Aquarius, season 1, episode 5, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” tries to balance the scales while keeping the audience a little off-balance in how we see the Family. Cherry Pop (Emma Dumont) and Sadie are missing, probably down in Tijuana by now, according to Charlie Manson (Gethin Anthony). It’s a good thing that new guy Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) calmed down that pig, Hodiak (David Duchovny), because if he didn’t find who he was looking for on the property he was going to pull her out of Manson’s nose.
Hodiak is tending to the knuckles he broke on Charles Manson’s face last week. He’s drowning his sorrows in a bottle of Old Harpers that he’s sharing with the undercover narc Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) and his battered old hand. Brian pulled Hodiak off the fledgling cult leader before the violent-prone detective faced a murder rap and Charlie owes him one now.
Manson’s girls score some pills and medical supplies that fell off the back of a truck to fix Charlie up and they pay for it with love. The master criminal doesn’t take mellow yellows from his Mansonettes but he finds them yummy when they come from his biker enforcer and consigliere. Manson doesn’t want the women to think he has any weakness.
Cherry Pop’s parents Grace (Michaela McManus) and Ken Karn (Brian F. O’Byrne) are all about weakness. The corporate mouthpiece is a delicate piece of work for a cutthroat litigator. We’re led to believe the lawyer tried to kill himself when the camera catchers the dripping of red on a win glass. But then we see that it’s just coming out of an upturned wine bottle. The wife tortures him. They talk over each other in unconvincing angst. The arguments between the wife and the lawyer are so forced. The two actors seem as unattached to the words as they are to each other. We’re looking at the Manson family kids as brainwashed hippies but the parents are conditioned zombies. Because of Ken, Manson knows things about the RNC which threaten that undead existence.
Manson was a pimp and a high class pimp. All the best wanted what Charlie had to offer and you get the feeling it wasn’t just the girls. Charlie was building a scene. He got popped for pimping and got off without too much fuss. He even made a friend with a local wise guy, really connected, while he was in the can. Jailhouse and precinct pals are like army buddies, they form a tighter bond than the rest of us, according to TV, because they live a hyper-manic daily existence.
Ed Cutler (Chance Kelly) is an interesting foil to Hodiak. They are obviously friendly, the care for each other and they enjoy their competition. Hodiak doesn’t seem to give his old partner much regard, but at the same time he’s happy that his ex-wife likes him enough to bake him her specialty, huckleberry pie.
Too much is orbiting Samson Hodiak, he is the fulcrum point of all the threads on Aquarius. He solves everyone’s problems. He’s solving racism, sexism, overaged hippies and the Vietnam War. He’s going to break. You can only stretch Duchovny so far. Hodiak is already showing signs of the strain, getting ready to beat anything to a pulp he can’t wise crack away. Hodiak is distracted by his missing son and now has to figure out how to solve the problem of Cambodia.
Today’s headlines never get old. They were old to begin with. Women aren’t just currency at the Manson place they are currency at the LAPD. Aquarius tries to balance the obvious misogyny inherent everywhere else in Los Angeles. Officer Charmain Tully (Claire Holt) is tasked with taking the statement from a beating victim. The cheerleader wasn’t raped or robbed and officer has a good eye, she knows how to tell old wounds from new. The cheerleader’s boyfriend, just signed to the LA Rams and gets more biscuit than a baker, is probably abusing her. It could happen today. The cops try to steer her off course, because who wants trouble with a football star?
Aquarius is nothing if not ambitious, if safely so. This city precinct is in the throes of one of the biggest changes in national consciousness in history. In this episode, the take this to a personal level, but nothing is ever personal, really, it’s all business. When a rock comes flying through a window and takes down Kristin Shafe right in front of her mother, we find that real estate is one of the biggest contributors to race relations. People still didn’t like mixed neighborhoods.
Duchovny keys the neighbor’s car and he spills everything. The white haired bigot who doesn’t hate colored people all but confesses. He gives name, rank, serial number and goes short of a few addresses. As Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito might say in Goodfellas, he wouldn’t hold up under questioning. Most people don’t. Most people are just dying to let it out, even without the cost of a touchup.
Milauna Jackson really lets go during this episode. As the wife of an undercover cop, she’s kept under a loving and protective thumb, for her own good, of course. Tonight we saw her in a family mood, we caught her repressed mode, but then we got to see her wail on her own landlord and turn on a dime to be Harriet Nelson, model wife. Kristin may turn out to be the best written woman character on the show.
Charley’s story about his abandonment is revelatory onscreen. We are teased with the possibility that the closest thing Manson had to a father figure was his roomie in jail, who is still taking care of him. Because of his son, Jimmy Too Butano, played by Staten Island’s Michael Drayer, Manson graduates to gun owner. The younger Butano gives Charlie a present and gets clobbered for it by Roy, the motorcycle enforcer. Dirt and sand all over his nice Italian shoes. That is not a good start with that branch of crime who takes their shoes so seriously. Gethin Anthony is on a painful journey from being afraid to being the thing that makes people afraid. It wasn’t half a lifetime of incarceration that put Charlie on that path, it was the meaty, beaty, big and bouncy fists of Detective Sam Hodiak.
“A Whiter Shade of Pale” was written by David Reed and directed by Michael Offer.