NBC pulled out all the stops on Thursday night with the premiere of its period crime drama “Aquarius.” The bold show had no shortage of period-appropriate music and morals as it immersed its audience in the underworld of the 1960s.
The show begins in Los Angeles in 1967 with a young woman escaping the very large home where her political-minded parents are fighting each other in the kitchen. The woman, Emma Dumont’s character Emma Karn, is greeted by her boyfriend and taken to a party that she’s clearly not supposed to be at. She attracts the wrong kind of attention and finds herself face-to-face with none other than Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony).
We’re immediately introduced to the character’s uncanny ability to attract young women to his way of thinking. With a few sly words he recruits Karn to his band of followers and she disappears, much to the dismay of her mother.
That’s how we’re introduced to our hero, Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny). He hears that the 16-year-old daughter of his friend is missing and the LAPD detective doesn’t think twice about taking the case. The no-nonsense lawman tracks down the girl’s boyfriend and, after a violent confrontation in a bathroom, is led to the house where the party took place. Unfortunately, it’s occupied by a group of very anti-police hippies who refuse to cooperate with Hodiak’s investigation. With the veteran detective a bit out of his depth, he’s forced to seek help.
Enter detective Brian Shafe (Grey Damon). We first meet Shafe tanking his own undercover drug bust so that he can sympathize with a protester getting kicked around by police. This move attracts Hodiak’s attention and the two decide to become reluctant partners in the case.
With the help of Shafe, Hodiak returns to the boyfriend and this time learns of a small-time pimp named Charlie that Karn ran off with at the party. They decide that if they want to find this guy, they’ll need to bait him with another girl. That’s when the duo becomes a trio with the help of a fellow cop named Charmain Tully (Claire Holt). With the assistance of a little stolen pot, they find 33-year-old Manson. Just when you think the time has come to put the cuffs on the bad guy and call it a day, the plot thickens.
It turns out Manson was put away in jail for possession of marijuana several years ago but managed to get a lighter sentence thanks to his lawyer, Ken Karn (Brian F. O’Byrne) -- Emma’s father.
In an incredibly uncomfortable encounter between Mr. Karn and Manson, we learn that the reason he went to bat for him in court was because he was a regular client of Manson’s and the two were a bit more than friends. The small-time pimp had been sending Karn his music tapes and, when the high-powered lawyer refused to use his clout to help popularize him, he went out in search of his daughter. Now, Emma Karn is 100 percent one of Manson’s girls. And with that, the first half of our series premiere was finished.
The second half opens by showing off the series’ potential to be a case-of-the-week procedural. While on their way to chase a Manson lead, they stop at a murder scene in a predominantly black neighborhood in L.A. It becomes clear that the victim’s husband is likely the culprit, and the investigation begins.
Just when it looks like they’re about to get some real information, members of the Nation of Islam arrive and tell them that no one in the neighborhood will talk to them since police only care about the murder because the woman was white. Despite the husband looking good for the crime, Hodiak arrests one of the men for the charge.
Meanwhile, Charlie continues to manipulate Emma and put the squeeze on her father. At this stage in his life, Manson is all about getting a record produced and becoming an influential musician.
With the man from the Nation of Islam giving Hodiak information about the night the woman was murdered, he’s able to use it as leverage to trick her husband into confessing. For a minute it looked to Shafe like his new partner was planning to sell the young black man down the river to help the husband get away with his crime, but it turns out it was all an elaborate play leading to a not-so-clean arrest for the murder.
While Hodiak got his collar, it rubbed his partner the wrong way. While the jerk move to arrest an innocent man just to use him as leverage is enough to end any normal police partnership, it really seemed to rub Shafe the wrong way. It’s then revealed that Shafe has a particular interest in creating good relations between the black community and the police as he’s in a relationship with a black woman and they have a child.
The series premiere of the cop drama ended on the cliffhanger of Hodiak’s military son back in L.A., apparently AWOL from his post in Vietnam. This gives fans something to tune in for next week when “Aquarius” continues at its normal time on NBC’s Thursday night lineup.
What did you think of the 2-hour series premiere? Comment below or tweet your thoughts to @TylerMcCarthy.