King’s Assassination and 5 Times Last Night’s Aquarius Had Us Pulling Out the History Books

(Episode 2.04, “Revolution 1”)

TV Lists
King’s Assassination and 5 Times Last Night’s Aquarius Had Us Pulling Out the History Books

So, you say you want a revolution… Well just make sure you’re prepared for the docudrama that your exploits may inspire years later.

Aquarius makes no argument that it exists firmly within the realm of historical fiction, and for the most part it may seem pretty easy to spot when the show is, well, making it up. Still there are moments where the fictional tales of Hodiak, Emma, Shafe and Charmain blur the line between historical embellishment and historical falsehood. Here are the five moments that sent us diving for our history books in last night’s episode of Aquarius.

1. “They did it. They finally did it. They shot King.”
Of course we all know that this, unfortunately, is all too true. On April 4,1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray just outside room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

What may come as a surprise is how accurate Aquarius is with not just the actual facts of King’s assassination, but in incorporating those facts into last night’s plot. For example, the police commissioner sends Shafe and Hodiak to talk to Bunchy, with a strong warning that sunset is approaching within the hour. This is a very well executed nod to the fact that King passed away in the evening at 5:05pm. Sunset coming at about 6:30pm in L.A. means that not only is this an accurate timeline, but also serves as a great way to increase tension, without distorting the truth.

On a larger scale we have the riots. Over 100 cities in the Untied States broke out into riots following King’s death. With cities like Chicago, Baltimore and Washington D.C. on the list, it may be a little bit hard to believe that Los Angeles was able to avoid the destruction. Surprisingly, that’s absolutely true. While many cities experienced devastating violence as a result of the outpouring of grief and frustration many felt after King’s murder, Los Angeles was spared. A joint effort between the Los Angeles Police Department and community organizers like the Black Panther Party kept violence to a minimum. It was a bit more of a group effort than just sending our two wayward heroes down to Watts for the day, but I guess we can forgive them a little logic leap for the sake of dramatic tension.


2. Jeff Schneider and Louisa Burnside
Ahhhh, young love… and the murder that television loves telling us is so often the outcome. With as emotionally grounded and socially complex a story as Louisa Burnside’s murder provides, you wouldn’t be foolish for thinking there might be at least a little bit of historical accuracy to this story.

It certainly matches up with the social complexities and tensions of the time. But despite the Law & Order feel to this plot line, it was not in fact ripped from the headlines. As far as we can tell, there was never a Louisa Burnside or Jeff Schneider, nor was there any incident like the one depicted at the time our story is set. So, while this plot may be effective storytelling, a story is all it is.


3. Richard Tendaji and the UA
This one’s a bit more complicated. While Bunchy Carter and the Black Panther Party are very much a reality, the newly mentioned Richard Tendaji and his organization the UA, well, aren’t. So why invent a rival nationalist group?

Likely Aquarius is using Tendaji and the UA as a stand in for the Panthers’ real life rival. In Southern California, the Panthers often found themselves at odds with Organization Us. Founded by Ron Karenga and often referred to as simply US—US, UA? Do you see what I see?—they often competed with the Panthers for potential members, though their aims and tactics were different in the extreme. Tensions escalated between the two groups consistently during the late ‘60s, often with a little added assistance from the FBI, before coming to a head in January of 1969. We won’t delve further here, except to give you the gentle warning of spoilers, really soooooo many spoilers.


4. Captain Welles and Heroine Smuggling
Well first off, like Charmain and Roy, Captain Welles is a completely fictional character. Unfortunately, the crisis he represents was not. With many soldiers returning from Vietnam with newly developed heroin addictions, more than one greedy, morally dubious military veteran began smuggling the drugs in from the area, often referred to as the Golden Triangle. What’s even more disturbing is that these drugs were often smuggled into the United States in the body bags and coffins of dead soldiers. And while solid proof may be lacking, there’s a lot of evidence and speculation that Hodiak’s suspicions about CIA and government involvement may very well be true. Pretty insidious stuff. But perhaps not as insidious as…


5. Charlie Manson and Racism. Just really so much racism.
“Are you saying Charlie wants a race war?” Well, yes. Yes, Dennis Wilson, you’ve nailed it in one. Though I would have thought that was obvious when you watched him praying for Martin Luther King Jr. to die. That and all the incoherent ranting. So much incoherent ranting.

Most anyone with a passing knowledge of Manson can tell you that on top of being a violent misogynist, narcissist, and all around not great guy his fanatical racism pretty much drove his vision of “Helter Skelter.” So you say you want a revolution? Well if you’re Emma, Sadie, Tex, Patty, or Dennis you’d better pay a bit more attention to what Charlie is preaching. I’m pretty sure it’s not exactly Beatles approved.

Katherine Siegel is a Chicago-based freelance writer and director and a regular contributor to Paste. You can find out more by checking out her website, or follow her on Twitter.

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