Somewhere along the way the Aquarius writing team felt the need to throw in a true philosophical leader. Not Charlie with his violent grandstanding. Not Hodiak with his cynical snarking. And certainly not Shafe because, well, Shafe.
Bunchy or Kristin have had their moments, but a show based on true events means Bunchy never had much of a chance. And with Kristin’s new upgrade to multidimensional character comes character development. With character development comes a need to focus on growth, not being everyone’s moral compass. So the writing gods sent forth a new prophet in Billie Gunderson. Recovering heroine addict, (possibly) unlicensed clinic owner, and tea aficionado, Billie Gunderson. Billie, who gave us a last minute mystery: Why isn’t it enough when someone truly and deeply loves you? Why isn’t that enough?
So in the spirit of answering that question, let’s dive on in and figure out why love wasn’t enough to keep some of these relationships together on last night’s Aquarius.
Okay, so maybe relationship isn’t quite the right word here. Maybe it’s more like, “why does everyone leave Manson’s self obsessed thrall eventually?” I mean really, why is it so hard to find unquestioning mindless hippies these days?
It could be his communication skills. There are more effective ways to deliver messages than threatening the lives of Beach Boys and their housekeepers. Suggestion: When trying to reach out to an old friend, flowers or one of those edible fruit arrangements are a bit more effective than bullets. And a hand written note will much more clearly convey what you’d like to say. Terrified, half-strangled staff have a tendency to paraphrase. Mind you, the singsong ranting and “I have a right” pronouncements won’t win brownie points either.
Then there’s his pesky tendency towards using people. Using Sadie as a combination incubator/real estate agent without so much as a thank you won’t win him any points. And while Emma does return, using her to bring Ken into the loop is going to backfire eventually.
But I think the most likely reason has to be all the murder. If your first impulse when someone upsets you is to kill them, it’s going to be hard to hang on to friends and supporters. Certainly not an effective management style. And remember Tex and Sadie, if someone is willing to murder with you behind some else’s back, then they’re probably willing to murder you behind your back.
Certainly the strongest emotional reconciliation of “Blackbird” must be Ken and Emma. Both having just recently escaped their own “prisons” both literal and metaphorical, it seems two thirds of the Karn family are well on their way towards a more loving, accepting view of each other. Ken’s forced embracing of who he is may have ostracized him from his clients, but it’s given him a more profound understanding of just what his daughter is seeking. Emma’s calmer, more mature demeanor gives her the chance to think others perspectives through, instead of acting on more self-centered impulses. In short, they’ve both grown up. It’s only by doing so that they can have a father/daughter relationship worth investing in. One that involves bonding time that includes both discussing Little Women and smoking pot.
So why then, is their new love for each other not enough? Why must Emma keep searching for Charlie? Why does Ken still feel ostracized and dissatisfied? Perhaps it’s because new love doesn’t heal old scars. The hurt these two have done to each other is significant enough that they’ll never really be enough. Members of the Manson family are the first people to love Emma unconditionally—or at least this is what she perceives. So she forgives them anything, sees their love as whole and unconditional. For Ken it’s more complicated. He’s willing to build a family without Manson, but his lack of self-identity and clear life structure make him an easy catch in Manson’s web. After all, the real life Manson preyed on the lonely and directionless, so why should the fictional family members not suffer from these as well?
I would have thought that after everything they went through to get Shafe’s heroine addiction under control, this power couple would be on the road to smoother times. And I would have been wrong.
While both Kristin and Brian have spent much of this season growing apart, the core of their relationship would seem to be relatively intact. Only, now it looks like that core may never have been there to begin with. We’ve gotten a few hints leading up to tonight that, despite his marriage to Kristin, Brian isn’t the most socially open minded character. Put simply he views his wife as an exception to the African-American community, as opposed to the rule.
But when Sam Hodiak seems to have not only a greater empathy for, but also a willingness to work for that empathy more than you, Brian, there is definitely a problem. One-off statements and under cuts towards Kristin, the Black Panthers, and the Los Angeles African-American community became the focus of this couple’s conversations. No longer were those comments throwaway lines that Kristin let slide. Instead they worked to show us how fundamentally flawed this relationship already is.
Kristin says this as clearly as anyone ever could, “I can’t live with the enemy.” Whether you think she’s right or wrong doesn’t really matter. It’s the very fact that Brian could shrug off her concerns, shrug off the idea that the organization he works for does this much harm that makes their love not enough. Because how can love possibly be enough when someone opposes your every attempt to be you? Is that even love at all?
No. That’s pretty much the answer every character in “Can You Take Me Back?” should be giving. Aquarius never claimed to be a show about people being nice to each other, but this episode may have crossed a few more lines than we expected. Here are the top five betrayals from last night’s Aquarius.
