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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Aquarius: “Old Ego Is A Too Much Thing”

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A few months back, when I gave up Aquarius reviews after the fifth of these dozen or so episodes, I made a half-hearted promise that I would come back and review the finale. So in case anyone was wondering whether I stick to my half-hearted promises, I binge-watched the rest of the season and tuned in tonight for the finale, so we can all see David Duchovny go down together.

Even though I watched those seven-odd episodes in the middle, nothing much stands out, except for Manson’s prankish tendency to dose people for his own purposes. Tripping Hodiak was probably this weak first season’s best episode (and yet, already renewed for season two!); Manson dosing his mother so that his friends could gang rape her an extreme low point, even for a show like this one that features no shortage of horrific scenes for women. Ken’s killing of that poor girl with the shovel this episode is yet another. Since we don’t see what actually happened in the car with Hal and Ken, just heard the shots, I’m hoping neither of them makes it.

“Old Ego Is A Too Much Thing” (Manson’s song titles are getting as incomprehensible as the episodes themselves) falls somewhere in the middle, a smug refusal to tie up any loose ends, now that we’re on the hook for season two. Although we started the season with Hodiak trying to find Emma at the Manson compound, by this point she’s gone back and forth so many times (one bright spot this season was when she marched off the camp after refusing to double-dose herself, so what made her run back only a few weeks later?), you can’t even blame Emma’s mother for writing her off completely.

The tie between Hal, Ken, and Charlie from 1959 is revealed, but it’s hardly illuminating, or worth any sort of wait. Hal’s violent tendencies toward young prostitutes has taken its second life. There’s some kind of sick twistedness here that both Hal and Ken have these deep dark urges (the show malevolently ties Ken’s homosexuality with Hal’s violence), and only Charlie knows how they can be satisfied. For all his talk of peace and love (and brainwashed rabble like Emma reasoning that he is love), Manson makes an industry out of preying on the dark side.

Other than evil secrets, another theme that comes into fruition here (and in the most over-the-top way possible) is the complicated relationship between parents and children. When the parents misstep, it’s because they want their offspring to respond in the way they want, not the way the offspring want. Emma crosses her mother off her list forever, and vice-versa, when Grace calls her “baby” once last time (with some effective tension-filed camerawork in that jail scene). Hodiak goes through all sorts of hoops to get a dishonorable discharge for AWOL Walt, only to have the boy get arrested anyway at the end, because it will bring more attention to to the atrocities of the war. Letting your kids go is difficult at any age; letting them go into the world of 1968, where the tarnished country was involved in an unpopular war (Hodiak, Shafe, and Walt improbably toast America, although Walt helpfully points out, “Whatever that means anymore”) and the country’s youth was engaged in an active rebellion. Still, the next generation always represents hope, even in times as dark as those, as Charlie ends the episode by positioning Valentine Michael “Pooh Bear” as a savior to the masses. In a fictionalized version of Pooh Bear’s birth (and yet another nightmare scene in this show, an at-home episiotomy with an unsterilized switchblade), Mary’s baby dies in childbirth, so Sadie swaps a new baby in.

It’s an empowering move for Sadie, who’s been feeling neglected by Charlie ever since Cherry/Emma strode onto the compound, but it exacerbates a problem the show has not been able to overcome: There is not a single strong woman on this show. All the Manson girls are brainwashed drones. Hodiak’s women, Grace and Opal, are portrayed as whiny shrews. Charmain, what with her scrubbed coffee filters, is meant to exemplify just how hard women have it on the police force, but her weak attempts at investigative work just keep dragging her into damsel-in-distress situations (exemplified by the hanging phone in the phone both at the end of this episode, tying into Shafe’s drawn-out drug-path search).


Speaking of that long, winding plot trail, the case-of-the-week murders the season started out with have been dragged down into worse dreck with a drawn-out murder of the judge’s wife that somehow ties back to the death of a closeted actor a while back? (Not “homo killings,” as the commissioner drawls.) Granted, I watched most of this season on my computer screen, and this show is so visually dark that half the time I thought my screen had gone out, but nope, it’s just this show. But I follow this convoluted case enough to get that Hodiak is so pissed off at his son that he kills a couple of suspects, admits to his superiors that they probably didn’t have to die, gets a medal for it, and then gets tagged by Internal Affairs. It’s an A to B to H to C plot progression. As always, David Duchovny does what he can with this material, making us long for a better 1968-set show where he drives around in a snazzy convertible, taking perps down with his knee and solving crimes. Aquarius’ dark tome is far from an enjoyable ride for anyone, and not even Duchovny cheerfully tripping outside of Grace’s dinner party a few weeks ago could save it.

And yet, this series gets a second season. Undoubtedly to lead us into the Manson era of Dennis Wilson, Terry Melcher, and the horrific murders that finally put him and some of his “family” members in prison. Duchovny recently stated that creator John McNamara’s plan is to have the show go for six seasons, but with Manson only around for another year or so, maybe the tone of the show would shift? More focus on Hodiak could make Aquarius actually worth watching.


Stray observations

  • “Hal. I love that name.”
  • Both Charlie and Hodiak are spied hanging out with guitars in their laps, if that’s some kind of crazy parallelism. The season’s most interesting segments were the overlap between the two main players, and it’s too bad that that all pretty much unraveled by the end of the season.
  • “Sugar clam”?