Gaslit – Season 1 Episode 1 “Will” Recap & Review


Episode 1 of Gaslit starts wit ha really slick opening, zooming out from a man’s face as he holds his hand above a candle’s flame. This is G. Gordon Liddy, and as the music crescendos, he slaps his hand down and extinguishes the flame, talking about how history isn’t written by the feeble masses.

This opener sets the scene for January 1972. It’s a turbulent time in history. There are protests in the street over Vietnam and rumblings that there could be jobs axed in the US government. The re-election campaign is coming up and the office is “re-evaluating certain select personnel.”

One among them who believes he’s in for the chop is John Dean, our protagonist. However, he’s not actually going to be fired. Instead, he’s tasked with fronting an espionage operation. Well, they don’t call it espionage as that’s “too strong a word”, they prefer intelligence. Their target? The Democrats.

John Dean isn’t sure but when he finds out Nixon  asked for him personally, he soon changes his tine. Now, it would appear that the gang have devised a plan for covert operations, with the first title “Operation Gemstone.” There’s also another called “Operation Quartz.” This phase would see them round up fringe activist leaders and export them to Mexico. It’s basically kidnap.

“Operation Ruby” is another, something that would see them film democratic officials on a boat with hookers. As they continue on, it soon becomes apparent that it’s going to cost an absolutely bomb. So it’s an outright rejection for Liddy after his passionate pitch, told that it’s way too ambitious.

Dean tries to calm him down afterwards, eventually telling him he liked the pitch as a way of deflecting.

Another firecracker in the midst of this just waiting to explode is Martha Mitchell, a socialite who becomes the first person to speak about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate break-in. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. For now, she does the rounds on TV, eventually settling in to give an interview to Winne McLendon from the Ladies Home Journal.

She speaks informally, and is on the verge of talking about the war and her feelings on Vietnam when her husband, John Mitchell soon bursts in and breaks everything up, believing that she’s trying to overshadow Pat Nixon. After heading off to Nixon’s fundraiser that night, someone crashes the party and protests. Given Martha is there, she actually feeds this back to Winnie later on, whom she rings in the middle of the night.

Maureen (Mo) a flight attendant from LA who wants to be a writer, goes on a date with John Dean. The topic turns to politics and, specifically, Nixon. Mo calls him out for being a massive liar, whereas Dean jumps to the man’s defence, pointing out the good Nixon is doing. I mean politics is the one topic you do not talk about on a date and inevitably, things sour quickly off the back of this.

Funnily enough, Dean is invited along to a fundraiser that evening but he’s encouraged to bring a date along. The only person he can think of is Mo and after their awful date, he “bumps” into her at the airport. He claims he’s getting a flight but he’s actually been stalking her. Mo soon realizes what he’s been ding and calls him pathetic and a little boy. She’s incredulous about going to a Republican Fundraiser… until she learns Martha Mitchell will be there. In which case, she’ll happily go given she’s a big fan.

They both attend the fundraiser together, where Mo hilariously smiles and tells some of the people pleasantly that they have blood on their hands. Mo eventually meets Martha but it’s a flying visit as she does the rounds and greets everyone else. However, Dean does introduce her to various different heads, including the “Berlin Wall”. This happens to be Nixon’s close-knit circle, including Chief of Staff Bob Baldeman. As Dean thanks him for the opportunity to work with Nixon, he scoffs and tells him the President has no part of this and he should be more vigilant to watch out for snakes. Oof.

The whole evening sours  thanks to Martha’s earlier intel leak to Winnie and the pair end up fighting. Martha laughs at John, but he slaps her in the face in response. Unfortunately, their daughter happens to be listening from the other room, smoking and talking to Dean about her family woes.

Unfortunately, John’s words cut the deepest, telling Martha that no one likes her and between journos and politicians, she’s alone and without anyone. By comparison, Mo happens to see Dean in a different light after his kindness toward Martha’s daughter.

Following his evening with Mo, John Dean writes up a resignation letter and decides not to be part of this shady covert operation after all. However, Mitchell is actually out and not at his desk when he shows up. As Dean drops off his letter, he notices a letter on the desk referencing a phone call from Nixon, telling Dean that he’s happy and wants to meet. Dean changes his mind and leaves with the letter.

As the episode closes out, we return to the burning candle scene once more, this time with James Dean trying his hand. Unlike Liddy, he can’t take the heat and pulls his hand back immediately.

The Episode Review

Gaslit gets off to a great start, with crackling dialogue, an enticing story and a hotpot of interesting characters to get the ball rolling. There’s a really nice undercurrent of drama bubbling here and for those familiar with the time period, they’re sure to enjoy this modern take on a very iconic moment in American history.

The opener is simple enough, with a nice undercurrent of humour to a lot of the more heavy dramatic themes. The era is captured beautifully here, with the mood very much hostile toward Nixon and his office.

The ending certainly leaves the door wide open for the rest of the series, and if this episode is any indication, it could well be quite the rollercoaster ride as we dive deeper into this one.

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