Thursday, June 4, 2015

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.

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