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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Aquarius: “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Illustration for article titled iAquarius/i: “A Change Is Gonna Come”
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Okay A.V. Club friends, we’re calling it. Aquarius reviews’ time of death: episode five. Because after five episodes (and four weeks), we can confirm that Aquarius is not much more than a somber, soul-crushing enterprise, which in this episode manages to wring out its last vestiges of humanity by destroying our main character. There’s a reason Hodiak’s been turning down all these drinks from pretty women: He’s an alcoholic (as his wife Opal hinted), and at the end of the episode, having lost faith in absolutely everything—his job, his country, his son, and the woman he loves—he goes back to the bottle.

You may be surprised to hear this, but the turn of events that bring Hodiak to this point aren’t even fun to witness. The Black Panthers pop up again, led by another real-life character, Bunchy Carter (played by Gaius Charles), who headed the southern California chapter. Carter and his group are protesting a death at the hands of a white cop, and won’t help Hodiak solve the murder of a black business owner while the white racist cop walks free. There’s something about a fire caused by lye, which some black people used to straighten their hair. Hodiak tries to make a joke about “political hair,” but not even he can cut to the chase through this muck.


These weekly murders conveniently fall into play each week on Aquarius: This week, the death of Hodiak’s friend Cass highlights not only the race epidemic, but how corrupt the system is. Hodiak must learn from his wife’s new boyfriend/his new superior Ed that the police department is so corrupt, there’s no way the cop will go down for killing a black man. Hodiak tosses around talk of Internal Affairs, as does Shafe, but he still seems stunned at this news. But Hodiak’s been our jaded, wizened cop from the beginning: Can this really be such a surprise?

It seems unlikely, as Hodiak also comes face-to-face with his errant son Walt (Chris Sheffield). Walt tries to tell him what’s really going on in Cambodia, but Hodiak shrugs it off: “The president’s job is lying!” The scene between these two is the best this episode, because these two are so good, and because they personify the generation gap. Only two decades after WWII, perception of the U.S. traveled from the greatest country in the world that loved their “boys” in the military, to a young population distrustful of all authority, from parents to cops to presidents, with very little to hold on to. Enter your Manson types. Old-school Hodiak can barely understand what his son is talking about, and he certainly doesn’t approve of his A.W.O.L. status.


Adding to Hodiak’s death knell is yet another blow, from the person who has made him the happiest we’ve seen him: Grace. After a quick afternoon tryst and a clinch at a Nixon fundraiser, even this brief sliver of happiness disappears for Hodiak, due to the babysitter he hired to watch Emma. She’s gone from teenage sex slave to private-school girl—with a ribbon in her hair and clutching a stuffed bunny—in a matter of moments. When Emma tries to run away, she’s met with the clunkiest of introductions from Hodiak’s pal: “Skipping school? Not when when Joe Wilson’s on the job!” Emma, stupidly: “Who are you?”

When Sadie sneaks in to help Emma escape, Grace rages at Hodiak just the way she does at Ken, how he always fucks up everything, leading at least this viewer to believe that Grace is a bit of a ball-buster. At least this scene offered the only almost-laugh-inducing line, from Ken, of all people: “Welcome to the club.”


Left with literally nothing, Hodiak turns to the bottle, and then with nothing else to do, really, goes after Manson. I guess it makes sense: Manson personifies everything disturbing about the country’s new era for Hodiak, so it’s helpful to have a symbol you can beat up. Also, the show hadn’t yet filled its weekly quota of gratuitous violence. Shafe stops Hodiak just short of killing Manson (who helpfully points out: “You’re killing me”), saving Hodiak’s career and status as a father, somehow. But we know that saving Manson’s life now is a future fatal move for several people.

Maybe that’s been the problem all along. We know how Aquarius turns out, and it’s not a happy ending. Not even for Manson, who doesn’t deserve one anyway, and his Teen Beat portrayal by Gethin Anthony was not enough to hang an entire series on. So our only reason to watch was Duchovny’s Hodiak performance. But now that Hodiak’s sunk down to the bottom, we’re all down there.


So, this seems to be about as good a time as any to wrap this up. Thanks for reading. And if I have a really bad weekend this summer, I’ll hunker down with the last several episodes of Aquarius and write my final season summary. Maybe I’ll get the flu or something!

Stray observations

  • Was that the fakest, lamest “I’m so stoned” scene in the Peach Pussycat hallway ever, or what? “It’s Charlie Man-, Man-, Manson.” There’s a gangster there that Shafe wants to get to Manson’s house because of the drug trade or something? Gawd, this show.
  • Manson really was a grimy little pimp, and some of his earliest convictions were for pimping. So it was helpful and informative to see him get his smackdown in the parking garage from Ken’s political friend, who Manson had arranged prostitutes for (and the opposite of Manson’s take-down of Ken in the earlier episode). The ultimate dis for Manson: “You’re no good at songwriting, from what I hear,” followed by ”Go ahead, Charlie, do your worst.” “I’ll do my best. I will do my BEST!”
  • There’s a throwback to Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” which opened the series, as Emma, who has been our Alice the whole time, remembers that she always wanted to be anyone but Alice, because Alice was “too boring.” Whadya suppose ever happened to Emma’s boyfriend?
  • David Duchovny’s knee, sadly, doesn’t do one final stunt for us, but at least his feet perform some weird ballet moves in bed.
  • I really hope that X-Files reboot turns out well. David Duchovny deserves much better. Whatever’s wrong with Aquarius, it’s not his fault.

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