David Duchovny pulls off an exceptional performance in  TV’s “Aquarius”. The first season of the series, now on Blu-ray in an unrated version, is loosely based on Charles Mansion prior to the murders of the La Bianca’s and Sharon Tate. The show introduces events that led up to the discovery of Mansion’s commune, the investigation, prostitution and how he established his following. Support actors are exceptionally good and the fast paced script plays out nicely without interruptions or cut-away.

It’s 1967 Los Angeles and America has charged into the flower child era protesting Vietnam, practicing free love, establishing communes, and creating groups like the Black Panthers. Police are trying to control order and a number of teenage girls have been listed as runaways in the LA area. The first three episodes of Aquarius deals with establishing characters, the luring of 16-year-old Emma into Charles Mansion’s (Gethin Anthony) commune and the search to find the missing teen.

Emma Kern (Emma Dumont), the daughter of a prominent lawyer Ken Kern (Brian F. O’Byrne) and his wife Grace (Michaela McManus) has gone missing. Getting little help from the police, Grace contacts close friend Detective Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) in hopes that he can find Emma for her. Sam has problems of his own trying to rebound from a difficult marriage to Opai (Jodi Harris) and attempting to locate their son Michael (Jason Ralph) who has gone AWOL from his military unit. Taking on the case and needing a plain clothes cop that can assist him, Sam gets assigned a young undercover cop Brian Shafe (Gary Damon) who has been working on a drug investigation.

So begins a story that includes hippies, prostitution, strip clubs, crime and adultery. And that’s only the beginning of the “Murder, Madness, Mansion” of Aquarius. Director Jonas Pate movies the first 3 episodes along at a fast pace establishing the main characters that will be at the center of the story and providing a very challenging show representative of this period of change and disorder.  He’s meticulous with the era working with automobiles, sets and costumes that fit the hippies, radio communications strapped detectives, life in a commune and recreating locations in and around Los Angeles.  He does a brilliant job of providing intrigue, captivating the audience with continuous revelations, unusual sexual practices, violent confrontations, subjects in the news during the 1960’s and several plot twists.

This ideal cast makes their roles believable showing the change in lifestyle that took over the 60’s and early 70’s. Duchovny works the no-nonsense free-wheeling Detective Sam Hodiak to the bone. He’s determined to find Emma even though it entrenches him in the more evil plot of a man who controls the men and women he recruits. Wanting to please Grace, he finds himself blowing the case wide open and putting himself in more danger than anticipated. On a comical note check out Duchovny’s hair, his crop may have been in the period, but nothing I’ve ever seen.

Casting the role of Mansion may have been difficult as trying to capture the evilness of the criminal with very sadistic eyes can hardly be duplicated. For Aquarius they chose to use Gethin Anthony (HBO’S “Game of Thrones”), who although a very good actor, really doesn’t capture the wickedness look of the monster who lured young women and men into his lair for sex, prostitution, theft, murder and other decadent ways. For those who are not familiar with the notorious Mansion case, Anthony does however depict his uncontrolled behavior and charismatic personality. He was originally cast as Mansion in the digital miniseries Aquarius: Summer of Love that aired with four webisodes on the internet. The four are included as an added bonus in Special Features on disc 4 of the Blu-ray.

The casting experts chose the perfect support actors for the key roles. Ken Kern the father of Emma is played Brian F. O’Byrne (TV’s “The Last Ship”). Ken may be adamant about getting his daughter back, but has a deep dark secret that keeps getting in the way. As Hodiak’s partner, Grey Damon (TV’s “Twisted”) plays Brian Shafe a pivotal character to the production who jumps into the fire portraying the undercover half of the team. He’s a determined character who has been working plain clothes for vice.

Taking on Shafe’s undercover partner, Claire Holt (TV’s “The Vampire Diaries”) creates Charmain Tully a meek looking new cop who fits nicely into Manson’s harem types. It’s Charmain’s first experience at getting dangerously close to crime and Holt handles her character very nicely. As the run-away daughterEmma Kern, Emma Dumont (Inherent Vice) turns in an adequate performance as the girl who’s easily lured into Manson’s den of iniquity. As Emma she follows Manson’s flock and finds herself on a fast road to drugs and sex.

Bonus Features:

“Webisodes” four short features introducing the main characters.
“First Look Aquarius” features the cast and production developers as they talk about the project and characters.

The quality of the sound and video are equal to your TV’s systems played via your Blu-ray player. The 16×9 television screens are filled side to side and top to bottom with the aspect ratio 1.78:1 duplicating the original presentation. The colors are vibrant, camerawork very good and if you have a good speaker system you’ll experience quality Dolby TrueHD.

The Blu-ray/DVD version of “Aquarius” has not been rated, but contains violence, sex, nudity, drug use and language. The home video presentation plays out like a 10 hour non-stop, no ads or pop-ups R rated movie with no blurring of scenes. You can watch by episode or ‘play all’ that will continue the show directly into each episode. Please use caution when watching the video as there are many scenes that are inappropriate for immature adolescents. Aquarius has been renewed for a second season on NBC.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A better production than the TV aired season and I watched both. (B)

Specifications and additional video information:
Cast: David Duchovny, Grey Damon, Gethin Anthony, Emma Dumont, Claire Holt, Michaela McManus, Brian F. O’Byrne, Gaius Charles, Jodi Harris, Jason Ralph, Chance Kelly, Ambyr Childers
Director: Jonas Pate
Writer: John McNamara
TV Rating: Not Rated, Contains violence, sex, nudity, drug use, language
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 590 minutes, 14 episodes
Original NBC Release Date:
Video Release Date: September 15, 2015
Language: English
Reviewed Format: Blu-ray (also available on DVD)
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Widescreen TV Presentation, Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Number of Discs: 4 Disc Set
Distributed by: Anchor Bay Entertainment


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