Aquarius Review: "Your Mother Should Know"

(Episode 1.11)

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<i>Aquarius</i> Review: "Your Mother Should Know"

What the… What did I just watch? Seriously, the last two minutes of tonight’s episode were… I might need some therapy. Just a heads up if you haven’t watched it yet, it’s not what you actually see that is traumatizing, but the implication of what is happening when Manson’s bedroom door closes will stick with you for a while. I have to give Aquarius credit for not shying away from the horrific possibilities of the world they’re portraying, and tonight’s episode shows that they are certainly willing to push the boundary of what topics are considered too risky for network television. It would be easy to label some of it shock TV if it weren’t for the talent and obvious amount of work put into crafting each episode, especially tonight’s.

There are some great storylines in “Your Mother Should Know.” Shafe’s continuing infiltration of Guapo’s gang is probably the lesser of these, but still creates a lot of tension and even a little bit of morbid humor. Sadie and Emma’s “creepy crawly” finally explores the competitive side of the girls’ relationship, and leads to Emma in jail. Her lock up sequences do a great job of revealing just how ill equipped she is to be a member of the Manson world order. They also provide a new avenue of growth for her, even if she has to be subjected to a Hodiak PSA first. But I have to say that of all tonight’s storylines it’s the return of Bunchy that was most impressive. Watching Aquarius take characters that started out the season flat, bordering on stereotypical, and expand on them has got to be my favorite part of watching this show. Bunchy’s complicated relationship with murdered brother, Arthur, is moving. I think a lot of us who have siblings can sympathize with the seemingly irrational and sometimes less-than-healthy ways we treat each other. As a character, Bunchy continues to move in leaps and bounds even as the show takes a deeper look behind the worrying tactics the FBI employed to keep tabs on the multitude of “counter culture” groups growing up around this time. No sacrificing character for plot tonight.

Still the most impressive part of tonight’s episode has to do with the lead up into those last two minutes. You remember, the trauma-inducing ones? You’ll have to forgive me a little bit of writer fan worship concerning the amazing execution of tonight’s theme and just how well-crafted that sharp left turn at the end is. In case you didn’t notice, tonight’s episode was all about family, particularly the way in which children are viewed by their parents. Sometimes the relationships are pretty traditional: Hodiak and Walt, Hodiak and his own father, Rick and his father. Sometimes they’re less conventional: Bunchy and Arthur, Emma and the very invisible Ken Karn, Hodiak and the FBI. And sometimes they’re downright twisted: Manson and his mother, Guapo and his pseudo adoption of Shafe. Still if we look at each of the relationships with regards to who is the authority figure (Hodiak for Walt, Hodiak’s Father for Hodiak, Bunchy for Arthur) there is certainly a bias towards siding with the “child.”

In general, Aquarius makes a good effort to show that there is no universal truth in relationships. For example, the mentor/protégé relationship we would usually expect between Hodiak and Shafe instead manifests with Hodiak and Charmain. Or, the expected antagonism we might think of as a constant between Hodiak and Opal often breaks down when they need each other. Why then does the repeated implication tonight seem to be that parents (the authority) constantly disappoint or cannot connect with their children? It’s actually in the interest of some emotional manipulation.

This may sound like dirty pool on the side of the Aquarius production team, but the effect is really impressive. To make tonight’s last minute turn as impactful as possible, you have to create a sympathetic version of Charles Manson. Not an easy task. Sure Manson’s mother is no June Cleaver, but if asked to choose between her or her son for Worst Person of the Century, it’s a safe bet that Charlie would win in a land slide. So, instead of just watching mother Manson belittle and manipulate her son, the writers take a lot of time to build parallels between Manson and the more sympathetic characters (particularly Hodiak and Emma) whose relationships with their own parents are less than supportive. By the time tonight’s last scene begins we’ve watched Manson’s mother criticize his life (including a particularly interesting moment where he, for the first time, humanizes the “whores” he lives with) and manipulate him into turning over his inheritance to her. Extra praise has to be offered here for Dendrie Taylor whose shifty portrayal of Charles’ mother makes her subtext clear. Put on top of this that we’ve been oh so subtly manipulated into seeing Manson as one of the sympathetic characters tonight, and it’s no surprise that right before he turns violent, you may begin to feel that it’s Charlie who is about to be victimized. This moment of sympathy for the monster makes his final deranged act hit even harder than it might in another episode. It’s a beautiful combination of craft and character to push the audience into a particular headspace, and very effective. Effective and unnerving. So now that I’m done praising it, I think I’ll need a break from the dark and twisty world of the Manson psyche. Maybe I’ll go watch something a bit more family friendly. I hear Sinister 2 is a hoot.

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.