Sam makes a questionable choice to get his confession

By Kelly Connolly
July 15, 2016 at 12:55 AM EDT
Vivian Zink/NBC
S2 E7
  • TV Show

It’s the middle of the season on Aquarius, and it feels like we’re already too late. The opening flash-forward of this episode finds Sam getting the call about the Tate murders and heading out to face them; from there, we jump back a year and find him again in the wake of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, which we (thankfully) don’t have to watch in real time. We’re caught in limbo between the aftermath of one murder and the aftermath of others. The fact that all of the violence in this episode happens off camera doesn’t soften the blow; if anything, it adds to the frustration. There’s a sense some of it could be stopped if the right people would just pay attention.

After his brush with Kennedy, Sam was rewarded with a photo of a new missing girl inside an envelope addressed to “RFK’s no. 1 detective!” Now he’s got a lead: The girl’s name is Gail, and her aunt reported her missing two months ago to a different precinct. Gail was so shy, her aunt pushed her to put a lonely hearts ad in the paper; unsurprisingly, most of the letters she got in response were from married men. One of the letters asked Gail to meet up in an abandoned storefront, but it doesn’t have any prints. It seems like checking out the storefront would be a good next step, but Sam just shrugs at the latest dead end and turns his attention to other cases, which is what Cutler wants anyway.

What does Cut have against this case? He goes out of his way to assign more work to Sam, even though Moran is totally free, just to keep Sam from digging into the missing girls. The first task on Sam’s expanded agenda is the murder of an old white lady, Ms. Spector, whose maid Dierdre found her dead when she got to work in the morning. Dierdre says the old lady fired her last cook a week ago, but when Sam questions him, the cook says he quit; Spector wouldn’t stop calling him racial slurs.

Sam suspects Spector did the same to Dierdre, wearing her down until she snapped, but he proves his theory in an awful way. After gaining her trust (it’s eerie to see him smile so much), Sam flips, launching into a barrage of racial slurs (this is much worse). “All of those things she called you, you are!” Sam yells as Dierdre breaks down crying. When Shafe drags Sam out of the room to make him stop, Dierdre pulls her pocketknife from her bag. She seems set to kill herself before Shafe grabs her, holding her as she apologizes; she just couldn’t take it anymore.

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Sam has manipulated suspects before, but this has to be the most upsetting con he’s ever played. This isn’t an isolated incident — a white cop holding a black woman on nothing more than a vague suspicion and then verbally assaulting her until she confesses — and it takes on significance that Sam’s white lies to white boys do not. Despite his insistence that Dierdre is “not a victim; she’s the murderer,” she is a victim of a racist system, so if there’s ever a case for Sam to play by the book, this is it. Her confession is beside the point. The fact Sam assumes Shafe only objects because he sees his wife in Dierdre doesn’t help; she shouldn’t need a personal connection to a white man to be worthy of fair treatment. It’s not that the show supports Sam’s approach — it’s just that picking and choosing when we can support Sam’s disregard for the rules is kind of exhausting.

NEXT: Dogs in space

But Sam gets his confession. Before Cutler can throw another case file on his desk, Sam pries a little more into the Envelope Killer, calling a crime reporter to give him the scoop in the hopes the attention will draw the guy out of the woodwork. A news piece runs the next day, to the sound of wailing from Cut’s office. But Sam might be onto something; he gets a call from someone who claims to be the killer and promises to be in touch soon. Sam looks at Charmain: “I recognize that voice.” Does he remember a name, or does he just have a vague sense that the guy sounded familiar? And why did that guy actually sound familiar?

If Sam could just get Charmain on the case, he’d probably crack it in no time, but she’s busy with the SDS. The Students for a Democratic Society are ready to escalate from protests to bombs — at least, the men are. Charmain’s new friend Anna, who’s busy teaching her how to call out chauvinism, isn’t totally on board. But Charmain has an undercover image to maintain, so she goes along with Leonard’s plan, which is how she finds herself in the university’s chemistry building late at night, arranging flammable liquids around a few sticks of dynamite. As the students leave the room, Charmain offers Leonard a can of spray paint to sign his work, then sneaks back into the lab as Leonard strokes his ego. With no way of knowing which wires to cut, she douses the whole thing in water and hopes for the best. It works.

But Captain Perry isn’t as thrilled by Charmain’s success as she is — he can’t arrest anyone for “sitting and talking,” so as long as nothing blows up, his hands are tied. Charmain objects to the idea that she should put people’s lives at risk in order to make her case, especially because the SDS are starting to worry her. Leonard, who gets more dismissive of girlfriend Anna by the day, has bought a gun, and he suggests everyone else in the group do the same. Charmain laughs off his claim that the cops pay as much attention to the SDS as they do the Panthers, three of whom were recently killed in a shooting — but she is a cop, and she’s paying attention.

