Agent Mulder Vs. Charles Manson

Episode 602

That’s not a slash fiction premise or a rejected X-Files scenario, but more or less the concept behind the forthcoming NBC crime drama, Aquarius:

Aquarius will be set in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, and Duchovny will play a police sergeant whose personal life is more troublesome than his job, [sic] at least it was until he sets his sights on Manson, who at that point was just released from prison and starting to build his Family of easily swayed hippies. (…)

”The twists and turns of a complicated undercover operation will lead Duchovny’s character and his young partner to the brink of Manson’s crimes that will eventually lead to the Tate-LaBianca murders in subsequent seasons.”

The backstory to the infamous murders certainly gives the folks behind Aquarius some juicy, colorful stuff to work with:

Most people know that career-criminal Manson was also a frustrated singer-songwriter.

He’d pinned his hopes for fame and fortune on his acquaintance with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who’d in turn introduced him to Terry Melcher, a record producer who happened to be Doris Day’s son.

Melcher also resided at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon — or had, until he made way for new tenants: Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate…

What most people don’t know — because the Baby Boomers who run the world don’t want you to — is that the Manson’s Family were full-fledged players in the California counterculture.

Even after the Tate-LaBianca murders…

PJMedia readers probably know about Weather Underground terrorist-turned-respectable-“educator” Bernardine Dohrn’s approving shout out to Manson at a radical 1969 “war council.”

Approvingly citing one of the gorier details of the LaBianca killings, Mrs. Bill Ayers proposed replacing the two-fingered peace sign with a three-fingered “fork salute”, and exclaimed:

“Dig it! First they killed those pigs and then they put a fork in their bellies. Wild!”

What’s been successfully buried, however, is even more damning evidence that the hippie Establishment embraced the post-massacre Manson as “one of them,” a flaky but sincere longhair being shafted by The Man.

If Boomers acknowledge any overlap between their beloved peace & love hippie-selves and the Family, they usually drone that, at the very most, “Manson represented the dark side of the hippie movement,” and note — correctly — that Charlie himself, having been born in 1934, was actually part of the “Silent Generation” cohort.

The trouble is, if you’re a Gen-Xer like me, the hippie movement looks like one giant dark side.

Living communally in a free-love compound, constructing a world view around a record album, living parasitically off the society he condemned — Charles Manson simply took the hippie philosophy to its logical extreme.

As Molly Lambert writes wryly at Grantland:

Manson was a nightmare version of the hippie alpha male familiar to any former co-op dweller.

Except — I’ll say it again — for the “nightmare” part.

Manson and that “hippie alpha male” are basically the same guy; one of them just has a body count.

Somewhat miraculously, music journalist David Dalton remembers those days quite well — back when he was Dennis Wilson’s housemate and all:

I called Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, and told him about all these strange goings on. I said I thought there was more to the Charles Manson story than was being told. I felt the whole counterculture was on trial here and we needed to tell our side of the story. Jann, in his characteristically enthusiastic way, said: “Let’s do it! We’ll put ‘MANSON IS INNOCENT!’ on the cover. Come up to San Francisco and we’ll talk.”

In Jann’s office a couple of days later there was this deceptively straight-looking character with a quizzical expression on his face named David Felton. David had worked for the Los Angeles Times and Jann thought that for a crime story like this I needed to work with someone who had hard news background. I was immediately suspicious. Naively, I saw the Manson case as a fight for the life of the counterculture itself—one of our own was being martyred, our most cherished beliefs were being trashed by the cynical establishment and their lackies, the LAPD. I was not alone in this delusion.

David wasn’t convinced that Manson was innocent. He thought he might be innocent. “Isn’t this what we’re trying to find out?” Traitor! Embryonic hippie culture was just then beginning to poke its scaly head into the great American reich. Didn’t he see this was a holy war? This kind of nit-picking objectivity was the curse of Western society—Cartesian logic, Euclidean geometry, linear thinking.  I felt like Castro (yet another fallen idol!). “Everything for the revolution; against it nothing!”

Do read the whole thing.

Will Aquarius have the nerve to indict the entire counterculture as complicit in Manson’s crimes, which would never have occurred had the hippie movement never existed?

The title they’ve chosen for the series gives me faint reason to hope.

One thing I know for sure, sight unseen:

They won’t be able to top one of the greatest casting feats in television history.

That is, they won’t be able to find a better “Manson” than Steve Railsback, who embodied him so convincingly in the 1976 Helter Skelter miniseries that for most people my age, Railsback quite simply IS Manson.

Regardless, I’ll be watching Aquarius, and I suspect I won’t be alone.