Aquarius, Episode 3: Spoiler Alerts

Two major themes emerge in Episode 3 of Aquarius: the two main characters as embodiments of the two criminal justice models and the fragmented and complicated image of Manson painted by the show.

The first half of the episode, and some scenes in the second half, see Hodiak helping Shafe solve the murder of Art Gladner, for which Shafe’s informant was falsely arrested. The investigation takes Hodiak into the noir-like environment of a strip club (“burlesque theater”, the owner corrects him). There, he uncovers a drug connection, which leads him to the culprit. It turns out that Hodiak himself contributed to the chain of events that led to the murder: by writing “snitch” on Gladner’s forehead, he marked him for execution; and, by breaking the new suspect’s arm, he advertised to the other players in the drug business that the suspect was under police control and surveillance. Hodiak does not seem to harbor any guilt or discomfort about his complicity, and his confrontation with Shafe floats this to the surface:

Shafe: He was a person.
Hodiak: Who sold drugs.
Shafe: You’re unbelievable. Whatever you want, you do it.”
Hodiak: It’s true. I can be a tad brusque”.

This dialogue, again building on the buddy-cops trope, highlights for 21-century viewers the transformative moment in American policing. Two important developments clash in the years immediately preceding this scene: the emergence of Mapp, Miranda, and Gideon, part of the Warren Court’s criminal procedure constitutional revolution, and the arrival of Richard Nixon to the Presidential seat, and with it efforts at bolstering and funding local police stations to counter the revolution.

If you will, the two officers are personal embodiments of Herbert Packer’s Two Models of the Criminal Process. Hodiak embodies Nixon’s commitment to the crime control model, where the police and prosecution are imbued with immense power and discretion and anything goes as long as crimes are solved and criminals brought to trial quickly and efficiently. By contrast, Shafe embodies the Warren Court’s commitment to the due process model, both in terms of adherence to constitutional requirements like the Miranda warnings and in the commitment to equality, illustrated also by his personal life (in this episode, an unknown neighbor paints the words “nigger lover” on his garage, intimidating his wife and child.) For Shafe, the worst thing that can happen is a procedural mistake leading to a wrongful arrest. For Hodiak, it’s delay in solving a crime.

These political perspectives are generational, too. Hodiak is a WW2 veteran, with a clear idea of right and wrong, leading him–three years before Daniel Ellsberg would leak the Pentagon papers–to assume that the war in Vietnam is justified and that his son, gone AWOL, is a war criminal. Shafe seems to be a Vietnam or Korea veteran, capable of seeing more shades of gray.

These aspects of the show, at this point, strike me as more interesting and convincing than the Manson family scenes. It seems that the show has a difficult point pinpointing Manson’s image: is he a religious leader? a common pimp? how much of his eventual terrifying violence is already in evidence through his malevolence? We see Manson enchanting girls with two-bit New Age speeches that might have been more effective in the Sixties; we also see him controlling and domineering them, treating them as property. But we also see him performing great violence, often with his signature knife. At the same time, some of the lines given to Manson have him effectively expose the destructive hypocrisy of the 1960s; his words to Ken, who comes to him at the bottom of his spiral of shame and self-hatred, are apt. After a particularly heartbreaking and distressing search for furtive sex in a park bathroom (a good reminder of how far we’ve come), Ken accuses Manson of making him a homosexual:

Ken: You did this to me.
Charlie: I freed you.
Ken: You broke me.
Charlie: You were already broken, Ken. I just pulled you out of your shell.

Manson’s perspective, of course, is far more in tune with our modern perspectives on homosexuality. One has to conclude that even a broken clock shows the right time twice a day.

Aquarius, Episode 2: Spoiler Alerts

The second episode of Aquarius features quite a bit of gender critique, ranging from internalized, closeted homophobia, through sexual hypocrisy and workplace discrimination, to domestic violence.

In is search for his daughter, Ken finds his former client and lover, Charlie, who subjects him to his spiritual and sexual ministrations once again. One almost feels sorry for Ken; his internalized homophobia and self-hatred make him an ideal victim for Manson’s exploitation. Meanwhile, affairs abound: Ken’s wife and Hodiak, a former couple, succumb to their passions, while Hodiak’s wife sleeps with Cut, his former partner. Not a single marriage in the series is portrayed as happy and fulfilling. The show makes it almost refreshing to listen to Sadie (Atkins), Katie (Krenwinkel) and Emma discuss the need to end jealousy; it would be idyllic, if not for the fact that Manson employs the control tactics of a common pimp and essentially sells out the girls to his sound engineer and to others. In this episode we see him, for the first time, battering the girls themselves into submission.