If you’re going to try pacifying a murder-threatening lunatic with a messiah complex, you really need to make sure you keep your ego out of it.
The writers of Aquarius didn’t really do themselves any favors with Melcher’s visit to Spawn Ranch. Without contributing to possible unknown future spoilers—because were this a true event it certainly would explain the logic behind some future events—this never happened. Recordings of the Manson family singing do exist, but Melcher didn’t produce them and none of them include Charlie performing.
So this pacifying act on Melcher’s part is a pure fiction. This makes it possibly the dumbest betrayal of the episode, even if the consequences are dire. If you’re going to record Manson, with no intention of ever releasing the music or taking him at all seriously, why balk at signing a barely legal piece of paper promising not to alter his work? If you’re so scared of this guy, you feel the need to take such actions, why not just nod your head, smile, and drive off to the safety of your current luxury home? The answer is, of course, ego. Not wanting to be beholden to Manson or give him the perception of an upper hand never serves as an effective strategy in this show. Come on Melcher, think about it.
2 and 2.5 because who really betrays whom here? At first glance, we might want to say Hodiak. After all, he’s the one who will suffer the consequences of his past misdeeds. But they are his past misdeeds. The transgressions he flaunts and takes for granted in return for a truly genius application of his detective skills, his breeches all obtained in the name of justice. Add to that the knowledge that Charmain hasn’t actually testified yet, and Hodiak’s betrayal may be on the way, but it’s not quite close enough to see with any clarity yet.
Instead, I’ll argue that Hodiak betrays Charmain. Not by burning her UA contact last episode, which he did, or by leaving her out to dry with her C.O., but by his behavior afterward. It’s his lack of concern for the situation he created. He doesn’t even realize that she’s been returned to coffee duty until halfway through the episode. And then there’s that final blow: “Sometimes I’m not sure if I created the monster or just dragged it back with me from the swamp?” Because think of how you would feel if the only person who ever believed in you built you up, through their own carelessness knocked you down, and then flung insults at you in the same breath they condescended to let you save yourself. It may go against our ingrained sensibilities about loyalty and self-sacrifice, but faced with an impossible situation, Charmain chooses to bend the rules rather than sacrifice herself. And that, after all, is exactly what Hodiak would do.
Brian’s been pushing towards a relapse for a while now, so it’s not really a surprise when he and Vic meet up for a heroine play date. You might think I’m getting to Vic’s betrayal in leading Roy to Shafe, or Shafe’s betrayal of Kristin in using again, or the lock on Shafe’s front door’s betrayal in not doing it’s job. But the actual betrayal here, as it often is with addicts, is the betrayal of the self.
Shafe’s recovery had been going so well. Okay, maybe not well, but going. By using again he risks his own health, the stability of his marriage, his career, his life (death by drug overdose scenario), his life (death by Roy overdose scenario), and his freedom. Sure Kristin, Vic, and Charmain have to ride the fallout with him, but it’s Shafe who will have to live with the relationships he’s destroyed. Shafe who will lose everything. And that’s a pretty high price to pay, when all you got in exchange is some paranoid Hodiak scolding and lack luster CGI snakes.
Sadly this is one of those dark parts of American history that Aquarius tends to shine a bright light on. During World War II, the American government turned on hundreds of thousands of its own citizens as wartime paranoia took hold. The bombing of Pearl Harbor served to bring America into the war, but it also assured that this country perceived Japan as its personal enemy, while Germany took on the role as a slightly more philosophical evil.
In response to a growing concern (paranoia) over the potential that Japanese spies may be living in the United States, President Roosevelt issued “Executive Order 9066,” which gave the government the authority to relocate Japanese citizens from “restricted” areas, primarily west coast states. While many Americans would balk at the idea of being restricted in this way, the situation only got worse as “voluntary” relocation turned to detention and internment. The conditions of these camps varied wildly, but none of them were created with the intent of working their inhabitants to death, in contrast with Nazi concentration camps. That’s little comfort though, considering that in some of these camps malnutrition, starvation, and disease ran rampant, resulting in the deaths of many inhabitants. It’s one of the darker chapters of American history and a stark reminder that racism and racist politics extend far beyond black and white.
So you work hard, you have your partner’s back, even when that partner has no faith in you. You do your best to do what’s right, and lose the undercover position you sacrificed so much to attain. But at least that should earn you the loyalty of your fellow officers right? It should protect you from things like other cops setting you up to be murdered by crazed ex-con pseudo-boyfriends. Except it doesn’t.
You can argue in Shafe’s defense that he had no choice—that Roy would have killed Brian and Kristin, and left Vic to take the blame. But one cop leading another into a potential assassination constitutes this episode’s biggest betrayal. When it comes to this list I like to think the reasons are a bit immaterial, especially when the results could be so devastating. Come on Brian, at least apologize once it’s all over.
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.