Aquarius Blu-ray Review
Written by Giuseppe Infante
Blu-ray released by Anchor Bay
Created by John McNamara
Various writers and directors
2015, 590 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released September 15th, 2015
David Duchovny as Detective Samson"Sam" Benedictus Hodiak
Gethin Anthony as Charles Manson
Grey Damon as Narcotics Officer Brian Shafe
Emma Dumont as Emma Karn
Claire Holt as Officer Charmain Tully
Michaela McManus as Grace Karn
Samson Benedictus Hodiak is an LAPD homicide detective during the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Charles Manson is a career criminal with serpent-like allure, and leads a commune of drug-fueled hippies, bikers, teenage runaways and other social outcasts. Aquarius not only tells the fictional accounts of these two complex characters, but also explores a multifaceted point in American history through a unique and eerie manner without overdoing clichés and redundant portrayals of the era.
In a first for national broadcast television, NBC used the internet as a platform for a debut series, as every episode was released all at once, similar to a Netflix or Amazon show. Aquarius premiered on May 28th at the beginning of the Summer 2015 television season. The network aired episodes on a weekly basis, although one could’ve splurged watching it online. Apparently, the show was edited for the network. When I popped in disc one of the Blu-ray, I was shocked to see private parts and cursing. I thought it might have been only for the pilot, but this carried on through the whole season. The difference in the two mediums is unedited scenes with strong language, nudity and rape. F-bombs and boobies are not getting dropped on NBC, that’s for damn sure.
The show begins a couple of years before Charles Manson's infamous killing spree, now known as the Tate-LaBianca murders. While the show’s protagonist, Sam Hodiack (played by the stellar David Duchovny), is not the perfect role model, he is conscious of and battling the default setting instilled upon America in the early and mid-1960s. Race, sexuality, war and societal changes are significant themes surrounding the show and Hodiak’s life. The main storyline is about a young girl, Emma (Emma Dumont), running away with Manson and his cavalry of carefree counter-culturalists. Hodiak's former flame, Grace (Michaela McManus), is a politically connected wife and the mother of the runaway, and he is soon on the case. He is also dealing with his son, Walt (Chris Sheffield), who has gone MIA in Vietnam and is on the run from military police. His partner, Brian (Grey Damon), is young, long haired, and scruffy, and an undercover detective working the vice side of the hippie world. Also, to make life more complicated, his soon to be ex-wife, Opal (Jodi Harris), is banging another detective who works at the precinct.
The overarching narrative of Charles Manson (the über-creepy Gethin Anthony) is the allure of the show, next to David Duchovny’s flair. Anthony’s portrayal of Manson’s is conflicting. I've read Helter Skelter and other literature, and have seen video about this guy. He is a ruthless psychopath—in real life and on the show. Somehow he had the power to coerce many people to "follow" him, and kill for him, as if he was the Almighty. In one episode, the officer sleeping with Hodiack’s ex-wife asks, "What's your name, man?" Manson's reply: "Oh, I'm Jesus Christ, Son of Man." Aquarius depicts him by humanizing him to a degree where you almost have sympathy for this embodiment of evil. I don't know if I want to feel like that about Charles Manson.
As far as entertainment is concerned, Anthony does an amazing job rendering the killer. He brings an intense emotion of carnal fear and disgust, as one moment he is soft spoken, prophetic and loving toward his flock, but then in a flash he'll snap and beat on one of his girls for disobeying his orders. The fictionalized (I hope...) way the show displays his relationship with his mother in one episode is grueling to watch, as it is loaded with love, angst and distain.
Part serial, part noir and part police procedural, Aquarius successfully adds to the top debut shows in 2015. The acting is superb and the set design is convincing, which helps illuminate the magnificent writing by creator John McNamara and his staff. The blend of fiction/non-fiction is a fine line treaded successfully and will have people Googling names like Bunchy Carter and Ruben Salazar. A second season has been green-lighted by NBC and will be released in Summer 2016. By the season one’s end, viewers will be ready to plunge head first into the next chapter of Aquarius.
Video and Audio:
Aquarius is presented in 1.78:1 and Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 sound. The darkness of the show (in both context and imagery) is contrasted with the colorful visuals of 1960s Los Angeles. The audio is well heard and the sounds do not overpower the dialogue. The soundtrack consists of classic hits from the ‘60s and sounds bright and clear.
There are two features on the Blu-ray; First Look: Aquarius, and four webisodes titled The Summer of Love. The behind-the-scenes First Look is nothing special, as the creators and actors talk minimally.
On the other hand, the webisodes are interesting. The Summer of Love gives some context to how Manson acquired followers Sadie, Mary and Katie during the summer of 1967 in San Francisco. The webisodes are setup like interviews seen in mockumentaries like The Office and Parks and Recreation. Although the segments are short, they speak volumes about these heinous characters.