To infiltrate a cult in which sex is a common currency, the undercover police officer, Charmain, has to sacrifice, more than Shafe, who works with her, is comfortable allowing her; but as second wave feminism is only just beginning, and Charmain is in a hierarchical organization, she is willing to go undercover among predatory and dangerous bikers, and sometimes has to respond quite sharply to male officers who miss no opportunity to humiliate and objectify her.

This episode has piqued my curiosity about undercover police practices in the 1960s, and the extent to which these were employed to infiltrate cults. These are, after all, the early days of the Nixon administration, and police professionalism and proactive policing would be encouraged. Perhaps there are many unsung heroes and villains still among us, who saw people their own age as the enemy and can tell many tales of duplicity and domestic espionage.

Aquarius, Episode 1: Spoiler Alerts

“Charlie has a vision; one day he’s gonna be more famous than the Beatles, and we’re gonna help him get there.”

The first episode of Aquarius feels a bit like a Sixties Smorgasbord. Everything is there: revolution, Vietnam, Nation of Islam, homophobia and closeted homosexuality… and also, Manson, his nascent cult, and some ideas on old and new policing.

Our exposition to Manson in this double episode introduces him already as a diabolical character. His charm toward girls, grandiosity, mystical talk, and hidden violence and “pull” with the Los Angeles upper crust, as well as his love of music, are all already there. Of course, the viewers already know the aftermath, and so, many features that would otherwise appear innocent–your typical musical aspirant hustler–take on a much darker meaning. On at least two occasions, Manson is already engaging in terrifying violence, against a shopkeeper and against his former lawyer and lover, Ken Karn. Karn attempts to regain his daughter, Emma, who lives with the Family, but ends up being pulled himself back into the clutches of Manson and his cult, in a storyline reminiscent of RuthAnn “Ouisch” Morehouse and her father, Deane. We are also introduced to Sadie (Susan Atkins) and Katie (Patricia Krenwinkel) and to a biker/bodyguard, as well as to Manson’s extensive criminal record. As the police officer in charge of the investigation, Hodiak, discusses his criminal history with Manson’s parole officer, we get a glimpse of what criminal justice was like before the sex offender panic: no time served for pimping, and seven years served on four grams of marijuana in a state park.

Using the classic tropes identified in Richard Spark’s TV Cops, we are introduced to this series’ version of the bond-between-two-different-police-officers: old-skool Hodiak and new-generation Shafe. The former, always in a suit, was a cop very long before the birth of Miranda (two years before the show is set); the idea of suspect rights is more natural to the latter, always in hippy clothes and, as a narc underground, “gone native” to an extent. Collaborating on a homicide, Hodiak arrests an unrelated, innocent man–a member of the Nation of Islam whom he knows from a previous case–radicalizing him in the process. Using this false arrest to obtain a confession that avoids compliance with Miranda, Hodiak creates a ruse that holds off and confounds the real suspect’s attorney (a maneuver later considered constitutionally kosher in Moran v. Burbine). Promising the suspect, a terminally-ill man, no jail time, Hodiak prevents him from meeting his attorney, arresting him after he obtains a confession. Only then he gives the suspect his warnings, which he reads out of a card.

The ruse itself does not upset Shafe; shortly before, they both collaborate on a similar Miranda ruse, and seem to already engage in the evasive waiver maneuvers that Richard Leo identifies in Police Interrogation and American Justice. What upsets Shafe is Hodiak’s false, strategic arrest of the innocent Black man, whom he believes would not have been arrested if he were white. The next scene exposes just how transgressive and “not subtle” Shafe’s personal life is (a mere year after the decision in Loving v. Virginia):

The scenes in minority neighborhoods, as well as the protest scenes, are particularly poignant to watch in the post-Ferguson era; I have a hard time figuring out if the language is anachronistic or if today’s movements simply regurgitate the identity politics and lexicon of the 1960s. It is clear, however, that the introduction of civil rights as a barrier to aggressive policing is relatively new and foreign, but that evasive interrogation tactics are already practiced and accepted; that the Nixonian law-and-order campaign resonates with police practices; and that the perception among African Americans is already that of the (white) police as an occupying force.

Stay tuned for a review of Aquarius: Episode 2, in the next post on the series.

Aquarius – New NBC Series, Loosely Based on Manson Family

NBC has released a new series, Aquarius, featuring David Duchovny as an LAPD officer in the late ’60s. The series also features a central storyline loosely based on Charles Manson and the “family.” But the Panthers and the explosive years of political rising and race consciousness also figure quite prominently. The series feels, so far, like a ’60s smorgasbord, but it is not devoid of interest.

I’m currently working on my second book, tentatively titled Yesterday’s Monsters, which examines parole hearings through the lens of the Manson family members’ parole hearing transcripts, and am therefore interested in the depiction of the period in this show. My reviews of Aquarius episodes will be posted on the CCC blog, with links to full episode viewing and spoiler alerts.

Enjoy your summer. Or not.