Duchovny plays a disillusioned police detective whose marriage is on the rocks, whose son is a Vietnam deserter, and whose drinking problem is only a problem for everyone else. It may sound like a revival of the tried and true “compromised cop with a heart of gold” story, but its nuanced performances and witty dialogue make it anything but.
Inspired by actual events, the story follows the creation of Charles Manson, his followers and their crimes, from pick-pocketing to murder. Police detective Sam Hodiac, the disillusioned cop, becomes entangled in Manson’s story out of concern for a former girl friend’s runaway daughter. Unfortunately for him and for everyone really, his former girlfriend is the wife of a politically connected lawyer who is helping to elect Richard Nixon to the Presidency. Throw in the Vietnam war, flower children, the Black Panthers, the illegal drug trade, I could go on, and you have a hell of a story.
What the writers have done best is to intertwine these individual elements with the overall theme of dislocation of ideas and meaning. In other words, the world is changing fast, and everyone is running to catch up and understand it. There can be no better title for this period in time than Tom Brockah’s book, “Boom!”. In one word he succinctly summed up the enormous challenges that generation faced, and what it must have been like emotionally.
While not everyone lived in Los Angeles and experienced the collision of crime, politics, philosophy, war, feminism, drugs, music and love, it is fair to say that everyone felt the ramifications of these things in their lives. The pebbles dropped made huge ripples in the water. And our characters in this story are left to swim or sink. Hodiac swims, just barely, his ex-girlfriend (now current lover) swims, her husband reluctantly swims, their daughter swims as she becomes more and more estranged from her parents, and connected to Charles Manson. Manson swims in an increasingly larger and larger pool of crazy, as he spouts his free love philosophy, and racist hatred to the women who follow him. They commit crime after crime for him in order to keep “the family” together. From the beginning, these characters are bonded together in the collective experiences they’ve all had with being unloved, misunderstood, socially unacceptable, and disconnected from their own families, if they even exist.
In the pilot episode when Manson meets Donna he says, “Look at it. It’s an electric snake (speaking about the lights on Sunset Blvd). It wants me. You. Us. The whole world. It’s gonna eat everything up, Donna. She says, “How do you know my name?” And Manson follows with, “I know a lot of things about you. I know how much it hurts. Like your whole body and soul is screaming to be heard. Nobody’s there to listen. That’s how we were. But no more. You see, when that snake comes to eat everything up, you know what will save you? You think Daddy will save you? That boyfriend of yours? No you survive with me, with us. The snake eats the world. We eat the snake. I’ll show you how and then nothing will ever hurt again.” Hearing that, I practically wanted to join his cult right then and there. These are the vulnerable people looking for love (in all the wrong places). And as any psychologist can tell you, they are the most susceptible to manipulation.
The first season encompasses Charles Manson’s rise and successful formation of his cult. It details Hodiac’s marital problems, his family problems and how they intersect with those of the other characters. It seems no one is immune to the change happening and he and his lover, Grace console each other about their choices, with sex and alcohol. Hodiac’s wife consoles herself with her husband’s partner and alcohol. The young, new generation console themselves with sex, drugs and rock n roll. Everyone feels the pain, and everyone feels the relief from it in some way.
The second season is much the same but with higher stakes. America is losing the war in Vietnam, Hodiac’s son is losing his fight to expose the American government’s war crimes, Grace’s daughter entrenches herself in the cult, and her parents reluctantly let her go. But oddly, we as the audience never really lose hope. Maybe because we know that life goes on; we know how history played out. Or maybe because all of the characters, even Manson, are vulnerable and human, and we just want them to be ok. I don’t know. But I do know that I can’t look away.
Another fascinating and critical part of the story is that of the role of the Black Panthers and feminism, respectively played in the history of the changing culture of the 1960’s. The show portrays the Black Panther party in Los Angeles as a powerful, and mostly positive influence in Los Angeles at that time. While the FBI does their best to intimidate and suppress the members of the party, the Los Angeles police department, namely Hodiac and a young rookie cop, have to find ways of working with them. Mostly, they fail. Hodiac’s old school Neanderthal ways incuber his progress. But over time, he does begin to see things in nuanced shades. While, conversely, the rookie cop is forced to confront his own subconscious, now increasingly conscious views on women, both at home and at work.
From the female perspective, a young cop, Charmane, gets taken off housekeeping duties around the precinct, and goes undercover with “Kid” as Hodiac calls him. Things get out of hand quickly and much to his surprise, Charmane handles the case with the instincts of a pro. She’s scared, and strong and quick. Whether she’s a man or woman, she’s in her element.
The performances are so perfect, so relatable, so heartbreaking that I want to know more. Duchovny’s portrayal of a father tortured by his son’s “traitorous” act, and at the same time desperately protective and fatherly, is a masterpiece. Like any parent, he blames himself, second guesses the way he raised him, the mistakes he made as a father and husband. Grace worries almost to the point of breaking, for her daughter who’s run away. She and her husband struggle with confronting their own demons and how those have affected their daughter. In the end the viewer is left with the knowledge that we are all connected, and that we all suffer. Happiness is not a warm gun, and to let it be is almost impossible.
Aquarius is more than worth the watch! So as the 1960’s writer, Timothy Leary once famously said, “Turn on, tune in and drop out”. Or, just watch the show. You will want to do all of those things.