobel was like, “Why would she hate me? I don’t understand?” She’s not accessing her own memories of this time and she can’t because they’re buried in some part of her mind that’s all locked up because of this trauma. She’s not being controlled, but it’s all part of what her body is hiding from her. We have the who, where, what, and the how but we still don’t understand why? So moving forward from here that’s the big question that Isobel and Liz are particularly going to ask: Why did this happen? Until I find out why it happened, I can’t prevent it from happening again.
So the back half of the season will be the fallout of Isobel learning what she’s done and now Liz being privy to it too and what she chooses to do with that information?
Yeah. There’s still questions lingering. The mystery isn’t over; we still have to figure out why, but I was also interested in when you get the answer to this question and the answer is: an alien murdered my sister — how do you get justice and how do you react to that? You can’t call the cops, so moving forward, we’re going to meet a version of Liz who is very frustrated with feeling helpless. Liz hates to feel helpless, so she’s got to be able to find a way to take matters into her own hands a bit so that she can sleep at night. Now she knows that Isobel is a killer and she also knows that Isobel has had blackouts again recently; what is Liz going to do with that information? She’s not really one to be like, “Oh, that person killed my sister, but my sister’s already dead so they just go free.” So, yeah, we’re digging into that in the second half of the story.
Are we going to see more teenage flashbacks to that night to fill in some of the blanks?
We will see more teenage flashbacks that will shed light on the moments that you missed. There are a lot of scenes in 106, when — for example — you see Michael arriving to the cave to find Isobel and Rosa, but you don’t see what happens before that. We’ve definitely left pieces that are still to be revealed, but we just wanted the audience caught up with the characters so you know what the characters know. The characters themselves still have questions.
Let’s talk about #Malex. In this episode we get to see the beginning of their relationship as teens and then this traumatic incident that could serve to keep them apart. What’s coming up for them?
I think what’s really important for fans to realize is, they have a long way to go and those men have so much work to do on themselves before they can be any better for each other. We go lots of episodes without them being in the same scene. They’re constantly thinking about each other and they’re constantly working on becoming better men for themselves, but also for each other and I really love that story. I think it’s a very grownup love story and I’m very proud of it. In this episode, we really got to go back to the moment that made these two very idealistic kids in love realize that the world just outside their door was not a friendly one. They have both grown up in abusive homes in one way or another. We’re going to get into Michael’s backstory before high school a little down the line, so I don’t want to dig in too much, but Michael did not spend his childhood in Roswell. He got to Roswell when he was 11 or 12, but he has a really dark history of abuse. We know Alex has a really dark history of abuse too, but still, when we meet these guys their senior year, they’re looking forward to their lives and they believe in the good in the world. Alex says, “sometimes people are just nice to other people without any agenda,” and for Alex to be able to say that when he lives in a home where the person who is supposed to love him the most absolutely hates him, this guy has a strength of character and an endurance of spirit that is unrivaled on this show. Then one of the happiest moments of his life gets smashed open by a monster. The real monster in his life is his father. Now having seen that, you understand when you go back to his father saying something at the drive-in that just seems kind of innocuous was actually weighted with all this horror and abuse. Of course it gets to him, of course he feels it deeply. It’s such an important story to me; it’s such an important part of the show. I think fans should know that what you see in this episode is the beginning of them.
So do we see more of their past in flashbacks?
Yes. It wasn’t like that happened and they never saw each other again until 10 years later. There’s still a little bit left of Alex and Michael to tell in the past and over the course of those tens years — what happened the various times Alex would return back to Roswell. There’s a lot of story to tell moving forward and I look forward to doing it for seasons to come.
Okay, let’s talk about that heartbreaking ending and Liz yelling at Max that she never wants to see him again. We’ve seen Max spiral when she rejected him before. How will he overcome this?
This is the lowest point for them. Max is going to do what Max always does — he’s going to turn to books, booze, and his old friend Cameron (Riley Voelkel). He’s a guy. It breaks my heart for Cameron because her feelings for him are very different from his feelings for her but it’s still very true to the character. The Cameron story is one that I thought was going to be fun and we’d have someone there to make the requisite sex joke, but I felt really attached to that character and I think the way that Max treats Cameron is very indicative of who he is as a man. When the going gets tough, how’s he going to treat the person, who’s not the person that he loves but who is somebody’s that been at his side for a very long time? That’s where we’re going.
Roswell, New Mexico airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.