NBC is about to step into uncharted territory for a broadcast network. After new drama Aquarius premieres on TV, all 13 episodes of season 1 will be available to watch for four weeks, while new episodes will continue airing on a weekly basis.
This experiment the network is about to embark on is with a show that delves into the past — to 1967 in Los Angeles, to be exact. You most likely know about the infamous 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, and Aquarius will focus on the man behind those murders — Charles Manson, played by Gethin Anthony, who you’ll remember as Renly Baratheon from Game of Thrones — starting two years beforehand. Will we see the beginnings of a deranged man and how he got to that point?
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Let’s start at the beginning, though. Each episode of Aquarius begins with this on-screen text: “Inspired in part by historical events, this program contains fictitious characters, places and circumstances.” The premiere sees 16-year-old Emma Karn (Bunheads‘ Emma Dumont) leaving her house at night and going off in a car with someone. They go to a party, which starts this teenager’s journey into Charlie Manson’s strange and unusual lifestyle, where he lives with a bunch of girls at a commune.
Why would these girls choose to leave their families and live like this? What is it about Manson that is so alluring? (In one scene during the premiere, Manson is playing the guitar and singing, and Emma seems entranced by him, which is a little disturbing to think about, especially when someone later on says, “Charlie gets the girls; it’s the way it is.”) It’s like he’s got them under his spell.
Maybe it’s the hope and dream of what might happen in the future. You see, Charlie is a musician, not yet a murderer, and he believes he can make it big in that arena. One of the girls tells Emma, “Someday, he’s going to be more famous than the Beatles — and we’re going to help him get there.” If only they all knew then that Manson would eventually become famous in a completely different way.
Manson and his girls believe they are going to change the world. There are certain lines of dialogue, especially in the premiere, that stand out in this regard. It’s not just the Beatles comment above. These girls don’t seem to trust their families anymore and instead believe wholeheartedly in Manson. “It’s what they do, make us think we’re invisible, but we’re not,” he says. “We’re powerful and we can change everything.”
Gethin Anthony does a great job playing Manson. You get to see different sides to the man’s personality, and Anthony is able to smoothly transition from one to the other with ease. When he gets mad, Anthony has us worried for what his character might do. When he’s calm and being a Jesus-like figure (not my words), we wonder how the girls fall for it, but also knowing that they’re young, wanting to have freedom and make a difference in the world, and see an opportunity in Manson to make that happen.
Because Emma has gone missing, the police are called in to help find her. This is when we’re introduced to Sam Hodiak, played by Californication and The X-Files star David Duchovny. He gets a call from an old girlfriend saying her daughter, Emma, is missing. Hodiak teams up with undercover cop Brian Shafe to investigate the disappearance. All throughout the first season, viewers will see them try to go deeper and deeper into this world that Manson built.
These two are definitely opposites. Sam Hodiak is a straight-laced, clean-cut cop, whereas Brian Shafe is a young, unshaven guy who is able to fit in well in the undercover scene, something that Hodiak most definitely could not do. Because of that, they’re able to have their own specified roles in the investigation. At times, they work well together, and at other times they butt heads. But that’s to be expected, especially since this is a TV show and it’s the obvious thing to do. Both actors — Duchovny and Damon — play their parts to a T. Hodiak isn’t the most exciting guy around (nor does he have a very bubbly personality), and David Duchovny doesn’t seem to have a problem settling into a character like that.
Hodiak and Shafe aren’t the only police officers featured on the show. There’s also The Originals‘ Claire Holt as Charmain Tully — the lone woman on the force. And just as race and the Vietnam War are part of the secondary storylines, so is sexism. She doesn’t get the respect she deserves. And there are times I wonder if the writers and producers even know what to do with her as a character yet. But at the same time, it makes sense with the storyline since she’s not always given the leeway to be as involved because some of the men perceive her as being weaker and not on their level (though she grabs any opportunity that becomes available); she’s sometimes relegated to getting the men their coffee and filing papers.
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Charles Manson and the investigation to find Emma may be the overarching story for the season, but there are other plotlines that weave in and out of each episode to flesh out the characters and add additional dynamics. Since some of the characters are police officers, we also get to see them on other cases. Race is an issue that’s brought up quite a bit. Members of the Black Panther Party get into tussles with the police and wish they were doing a better job making sure black victims get proper attention. Seeing the back and forth between the two sides, you can’t help but think how it relates to what’s still going on today.
Emma’s father is a huge figure on the show. There’s a lot of skeletons in his closet that he doesn’t want anyone to know about. But certain things start unraveling, and there might just be a connection to someone you wouldn’t think he’d be connected to. I’ll leave it at that, because this is definitely something you’ll want to watch as it plays out.
For being a brand-new show, NBC is sure taking a risk with their semi-Netflix-style method of releasing the episodes. What’s great is there are two ways to watch — you can binge the entire season within the four-week window or you can watch it as it’s airing every week on TV. Regardless of what method you use, Aquarius is still a strong show that deserves to be watched. Since we know what kind of person Charles Manson eventually becomes, it makes his words and actions in this series all the more powerful and ominous, which you can see a bit of in this preview:
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I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface on all the layers of mystery, scandal and drama that will unfold over the course of season 1 — not to mention the fantastic music that’s featured on the show (including “Downtown” and “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”). And once you begin, you’ll want to keep watching to see how everything plays out.
Will you be tuning in to Aquarius? If so, are you planning on binge-watching all 13 episodes, or watching as it airs on TV every week?
Aquarius premieres Thursday, May 28 at 9pm on NBC. All 13 episodes of season 1 will be released the next day.
(Image and video courtesy of NBC)