Nixon is in trouble. For Watergate, you say, but aha! Not really! He’s on TV talking about his income tax, and if you want to learn more about that, I am delighted to send you to a website I just learned about, which is the Tax History Project. It’s so weird. I love it so much.
Something I will say about this show, for all the white men it throws at you, it really goes down the rabbit hole, pop-culture-wise. I like to think of myself as a culturally literate person going back many decades because of my old parents, but here Martha Mitchell is on The Mike Douglas Show, and I say, “Who the fuck is Mike Douglas?” His show ran for over 20 years! And yet, who made it into the history books? Dick Cavett. Douglas tells Martha she’s the first person to publicly accuse the president of being responsible for the Watergate break-in. Martha is pretty sure she won’t be the last.
Amid all this scandal-focused scuttlebutt, Nixon wins the election by an absolutely thunderous landslide. John Dean proposes to Mo, so the Cuisinart worked, and Martha is working with reporter friend Winnie on her biography. You’d think it’s an autobiography, but the book that eventually gets published is Martha: The Life of Martha Mitchell by Winzola McLendon. In the course of talking to Winnie about the book, Martha mentions Dorothy Hunt’s plane crashing.
Show creator Robbie Pickering tried to get a Watergate show made for years and finally found the hook he needed in Martha’s story. This might be why Gaslit sometimes feels like her story line is tacked onto a story about the men around Nixon, despite Julia Roberts’s face being the only one featured in the marketing. As often happens when someone loves a topic and does a ridiculous amount of research for it, the resulting show often feels overstuffed. Pop-culture references are one thing, but things like a passing reference to E. Howard Hunt’s wife’s plane crashing are just so much in a show that already has more characters than I can keep track of, the vast majority of whom are men.
But back to the Watergate investigation. Liddy and McCord are at their sentencing hearing when the judge brings forward a letter from McCord. This causes Liddy to freak out and try to jump at McCord. McCord was going to crack, Liddy! The signs were all there! The signs mainly being that, unlike Liddy, he wasn’t a big fascist weirdo who tells his kids from prison how much Hitler inspired him as a child (this is in Liddy’s book as well).
Another woman shows up on the show! Oh, she’s a secretary. Oh, she’s John Mitchell’s secretary (played by Anne Dudek!). Oh, she hits on him. Haha. Gross. Literally the only scene she’s physically present for this episode is this one, and in the other one, she’s having phone sex with Mitchell. Anne Dudek deserves better! She played cutthroat bitch on House (a.k.a. Amber Volakis)! Apparently she was also in Mad Men, but I did not watch Mad Men because if I wanted to watch women being treated poorly, I could look right at our Supreme Court, amirite, ladies?
People discover a lot of information via TV in this episode, and one of those moments is when Mitchell watches the news, where the presenter says that because of McCord’s letter, the government might open a Senate committee about Watergate. Okay, but this is in fact the best part of the whole episode because the presenter is none other than PERD HAPLEY. PERRRD. You know, I gave some critiques, but this is major points to the show right here. Every show should have a Perd Hapley cameo.
John Dean and Mo get married! Then their honeymoon gets canceled because of the burgeoning scandal. Dean meets Haldeman in the latter’s office. Haldeman has two reasons for this meeting. The first is to tell Dean he and Mo can have a weekend getaway at Camp David (Dean is VERY excited), and the second is to say Dean will be writing the investigative report on Watergate. Dean does not want to do this because he could be indicted for obstruction of justice, and Haldeman says sure, fine, don’t worry about it, then after Dean leaves, Haldeman tries to flip his very heavy desk? He is unsuccessful.
So … I’ve heard of Camp David. And I know things have happened there (see: Camp David Accords). But it sounds like a Jewish day camp, and I do not know what actually happens there. So I looked it up! It’s in Maryland, it’s about 60 miles from Washington, D.C., and after FDR took it over as a presidential retreat and named it Shangri-La (ahahahaha, can you imagine), Eisenhower named it Camp David. Nixon paved over the nature trails (you started the EPA, sir! What’re you doing!) that Reagan then had converted back so he could ride horses and feel like a cowboy. The official website refers to it as “the President’s country residence.” There’s a main presidential cabin, guest cabins, and a golf course. I encourage you to look at photos because they are terrible. I wonder if world leaders gossip about the weird 1960s wood paneling at our leader’s country residence after they visit. It looks like the retreat center my Christian high school went to every fall.
But Mo is so excited! John Dean is so excited! I guess if it were the 1970s, I’d be excited! They play tennis while sipping Champagne. They swim in the pool. They go horseback riding like they’re on a Bachelor date. And while watching a Godzilla movie, Mo brings up that she only feels extreme emotions towards John, both positive and negative, and she thought getting married was supposed to take away relationship fears. I don’t want to speak to other people’s marriages because you can only speak to your own, but I’ll say, this doesn’t sound great, Mo. But! She and John Dean are still married and it’s been so many years, so it all worked out.
After the Nixon boys try to get John Mitchell on tape saying he organized the break-in, he calls them a talentless bunch of shitgibbons and leaves. So they’re back to trying to leave Dean holding the bag, and he finds out through Nixon announcing on television that Dean will monitor the investigation and submit a report to Nixon. Dean is horror-struck. When he calls Haldeman, Haldeman tells him to nut up. Sounds like something that would be said. Dean yells “fuck” a whole bunch, and Mo, standing in the corner of the kitchen, says “I feel like something’s going on.” Which is funny! There are a good number of genuinely funny moments in this show. Let’s not lose that in the shuffle — everyone’s timing is extremely good.
As Dean lies on the floor, despondent, Mo asks him why he didn’t tell her what was happening. He thought it would eventually go away. Look, I know some people are unhappy with how John Dean is portrayed in this show, but I enjoy his bumbling persona. Does it seem accurate? No! But I definitely do not need accuracy. Mo tells him they can fix this, and he doesn’t have to write the report, because if he does, he’ll go to prison. That Betty Gilpin. So wise. So pretty.
FBI agents Lano and Magallanes stake out Jeb Magruder’s house until Magruder’s wife Gail gets in the back of their car, tells them to lay off because she’s handling it, and steals their pizza. It’s great.
Martha is falling apart in time with her marriage. She stops working with Winnie on the book and just sits in bed, surrounded by empty bottles and half-empty plates of food scattered on the ground. As we close on a John Mitchell monologue about marriage being love, hate, fire, and fear (what!), she tells Mitchell that the committee called and she’s going to testify. Dun, dun, dun!