Aquarius Review: “Sick City”

(Episode 1.08)

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<i>Aquarius</i> Review: &#8220;Sick City&#8221;

Poor Father Mack. I’m glad we named him before he died. It’s the Obi-Wan Kenobi syndrome. Don’t be the mentor. Your chances of dying increase by about 800%. And since Hodiak is fictional, he’s not quite out of the woods yet either. Keep an eye on him, Charmain.

Emma and Charlie are a completely different matter. After tonight, Manson’s mentor status has dropped to nil. (Ah ha, no more mentor function for Manson, means my theory continues to hold!) Emma is gone, and since Ken offered to emancipate her, we can’t be sure where she’s going. Overall, her journey has been a bit uneven. In a series of complicated and mostly well-developed characters, it’s Emma who often functions more as a plot device than a person. If this feels a bit strange that’s because it is. Way back in episode one, Emma was well on her way to being the show’s primary protagonist. Somewhere between the social unrest and political intrigue, Emma became irrelevant to our story, and in that way irrelevant to Manson as well. Ken needs no further manipulation and Manson sees her as nothing more than a burden. He blames her for Hodiak’s interference and strangely, in this way, Hodiak does keep his promise to Grace and save her from becoming a permanent member of the Manson family. It’s Manson’s fixation on Hodiak, his need to blame his own failings on Hodiak being in his head that leads to Emma finally seeing him for what he is. So with tonight’s ending she rejects his orders and wanders off down the road. Only time will tell if Emma gets to really come full circle, but the show did do her one favor in making it very clear that her choice to leave is her own. She may be a little ignored in terms of on screen development, but the girl definitely has agency.

That pretty much covers this week’s character development. We get a lot of set up for weeks to come. Ken’s promotion to finance chair is sure to drag a lot of dirt out into the light, quite literally if his trip to the desert is any indication. We know Hodiak is definitely on his trail. Between his general dislike of Karn and reconciliation with cop pal Ed, he’s looking a bit more enthused than usual.

It’s easy to say that with the exception of Emma’s storyline most of tonight’s episode was setup for the season to come and, yes, more than a little bit of filler. We’ve talked about how I feel about filler episodes, right? Well just to make it clear, I find them pretty sloppy. It’s always necessary to use episodes to build up later plot points. I understand that, but often an entire episode can be devoted to nothing more than set up, and that can get pretty aggravating. The interesting thing about tonight’s episode is that it plays the setup game really well. By including Emma’s very much not filler plot along with the less necessary demise of Father Mack—may he rest in underdeveloped character peace—Aquarius found the holy grail of television writing: How to create a setup episode that doesn’t feel like a chore to watch. It’s not easy, and often setup and filler go hand in hand so that the writers can focus on working in all the details the audience will need to know later, without getting lost in complicated plot that will need to be resolved by the end of the season. Another saving grace is that the characters on this show are very well developed and very well acted. The scene between Ken and Emma may be set up for Emma needing to find her own way, but it’s also heartbreaking. It’s really the only time we see Emma worry about losing her parents’ love, and hearing what seems to be confirmation from her father certainly puts her in a tailspin. Also Shafe’s face. That’s an awful lot of blood for what was just simmering tension only twenty minutes ago, and an amazingly over-it expression for someone whose drug bust just went back to square one. Maybe Mike can help out, you know, if Lucille doesn’t kill him first.

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.