SPOILER ADVISORY: This review of Aquarius season 1 episode 12, “Old Ego Is a Too Much Thing,” talks out of turn.
Los Angeles 1959. It was a different world. Hair was shorter, faces were shaved and buttoned down lawyers were just learning how to get their clients off, much less their rocks. Lawyers were supposed to protect people from serial killers, not be them. A show about Charles Manson is a show about discovery. Dick Nixon and Ronnie Reagan were local political heroes in the summer of love, and Aquarius puts them indirectly in the world of the Manson family.
Aquarius season 1 episode 12, “Old Ego Is a Too Much Thing,” follows three separate storylines and leaves all of them on cliffhangers. Even the one that appears to be closed, a double-homicide Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) and Samson are involved in, comes undone just as Detective Samson Benedictus Hodiak (David Duchovny) is getting his corny medal of valor.
Charlie Manson (Gethin Anthony) is not the worst son of a bitch in the shadow of San Fernando Valley. He may blame his mom for everything, but he kind of pales in comparison to the looming less-than-luminaries. There’s a lawyer that has a penchant for killing young girls with his over-enthusiastic edge play and his partner who will finish off whatever the other one starts. Charlie has a world-tainted follower who still looks so innocent she can pass as a Candy Striper in a maternity ward. Aquarius manages to steal a baby from the candy.
Manson’s legal team, Hal and Ken Karn (Brian F. O’Byrne), are the buttoned down Mickey and Mallory of the series. Forget Chuck Manson, these two could take over Hannibal. Charlie is a voyeur and instigator, but he’s as much an amateur as a killer as he is an amateur musician. He’s still woodshedding. He will soon be schooled by his newborn son, Valentine Michael Manson, a replacement for the stillborn baby Charlie dropped into the world, and by Sadie, who brought baby.
At least Sadie works her way back into Charlie’s heart. She is a charmer and she works harder than any of the family. She probably doesn’t even need Charlie and could replace him in a second but she’d never think of it, she’s too busy out-Mansoning him. Sadie has a special kind of power. Ambyr Childers, the Milk Skinned Blonde from Gangster Squad (2013), which was set in 1949 Los Angeles, is an angel in a city full of them. Forever locked in the golden city like it was a gilded cage. Childers has always been there and will always be in Los Angeles.
Hodiak’s son is the third most suborn person in the family, after his parents. He came home from the war with a bunch of papers about the secret bombing of Cambodia, which Den of Geek detailed in an earlier review. It changed forever how the deserted soldier sees America, whatever that is. Luckily, his old man is a cop who has blackmail material that trumps naughty pictures of the president. Hodiak makes a deal with the department of defense and with Manson’s lawyer buddy. Both are deals with the devil. Hodiak will bury the evidence of the Cambodian bombings and of the dead hooker Caroline, if he can keep his son out of jail.
It doesn’t work. The stubborn kid does the right thing, with the wrong person. He gives his evidence to the LA Times reporter, who rats him out to the cops while praising the kid as a hero. The kid will be charged as a traitor.
My favorite moment was the warmest. After Brian gets his medal of valor, Sam tells him he’s doing a good job and to forget trying to be anything like him. Hodiak then says this is it, this is as nice as I get, the apex. Now get back to work. Duchovny was so charming he made the narc seem like an alright guy. Although we have been getting snippets, like how he brings beer to Hodiak’s place.
Poor Charmaine Tully (Claire Holt). Without giving too much away, Charmaine is a puppy so eager to please she gets off the leash and gets hit by a car. Well, she gets hit by something but all we see is the leash.
Aquarius is a little ham-fisted and very compartmentalized. This is a problem with networks that premium cable has somehow been able to avoid. For the most part, Starz is just now catching up. With Aquarius we have all the elements of a truly horrific TV classic. But they don’t have they don’t have the subtlety to bury the horrors under the skin. Aquarius borrows a lot, in terms of style, from The X-Files. But while the original conspiracy thriller was shot under amber lights in darkened rooms, Aquarius has had all the color squeezed out of it. Everything has the pallor of death or the washed out look of a hurried noir. Part of the what made the Manson murders so scary was that they didn’t happen in the dark with a Freddy Kruger nightmare slashing at eight-month-pregnant actresses, it happened in Sunny California, where it never rains, but pours, man.
The season closer is a particular standout in the series. Aquarius truly finds a way to show the hypocrisy in the world that revolved around Charlie Manson. The show has been teasing these double standards throughout but, this is where the compartmentalization of the show is a problem, social ills get their own stand-alone episodes. Each of the cliffhangers offers a wealth of possibilities. Hodiak might be taken down by the very cover-up that got him the medal of valor, or he might go down because he’s helping a serial killer get away with a continued reign of terror.
“Old Ego Is a Too Much Thing” story written by John McNamara, teleplay written by Rafael Yglesias & David Reed and directed by Jonas Pate.