Mindhunter told us weeks ago that its second season would tackle the chilling Manson Family murders and the man at their center, Charles Manson. The season's fifth episode, “Episode Five,” lives up to that promise as the series’ hard-nosed heroes finally get a meeting with the infamous cult leader. Although Charlie (Damon Herriman here… and in Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood) proves to be a haunting figure in the Mindhunter world, he’s not the person most viewers will likely be thinking about after finishing “Episode Five.”
Rather, they’ll be wracking their brains about Tex Watson and his portrayer, Christopher Backus. It’s Tex who offers up the undeniable explanation of how a supposedly “average” young person could become a murder. And, it doesn’t help that the person playing him looks awfully familiar.
Earlier this year, Backus joined BLL as Joe the Bartender, the tattooed one night stand of a grieving Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman). Yes, we’re talking about the dreamy bartender Celeste flirted with in “She Knows” and promptly took home, only for him to walk through the Wrights' kitchen just as Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) and the twins (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti) returned to Chez Wright. No sighs of “Hey, buddy” from Joe to the kids could make that unexpected confrontation any less awkward.
Although “She Knows” is the first and last time Joe has a speaking part, he shows up again in penultimate season 2 episode “The Bad Mother.” There, Mary Louise’s ruthless custody lawyer Ira Farber (American Horror Story’s Denis O'Hare) brings Joe up as a way to rattle Celeste during the Wrights' hearing. Ira pulls up a photo of Joe and demands to know just how much Celeste remembers about their time together. The appearance of Joe — and Celeste’s sexy flashback of him — kicks off a lengthy and rude examination of Celeste’s recent sexual history.
Backus also has a leading role in Cinemax’s Jett, opposite Haunting of Hill House mom Carla Gugino. There he plays Bennie, henchman to Gugino’s world-class Daisy "Jett" Kowalski.
In Minhunter, Backus takes the henchman role up a few macabre and bloody notches as Tex Watson. Tex is the sole man who directly committed the Cielo Drive murders that brutally took the life of Sharon Tate, her unborn baby, and four other people in 1969. At the beginning of Mindhunter “Episode 5,” our Behavioral Science Unit protagonists wonder about the relationship between Dean “The Candyman” Corll and his accomplice Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. (Robert Aramayo, aka Game of Thrones' Young Ned Stark). Henley eventually killed Corll. It’s Tex who helps explain how someone like Manson was able to control as many young and impressionable followers as he did.
“He could convince you of things you never thought possible,” Tex says at the top of his in-prison interview with FBI agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff). Charles’ tactics included drugging, violent mental exercises, race baiting, and threats of the coming apocalypse, Tex reveals. “We lived every day thinking the world was about to end,” he continues in his most revealing portion of his cameo. “There is freedom in that. If there’s no tomorrow, there’s no consequences. Does it matter what you do on your last day on Earth?”
While Holden claims he would still care about creating such brutality with his own two hands, Tex doesn’t seem convinced. Especially not when he admits Manson's manipulation didn't create Tex's need to kill from scratch — rather, the coercion gave him and every other Manson Family member permission to explore the rage already lurking inside of them. As Tex says, “I pray to God I wouldn’t have [murdered anyone otherwise], but I know, in my heart, I harbored anger.”
With disturbing and unflinching honesty like this, it’s no surprise we’re all far more interested in Christopher Backus’ Tex than Mindhunter’s version of Charles Manson. After a 50-year pop cultural fascination with Manson, it may just be time to talk about anything else.