Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Queen of Antar: Roswell Character Study on Tess Harding

By Christina

Tess: You don't have to spare my feelings. Nasedo taught me not to get wrapped up in... this. It's not really who I am. I'm not human. Neither are you.
Max: It's the only life I've ever known.
Tess: That's not true. You lived another life, Max... a life completely different from this one... a life when you loved me.
Max: I don't remember that.
Tess: I do.

I suppose that it is hard enough knowing that you were murdered in a previous life.  To realize that in your new one that your past incarnation’s husband is now waking around with another woman can be a bit…annoying.  As much as I wanted to write off this piece I had to round up my four-part character study of the Royal Four from TV’s Roswell by diving in to the story of the Queen of Antar and the alien everyone loves to hate, Tess Harding.

I cannot avoid massive spoilers in Tess’ piece for those that haven’t watched this show, so be warned.

I can only say to everyone who has watched this show that I feel your pain.  She was hard enough to deal with on a daily basis anyway with how she clung to Max and tried to sabotage everyone else’s decision in favor of him, including his relationship with Liz.  But when we all discovered the truth about her and what she had done, I think that was the nail in the coffin for us Roswell dedicates.  But I am jumping ahead.  Let’s get to the beginning.

When we first meet Tess she seems to be an everyday teen that just has a lot in common with Isabel:  many of the same classes, same interest, and the same obsession with sugar.  It takes a bit of investigation to find the truth behind why she seems so familiar with them and to them, Max in particular, and the truth is shocking to them all.  In their previous life she was the Queen of their planet and wife to Max previous incarnation, Zan.

From the beginning I had no love for this character.  She was conniving and unappreciative of her earthly circumstances.  She went out of her way to make Max’s relationship with Liz problematic and her disdain for it well known.  Her power to "mindwarp" people, which allowed her to reshape their memories and reality however she chose, seemed to be a wildcard to me and, if left unchecked, a potentially dangerous gift.  While re-watching the show recently, however, I came to realize that I have maybe shorted her a bit more than I should have.  Please hold the rotten tomatoes until you hear me out.

Max and Isabel had the influence of loving earthly parents that taught them strong values.  Michael, while not having a great home life, had the good influences of Max and Isabel.  Tess was never lucky enough to have the luxury of feeling remotely human.  Found and raised by the alien shapeshifter that was the designated protector of their hatch pods, Nasedo, she was taught not to take stock in her earthly appearance or the world she was in, nor to get too engrossed in it and what it offers.  She was raised a warrior, taught to harness her powers, and taught memory retrieval techniques that help her remember her past life while the others know nothing.  She was not given the luxury of love and reassurance, of warmth and affection.  Even Tess once pointed out that Nasedo “doesn’t have a human side at all,” which gave her only the ability to blend in with humans on an exterior level, not truly empathize with them or relate in any fashion.  She was raised by an alien dressed as a human who was not only incapable of emotion, but who taught her how to protect herself at any cost…and I do mean any cost.

The more episodes that you watch the more that you see that Tess truly seems to be developing an internal struggle.  Her agony over being stuck on this planet is mixed with an annoyance over being stuck in a human body when she remembers so much about who and what she was.  A once powerful and prominent Queen with a husband that loved her, she is now a teenager with no home, no family, and no love-life.  When the safe house she and Nasedo had lived in falls victim to attack by the alien race that had once killed them she is forced to move in with one of the Royal’s human allies…an arrangement she detests at first.  To Tess it only gives further proof that her once husband Max has no desire to push forward with a new life with her; his desires are only for survival and for Liz.
In this respect, I can see where her agony and anger built.

Tess is a character that has very few moments of seeming to feel included in the group, even among Max, Isabel, and Michael.  The three of them feel her an outsider that they, near the end of the second season, are only beginning to trust.  The humans feel her a plant out to destroy what the aliens are trying to build…and this includes Max’s relationship with Liz.  It can sometimes make you sympathize with her as she feels that she is almost alone in this universe, never feeling that she has a place or anyone that truly sees who and what she is.  Even those that at one point knew her in another life.  The only person she grows close to is Kyle, the Sheriff’s son who took her in.  I find her later betrayal the most heartbreaking where Kyle is concerned.  While she finds no safe haven with anyone, she somehow finds it with Kyle.  She finds humor in him as well as someone to talk to and vent to about her frustrations with regard to her lack of place in this world.  His own feelings of inadequacy being amongst powerful aliens helps him relate to her feelings of being misplaced- or even put up on a shelf out of everyone’s way- and the friendship (and near sibling-like relationship) is one of the very few endearing qualities about Tess that I always enjoyed watching.  It brought out a side of her that made you pray for her redemption and, dare I say it, pray that she would be given a shot.

