Finales can be tricky things. You have to wrap up old plot lines, add new excitement, and plant the seeds for next season’s themes and plot points. On top of all this there is the audience hope that this episode will somehow be the best of the season. That’s a pretty big order to fill. Aquarius may not have a perfect score for tonight’s finale, but there’s still more than enough to end this season on a high note.
Death is a prevalent theme in last night’s episode. Physical death, yes, but also metaphorical death. So who actually dies? The serial killer brothers who have been targeting gay men all season. Manson family member Janet. Drunk Hal. But most traumatically, Mary and Charlie’s son. It’s certainly been foreshadowed that Mary’s labor would go poorly, but nothing can prepare you for Manson’s reaction. There’s the inherent panic we’ve come to expect in Manson, but when the baby appears to be a breach birth, Manson’s steely reserve as he slices into Mary is horrifying. The stillbirth of their baby then adds to the level of “no, seriously, what am I watching” as Manson proceeds to cuddle the lifeless body of his child. It’s a powerful scene and beyond its very violent and profoundly creepy construction, it opens a door for us to see how Charlie intends to keep his “family” together. By making every baby everyone’s baby, it makes it a lot more difficult for his followers to leave. It strengthens their devotion to him and gives him a pretty strong bargaining chip to work against those who disagree with him. I mean, just look at what it drove poor Sadie to. (If you haven’t watched the episode yet, stop here. Go watch it now and try not to be equal parts impressed and terrified with how well she brings the “family” back together.)
Metaphorical deaths are a bit more complicated. Grace gives up Emma in a moment of hurt. Metaphorically, killing their relationship. Walt gives up his freedom for the chance to expose the truth. Shafe gives up some of his moral black and white code to protect Hodiak. And Hodiak? Well Hodiak, tries to give up his internal sense of self-righteousness, his self-promoted need to work around the law instead of within it. This creates great tension for next season, as we may be preparing to see Hodiak himself lose at the very least his career, but very possibly his freedom.
Perhaps it’s not entirely coincidental that all this death predominates the season finale, a kind of “death” for the show. It seems the writing team, at least subconsciously, is very aware of their dubious position in the channel line-up. Right now Aquarius is renewed for a second season, but it’s important to remember what you like about the show during the upcoming hiatus. We are looking at a truly unique production with a lot of elements you just won’t find in other crime dramas. That makes Aquarius a bit of an experiment, and like all experiments there’s always the possibility that Frankenstein’s monster lurks just around the corner.
Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.