When Leonard seems ready to start a shooting of his own, Charmain goes to Sam for advice. She can’t give him any details, but she’s scared — more scared than I’d expect her to be, given what she’s already lived through. Sam responds with a pep talk that’s one-part encouragement, one-part tough love. Comparing her to Laika, the first dog in space, he points out that no other woman in the precinct has gotten as far as Charmain has — but if she fails or quits, she’ll prove her doubters right. She won’t get another chance. It’s all true, but he neglects to mention how quickly Laika died in space. In any case, the conversation ends with a pair of genuine smiles. Sam and Charmain: still the most functional relationship on this show.

As for Shafe and Kristin, they’re at odds thanks to the shootout between the cops and the Panthers. As soon as news hits the precinct, Shafe speeds to Panther HQ to make sure his wife is okay. Kristin is fine, and she has no intention of going home, either, even when her husband tries to use their daughter to make his point. “You don’t like that feeling?” Kristin asks. “Wondering if I’m okay, if I’m coming home, who’s going to watch after Bernadette? Neither do I. So now it’s your turn.” That night, Bunchy forces Kristin to consider the risks she’s taking by asking where she wants to be shot. (“Everybody’s got a spot.”) As long as she’s working with the Panthers, that’s her reality: The choice isn’t whether she’ll be killed, but how.

NEXT: Getting in cars with strangers

Kristin goes home shaken, but she understands her husband’s life a little more now: “When you’re the one in danger, you don’t have time to be afraid.” Shafe suggests she go to school and get her degree, but Kristin turns the tables on her husband by reminding him he has no business plotting out a perfect future until he comes clean about his drug use. The truth is out — for all of 30 seconds. Shafe sputters through a lie about how he just had the needle in his bag to make it look like he was doing drugs; when he doubles down on it, Kristin accepts his story. Shafe pours some of his drugs down the sink, but we know he won’t be clean in a year. How long will he last?

Drugs are also giving Charlie some trouble this week. When Tex takes Sadie (who’s just found out she’s pregnant) to the desert to finish a drug deal, he meets a very not-dead Ralph Church, who fought the poison mushrooms and won. (“I don’t know if he was resurrected as much as just he’s a big dude.”) When Ralph spots Sadie in the car, they scuffle — complete with a gunshot through the roof and a bite to his arm — and Tex and Sadie speed off, leaving Ralph without the drugs he already paid for.

Ralph is sure to be coming for the Family, so Charlie orders Tex to take care of it, but Tex doesn’t even want to pick up a gun. Emma tries another tactic. Reasoning that they’re safer when Ralph is locked up than they are when he’s “dead,” she pays Sam a visit at the station. She just wants him to know she’s better now. “I’m staying with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys!” she chirps, which is somehow hilarious in her “everyday overachieving teen” voice. Emma tells Sam that Ralph is the only thing standing between her and a bright future; she even overheard him saying he wanted to get back into pimping, using her. Sam can’t do anything with that, but he can do something with the fact that Ralph attacked two of her friends while out on parole.

Emma waltzes out of the station, proud of herself, and right into a black car. “Mr. Wilson sent us for you,” claims a man in a suit. Sure he did. Grace is chasing her political dreams by hosting tea parties for boring housewives, and the story she keeps telling about her daughter — that Emma is in France — is starting to wear thin. She needs Emma to put in some face time, so Grace makes a call to her father. The car is almost definitely his doing. Grace just wants to get in on the action, and she’s doing what she can, but the gap between the power at her disposal and the power at her husband’s is embarrassing. Across town, Ken is plotting to make a backdoor deal with Saigon, torpedoing Johnson’s Paris peace talks by promising a better cease-fire deal after Nixon’s election. He has no intention of following through. Happy election year!

Bits and pieces:

  • “Those cops didn’t shoot the Panthers because they think. They shot ‘em because they’re scared of ‘em.”
  • That transition from Shafe’s lie about drugs to Sam drinking at his desk is not accidental.
  • Charmain learns about chauvinism and immediately learns that not every problem can be solved by a white girl dropping the word “chauvinism.”
  • “That’s why I tell Leonard, ‘Baby, we can screw, but I am on top.’”
  • “Kept all her letters in a shoebox, which were delivered to Missing Persons upstairs, who now can’t find it. The irony of that is palpable.”
  • “Looking for a shoebox. Probably next to a unicorn.”
  • “Did you put her in a shoebox?”
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