White House Plumbers – Episode 1 “The Beverly Hills Burglary” Recap & Review

The Beverly Hills Burglary

White House Plumbers has the Watergate scandal of the 70’s at its core. The scandal materialized in the US when a few low-level White House associates tried breaking into the Watergate Building and into the offices of the Democratic National Committee. The break-in triggered Nixon’s resignation, the first sitting POTUS to do so. The series is set in the same era and centres around the five men who were arrested in relation to the break-in. Another important context to the show is the ongoing Vietnam War, which sparked a lot of “patriots vs. communists” wrestling in America.

The scene we see at the start of episode 1 is the second attempt – out of four – to break into the DNC offices. It is headed by Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, our peculiar protagonists. Howard is a disgraced CIA Agent who now works at Mullen & Co., a PR firm. His wife, Dorothy Hunt, is an active CIA Asset and a “mother of four” (St. John, David, Lisa, and Kevan). Howard is recommended by White House “Special Counsel” to the President, Charles Colson, to Egil “Bud” Krogh, Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs.

The story of our protagonists is more important than caring about these men with government distinctions. All of these were found guilty in the subsequent investigations and due to the satirist tone, many of these terms are used “out of place” to illicit moments of humour. Howard is called to work with the Special Intelligence Unit, which is looking into potentially treasonous acts of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked high-level national security documents to the press. Gordon Liddy meanwhile, is a former FBI agent working in the SIU department.

Krogh informs the men that he will be heading the SIU and the two men will report to him. He will then report to the POTUS. We also meet John Dean in this episode too, who is a White House Counsel and was poised to work with the SIU instead of Hunt. But the President wanted a hardened right-wing traditionalist to take over the mantle.

Back at home, Dorothy and Howard are concerned about their daughter, Lisa, who has a nervous breakdown. She has unresolved mental trauma from an accident a while ago.

We then meet Mark Felt, Associate FBI Director, who reports to the SIU with hands-on intel about Ellsberg. His phones are being tapped and Felt gives them transcripts. Howard seems to think Ellsberg wants to spread the communist agenda, but it’s an unsubstantiated claim and shows his bigoted attitude. The White House does not have a lot of credible evidence against Ellsberg and needs to publicly discredit him fast. There is a conflict between the SIU and Felt about the use of lie detectors on all high-access government department employees. Felt blankly denies any attempt from the FBI to do so.

After the meeting is adjourned, Howard and Liddy sit together to discuss the matter. Their extreme-right mindset has already indicted Ellberg as a Soviet agent. They want to get the transcripts of his sessions with his psychiatrist, Dr Fieldings. But how will they do it if the FBI couldn’t? “A simple black bag job,” the two men recommend to Krogh.

The men go to a CIA safehouse and Steve, Howard’s previous associate, helps the men out with hilarious disguises to break into Fieldings’ office and photograph the files. They make the trip to Beverly Hills, LA, but their attempt to gain “intel” is another humorous moment. One can expect a lot of laughs going forward so bring on the craziness!

Howard convinces the cleaning lady to get her to open Fielding’s office. Liddy photographs inside but not the files because the cabinet is locked. While going back, Howard flirts with an air hostess and tells him the truth in a jokey manner.

Liddy pulls him up by saying he cannot afford to take missteps and vitiate the mission. Howard asks him to chill and feel the energy to become a spy. It turns out that they were not able to get the actual photographs of the file and go back with the cabinet photos to Krogh. And shockingly, he is impressed. Also, Howard has come up with a name for their unit: “Plumbers,” who fix leaks.

Howard and Dorothy go on a double date with Liddy and his wife, Frances. They too have five kids, making a wholesome family. Their meetup, like the rest of the episode, has a lighthearted tone.

Frances is an ex-receptionist from IBM and Dorothy was a spy during WWII who used to recover stolen art from Nazis. Liddy plays a Hitler record yelling “how art was used as propaganda” against the Greeks. It is too loud to have a normal conversation so Liddy bizarrely gets out on the roof and attacks children who throw eggs at their windows.

Howard and Gordon’s proposed mission to enter through the backdoor in Fielding’s office is green-lit. Howard invites his Cuban amigos – Felipe De Diego, Rolando “Musculito” Martinez, and Bernard “Macho” Barker – to the hotel room. They will be breaking into Fielding’s office since Howard and Gordon are on the White House payroll.

During the night of the mission, Howard and Gordon sit in the car and the former finally confronts him about his “Hitler hard-on.” Gordon explains that his German nanny used to put on records of Hitler’s speeches when he was afraid. They follow Fielding to his lavish house and survey his house. As Gordon starts making fun of therapists, Howard reveals he used to see one.

His children were in an accident once and Lisa, his eldest daughter, was driving the car and was badly injured in and affected by it. Howard stays back while Gordon goes to check on the operation. But there is a problem. The backdoor is locked, forcing the men to break in through a window. Their radios are not working properly, hence Howard is not able to communicate with his colleagues when he sees Fielding has left his house. Somehow, the men are able to escape but yet again, they leave the mission incomplete.

The file they were after is not in the cabinets so Howard theorizes they are in Fielding’s house. Howard and Gordon look at the polaroids the Cubans give them of the office. They are confounded when they see they’ve left a mess. They will give Fielding the impression someone was there, which was not to be done. Now, he will be on his guard. The plan was completely botched up. Howard feels his last chance to get “back on the horse” is over. He finds out Lisa is back home, saying she will drop out of college.

The LAPD has blamed the break-in on junkies, saving the Plumbers’ behinds. The men get to the office, only to discover that Krogh has been fired. The SIU has been disbanded and now, the men will work on the committee to re-elect President Nixon. John Dean is heading the committee now. They will report to Jeb Magruder.

When asked why Krogher was dismissed, John gives the same explanation Krogher did when Howard asked him about John. The men rejoice as John says they can have a million dollars as the budget for their new op.

The final scene at the CIA HQs in Langley shows two analysts watching the polaroids developed from the camera Howard and Gordon used to click photos of Fielding’s office. They forgot to take out the film before giving it back.

The Episode Review

Instantly, right from the get-go, there is an attempt to establish White House Plumbers as a satirical, hilarious take on the US’ most infamous political scandal to date. And at least for now, the lack of seriousness works. Justin Theroux and Woody Harrelson have a spitting chemistry together. They light up the screen in episode 1 with a great repartee and brilliant individual characterizations that make for blockbuster television.

White House Plumbers does not seem to have the smarts, yet, but plenty of heart to win you over. The stellar cast and incredulous true events are sufficient ingredients to take a liking, even though the execution is a little muddled. The rollercoaster of emotions is quite jarring, as we went from failures to failures to finally some sort of moral victory.

How long will that last is a question we all know the answer to. Let’s just have fun watching it all happen once again.

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You can read our full season review for White House Plumbers here!

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