You know when someone throws out a question, and it confuses you because the answer seems so obvious? When it comes to the Nixon administration, I have never thought, “Wow, why did all those men go along with this?” Because if history has shown anything, it’s that people will go along with whatever if it lets them buy more shit and order people around. We have three moments in the Gaslit finale where we are meant to ponder why these men followed Nixon, like we didn’t all live through the last presidential administration and its associated gang of morally bankrupt sycophants. Why men followed Nixon is not a question that keeps me up at night — we all know why.
So we finally see Nixon in this episode. Kind of. We’re forced to look at extreme close-ups of his eyes, mouth, and butt, and then we are treated to a shot of him tucking his undershirt into his white underpants. Oh, and while majestic music plays and we see shots of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, he farts. Sure. Like he’s farting all over our democracy. You know who would love this is my dad. As all this symbolism plays out, a voiceover discusses the Nixon tapes and how two tapes are absent. Nixon is nearing the end.
FBI agents arrest John Mitchell, who says it could be worse; he could be sentenced to life with Martha (a real thing he said!). Martha is at the doctor’s office for a fractured wrist and is very, very alone. She visits journalist friend Winnie at The Washington Post where Winnie presents Martha with her finished book. The publisher canceled the contract, but the book is done! This biography would eventually be published in 1979, three years after Martha’s death. For now, Winnie does not even know Martha is sick but agrees to awkwardly appear at her daughter Marty’s birthday because she is a good friend.
Martha is still living at The Watergate apartment, but she is falling apart. She’s sleeping in her clothes; trash is everywhere; and she’s still wearing her wedding ring. She manages to clean herself up enough to meet Winnie and the Life Magazine photographer who is coming to take pictures of the birthday party. There y’go, Martha. That’ll endear your daughter to you.
On the way to the party, Winnie apologizes to Martha and says she acted like she believed her story, but she is not sure she did. This is an incredibly hard sort of thing to own up to, so good job, Winnie! Or maybe not. I’m unclear on the ethics of this, as Martha is clearly holding on by a thread, so maybe you keep your guilt cleanse to yourself in this situation. In a gas station bathroom, Martha takes at least three Diazepam.
When they arrive at Marty’s school, Marty immediately wants Martha to leave. She doesn’t want her there, or the photographer, and she’s probably confused why this journalist woman was invited, which is very fair. Martha is stumbling and when Marty calls her crazy, Martha slaps her, then starts laughing. Winnie helps her into the car and they go to the hospital because now Martha’s nose has started bleeding. It’s all not GREAT.
Meanwhile, the Nixon Boys are really getting theirs. And by getting theirs, I mean they’re held in a minimum-security prison. They’re also digging an undetermined something with shovels and pickaxes, but they get to all hang out. If I had to dig with a shovel but I got to hang out with my friends and take breaks while doing it, I feel like that wouldn’t be the worst. They also get to soliloquize about a billboard with Nixon’s face on it. Dean says they are all Nixon, and will still be Nixon after he’s dead, which is so goddamn stupid, I cannot.
This is after Dean’s previous stupid statement, which is in the car with FBI agents Lano and Magallanes. He agrees to testify against Mitchell, and when Lano asks why Dean did all this illegal shit for a president who would throw him under the bus, Dean says, “Oceania foam.” First of all, it is, at this point in television history, it’s a real hack move to be like, Oh, my answer? This obscure two-word thing that is a symbol for my real answer; don’t I sound more interesting now, though? Dean says that the knowledge of this amazing seat foam that he was told was put on all the seats on Air Force One is what made him destroy Americans’ belief in their republic. MEN. The agents don’t even stare in disbelief and then say, “what the fuck are you talking about,” they just ask if he got to sit in one of the seats.
When I tell you the rabbit hole I went down trying to find out if this Oceania foam story was real. I looked at John Dean’s Blind Ambition: The White House Years. I looked at Air Force One: A History of the Presidents and Their Planes. I read “Automotive Cushioning Through the Ages: A Review” by The Molded Polyurethane Foam Industry Panel. I couldn’t find anything. I even tried looking up the Russian word for Oceania along with “Air Force One,” but nothing. So either this story is incredibly well buried, or it was made up and I learned about seat cushions through the ages for nothing. I hate everything.
Liddy is also called to testify against Mitchell, only he’s been silent through all his summoned testimonies. The prosecutor asks if he remembers the Operation Gemstone meeting, and Liddy starts singing quietly, which brings me to research subject number two, wherein I try to understand Liddy’s terrible German to identify the song, only to find out it’s the goddamn Nazi Party anthem, which has been banned in Germany and Austria since 1945. Liddy gets pulled out of the courtroom and inexplicably put in a room with John Dean, where Liddy 1). says he knows how to kill a man with a pencil and 2). tells a story about eating a rat.
Sidebar on Liddy, but while he’s definitely played as a caricature of a person, all these things are not completely off-base. In this collection of quotes from his memoir, there’s his pull towards Hitler, the time he almost killed John Dean with a pencil, and the time he ate a rat to show the other rats who was boss. While his scenes have felt incongruous with the rest of the show, at least we have a portrayal of him that seems closer to his actual persona than what he tried to make it in his final decades as a radio host.
John Dean gets out of prison. He feels guilty about being the one to get out early (he served four months), and when he asks why he’s the one to escape unscathed, Mo says, “John, you are good-looking.” Hahahahaha.
Martha is in the hospital. When Winnie angrily asks who is giving her Diazepam, the doctor says they’re not for nerves. As Barbara Jordan delivers her excellent speech in the background, Winnie tells Martha she knows Martha has cancer, and it’s progressed to being in her blood. Martha says it’s probably 65% gin (jokes!) and that she’ll tell John when he calls her. The Winnie/Martha friendship is really nice, especially when you think about how alone Martha would have been without Winnie. I mean, she’s alone anyway, but at least she occasionally has her friend there.
Mitchell later tells Marty that people like Martha mean well, but they destroy the relationships with the people who love them the most. It’s a good point, sir. Do you think having your spouse kidnapped, drugged, and abused also maybe destroys relationships? Or is that just people like Martha? No, you’re right, this is definitely on her. Her and her insistence on telling the truth. Women, amirite?
As Nixon gives his resignation speech, Winnie comes to the hospital looking for Martha. After some frantic searching, she sees her holding a baby in the nursery. Martha’s son is helping take care of her now (yay!), so she has at least two people in her corner.
Our final scenes are a kind of Animal House “where are they now” sequence. Martha passed away at age 57 and is buried in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Mitchell spent 19 months in prison. Dean and Mo are still married. Martha’s most lasting contribution is the Martha Mitchell effect, “a psychiatric term in which a person’s extraordinary claims are dismissed as delusion despite being true” (says the show).
As Marty and Mitchell leave the funeral, Marty stares at an enormous flower arrangement that says, “Martha Was Right.” Amen.