‘Gaslit’ Miniseries, Episode 2 Recap: California



Season 1

Episode 2

Editor’s Rating

4 stars

Photo: Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Starz

Wow, the Watergate break-in in episode TWO. Where will they go from here? Watergate became such a thing and a scandal and symbol of broken trust. While I, as a person who retells episodes of television, can perhaps not properly sum it up, there is a 1997 25th-anniversary CNN article, the book and movie of All The President’s Men, and a very recent release called Watergate: A New History. And, of course, 1 million other things have been written about it because it is Watergate.

I felt bad for barely talking about Martha last week when the show is ostensibly about her, but it looks like the stage is being set for her star turn. For now, while she has her nails buffed in California, we look at all these guys.

Like Frank Wills! In the show, Frank gets hired as a night security guard at the Watergate, and that very evening, the bungled break-in happens. Frank had actually been working there for about a year, but this makes it more fun, so whatever. It’s the opposite of “Only one day left to go before I retire,” which means instead of inevitably dying, Frank foils a spy operation and take down the president. He is in desperate need of a job, and the man interviewing him hires him on a trial basis after he recites all the state capitals (missing Bismarck, North Dakota). Why does he have to do that inane thing to get hired? His interviewer says his job on the front desk is “to make white folks feel secure,” and one way to do that is to have a friendly public school grad who knows the capitals. Okay, sir! I can’t disprove this theory, so let’s go with it.

Something I did not know was that the Watergate break-in happened twice. The first time, they wiretapped two phones but then decided they needed to repair the listening devices, so they had to go back. Again, Nixon was ahead by just a huge margin and this is all extremely stupid.

Liddy and the Break-In Boys are across the street at the Howard Johnson’s, which is very funny to me for some reason. They can spy on the Watergate DNC offices from there, as well as keep eyes on the street. Or they could do that if they weren’t watching Attack of the Puppet People (that comes later). Martha’s former bodyguard Jim McCord is going to plant the new bugs because, in this version of history, the only phone that was tapped was the secretary’s, and she’s just making lewd calls all day to her boyfriend (women, amirite?).

We see McCord at Martha’s house just before he’s pulled into this. They discuss Rilke because her daughter Marty is reading Letters to a Young Poet. Martha invites Jim to join them on their trip to California, and he says he has v important busy business times and can’t.

The trip to California mainly features Martha and John Mitchell at a party, chatting up Michael Deaver, who worked on Reagan’s various campaigns, including his win to become California’s governor. The Mitchells want Deaver on their side to get Reagan’s endorsement of Nixon, so they try to convince him.

Here we are meant to see Martha Mitchell thriving in the game of politics. She plays pool with Deaver and tells him if Reagan wants to be president, he’s going to have to get in the mud like Nixon. He mentions what Nixon did to Muskie, and if you want to learn more about that, I refer you to the Canuck letter incident. That Nixon. I wonder what it’d be like to have a morally bankrupt president advocating law and order but consistently breaking the law and going beyond any sense of human decency. Sounds terrible. Anyway, Deaver gets the message, and Reagan will go on to do president things and stay silent while thousands die of AIDS. But that’s in the future! Now we’re in the ’70s.

Speaking of the 1970s, who wants to see Cat Stevens at the Hollywood Bowl with Mo Kane? Well, John Dean does, but he’s waiting to finally meet Nixon (whose secretary is Martha Kelly from the show Baskets!), and then after he is rain-checked to three months from now, he has to hop on a plane to the Philippines. Mo calls him, and he tells her he has to reschedule their date because of his unexpected Philippines trip, but he’ll stop by L.A. on his way back. Mo is upset.

At the Watergate, Jim is just having a super bad day. He and his four accomplices have trouble picking the lock to the building, then after Jim tapes the lock so they can get in and out, he realizes he forgot the transceivers back at the Howard Johnson’s, so he has to run back and get them, and Jim is not in his prime of life. While he’s gone, security guard Frank (I love Frank) does his rounds and notices the tape, which he removes. So when Jim gets back to the Watergate, the tape is gone and someone has to come down and get him. Then everyone is feeling extra rushed, and Jim runs up the stairs and trips and falls flat on his face. That Jim. Never catching a break.

Frank comes round again and sees there’s new tape on the door, so he calls the police (hey-ooo). The police pull up in a giant orange car, dressed as hippies, so the Break-In Boys at the Howard Johnson’s think nothing of it. But they were on VICE detail, and these cops are here to catch some robbers (just go with me on this). When the cops pull out their guns in the lobby, one of the Break-In Boys says my favorite line in the episode: “Mother of shit. Eagle Eye, the hippies are armed!” Poetry. Try to match that, Rilke.

Jim McCord and his four buddies are arrested. Liddy and his HoJo people book it out of there, shoving all their files into a jeep and peeling out onto the street, which is now swarming with police cars.

John Dean calls Mitchell from the Philippines and tells him the news (how did he hear it first??). Dean expresses concern about Martha and her chatty ways with reporters, echoing Mitchell’s comment about the next 48 hours being crucial. Mitchell is v upset that Liddy let McCord go into the DNC since no one was supposed to be tied to Nixon’s people. Mitchell tells Dean to get his dick out of the butter churn on this one, which is a close second for my favorite line. You know who else can’t catch a break? John Dean. Mitchell tells him to fly straight back to D.C. SORRY, MO.

In appreciation for Frank Wills’s keen eyes, he gets … a $2.50 raise a week. Apparently, this is now about $17. So. That’s not great, no matter when it happens. I have no idea if this raise is historically accurate, but it feels like it would happen, so let’s go with it. Did I mention that I love Frank? I love Frank. He has conversations with his cat.

Over in California, Martha wakes up, and the house is empty, save one bodyguard. Uh-oh. Her phone line is cut. The TV is unplugged. Mitchell has flown back to D.C. And when she tries to push past the bodyguard, he blocks her way, tells her not to get hysterical (YOU don’t get hysterical, sir!), and then grabs her and forcibly marches her away from the phone. This is extremely upsetting!! And it is only going to get worse from here, so if you have challenges with this sort of very controlling behavior, maybe be careful with yourself for the next episode or two.

We close on Martha thoughtfully smoking in her room while Liddy talks to one of his minions and asks how they could have been so foolish not to see it coming. Retribution.

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