In personal opinion, I don’t believe that she found out about Nasedo’s deal until she and Max went to New York (“Meet the Dupes” and “Max in the City,” Season Two.)  It wasn’t until Max found her in that empty room- which, by the way, made no sense at all as to why she would still be alive when Nicholas and his co-horts had made it their mission to see the Royal Four destroyed- that things started to unravel.  Alex and his personality shift.  The book decoding.  And then, his sad death at her hands.  Up until that point in New York she had truly seemed to be giving all of the information that she had been given and taught over her lifetime to the aliens and genuinely impressed (and sometimes scared) when they discovered new things together.  In a private conversation with Nasedo she was completely aghast at his willingness to kill innocents to keep the Royals safe, screaming into his face that he was not her family; only Michael, Max, and Isabel were.  She seemed to desperately seek a place in their world, never sure how to fit in with the group yet trying to win them over and convince them of her sincerity, Max in particular.  I would almost believe that she was approached by Nicholas in that empty room after being dragged there and seduced into the deal.  Seduced into what she was led to believe would be a surefire way to get Max back to their planet and into her arms regardless of Liz’s influence.  Love makes people do crazy things, and can even make them kill.  While yes, she killed Alex by sheer accident, she went to great lengths to cover it up and proceed as planned, letting an entire town believe he had committed suicide and leaving grieving friends wondering about the truth.  Her actions disgust me to this day, but I have to wonder if, before that day in New York, if she wasn’t truly just Tess Harding:  disgruntled teen alien seeking out her kin and hoping to be accepted.   Go back and see for yourself.  You’ll notice the same.   See?  It does seem that way, doesn’t it?  Okay, now stop watching and keep reading.

As much as I detest the selfish sides of her, Tess offered much to the team that benefited them over the time that she was with them.  Being raised by Nasedo sadly stunted her emotional growth in terms of understanding how to mesh with humans and some concepts of right and wrong, but in turn she was not only able to get a grasp on her abilities and know more about their past, but she was also a brilliant tactician, working often in tandem with Max on many of their plans.  She spoke the hard truths that even the fans didn’t want to hear, but from a tactical standpoint were admittedly honest.  Ex:  Telling the humans that they were a liability in the field as they were “powerless” while she, Isabel, and Michael could handle themselves in a mission to save Max in the episode “The White Room.”  She fought hard to make the best of her situation living with Kyle and the Sherriff and even went to great lengths to give back to them in an effort to give a more family feel to the home, showing that she had more compassion for humans and understanding of their needs than she wanted to admit.  If she had only been able to have the background in her childhood that the others had, I believe Tess might have had a better shot and a better life. 

Her redemption came too late and in my opinion, wasn’t entirely altruistic.  She didn’t come back for the others, she didn’t come back to save or warn everyone.  But in the end, what she did was a true selfless act.  She came back and then sacrificed herself to save her son.  I would do no less and I can’t think of any truly loving parent that wouldn’t.  Regardless of her actions throughout the show, in the end she at least proved to have a shred of decency for at least one being on this planet and even went as far as to apologize to Liz for her entire disrupting presence in Roswell in the last moments of her life.  Even in the episode where she took her last breaths she couldn’t stop lying to cover her tracks; a habit that just became hard to break I suppose.  In the end, however, she sealed her fate to save her son and throw the humans off the scent of the rest of the group…the last person one would expect to do that for anyone.

Tess had only one and one-fourth seasons of the show in comparison to the full three of all the others, so her episodes are limited.  I am, however, including episodes in her must-watch guide that might include only a single scene- or none at all- with Tess in it.  The reason is because her behind-the-scene manipulations, such as Alex’s personality changes due to her mind-warping, directly fall into effecting her storyline, as well as eps that highlight her powers and the changes in  them so you can get a full picture of the good and the bad that made up Tess.

To get the best of Tess, check out:

1x17:  Crazy
1x18:  Tess, Lies, and Videotape
1x19:  Four-Square
1x20:  Max to The Max
1x21:  The White Room
1x22:  Destiny
2x2:  Ask Not
2x5:  End of The World
2x7:  Meet The Dupes
2x8:  Max In The City
2x9:  A Roswell Christmas Carol
2x10:  To Serve and Protect
2x11:  We Are Family
2x14:  Viva Las Vegas
2x15:  Heart of Mine
2x17:  Cry Your Name
2x18:  It’s Too Late and It’s Too Bad
2x19:  Baby, It’s You
2x21:  The Departure
3x17:  Four Aliens and A Baby

Was she a good guy?  Was she a bad guy?  Was she simply a woman who went crazy over love, was manipulated by her enemies, or both?  You decide.  

Christina Sizemore is trained in only four things:  writing, fighting, paranormal investigating, and being a mom.  At this point in her life she truly feels that she is not qualified to attempt to learn any new field.  A twenty year martial artist, mother of three, and writer who is working on the publication of her first book titled “Finding Your Way: A Guide To Your Path In The Martial Arts,” she spends her days working out, writing, making fanvids, going to DragonCon, and playing board games/video games/out in the yard with her kids and husband who are just as geeky as she is.  She is convinced that one day her skills will be of assistance in the Zombie Apocalypse and that while she is of no use in the kitchen, she can Buffy that zombie for ya or teach you the best way to get the blood stains out of your clothes (Psst…the secret is mixing Crown Cleaner and Shout.  Just sayin’.)

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