White House Plumbers – Season 1 Episode 3 “Don’t Drink the Whiskey at the Watergate” Recap and Review

Don’t Drink the Whiskey at the Watergate

26 June 1972 marks the first attempt to break into the DNC office in the Watergate Building. Howard Hunt and his men, referred to as “unit 3,” make their way through the back entrance of the building. The six Watergate buildings are all interconnected and the plan is to slip into the DNC office through the Watergate Hotel’s banquet level after the office is empty. Alfred Baldwin, a former FBI Agent, is “unit 2,” keeping an eye on the DNC office, waiting for it to be empty. It is Friday night and our plumbers expect the offices to be vacated soon. Their patience is tested as the Democrat volunteers overwork the clock.

The plumbers assemble in the banquet hall and after the waiters exit, Gordon takes everyone except Howard and Villo to enter through the backdoor of McGovern’s campaign office. His “inside man” will let them in, giving them access to the office. However, both plans run into trouble as the security guards lock Howard and Villo in the banquet room, and Gordon’s “inside man” chickens out when he is found by a janitor. That is how the first attempt to break in failed.

The next morning, Howard gets a pleasant surprise as Kevan, his eldest and most normal daughter, comes home for the holidays. Gordon has joined the family at the breakfast table. Gordon pulls out his real gun when the youngest points his toy gun at him, forcing Howard to take Gordon outside. He has planned another attempt that night but hasn’t told Magruder about the previous night’s debacle. This time, they will be going into a separate office on a separate floor, as the McGovern building is a no-go due to increased security.

This is the plan we saw in the opening minutes of episode 1. The plan was spoiled due to James McCord, one of the plumbers, wandering off on the wrong floor. He had the equipment to break the locks and hence, they couldn’t be breached that night. James runs into Larry, a security guard he knows, and pivots well enough to not raise alarms. Gordon threateningly asks for every last detail of their conversation. Villo is also instructed to go to Miami and bring back the right tools. The third time, the plumbers try the garage. They will be dressed as delivery men, who frequently come and go.

James will tape the doors and they will be able to get in. Nixon has just signed the SALT Treaty and won a major chunk of the public over. “Why this dilly-dallying then,” asks Dorothy. Howard’s answer is exactly what was wrong with the entire operation. The third time’s the charm as our plumbers are successful in bugging the DNC office, as Nixon’s speech heralding world peace echoes in the background. His best and worst moments are intertwined by a whiplash sense of irony.

Howard greets James Angleton, the CIA Chief of Counterintelligence (who was most recently seen in MGM’s A Spy Among Friends), and Fred Jessup. Both men are reluctant to see Howard and he is slightly embarrassed in front of Gordon. Magruder and John Dean give a hero’s welcome to the two men. But the sense of irony is found gutting by Howard and Gordon as it is revealed none of the microphones, except the one in a secretary’s phone, are working. The operation is a failure. But Gordon pitches an even more “pissant” idea to Mitchell and Magruder, which once again turns against them.

Howard gets over it and prepares to join his family on a trip to Paris. But Magruder instructs Gordon to break in again, fix the bugs, and photograph O’Brian’s bottom left drawer. Howard is unwilling to do it again. He’s out for good. But he has forgotten his passport at the White House and goes back to retrieve it. Goron tries to convince him again. He taps into an emotional vein, citing how Angleton and Jessup “high-hatted” Howard. Gordon himself went through the same bullying at the FBI.  Howard is bizarrely convinced to do it one last time.

They do it a fourth time. Howard and Gordon are hanging back at the command centre as the Cubans go in with McCord and Frank. But Wills, the night security guard in the Watergate, has removed the tape from the door. The Cubans report back. Howard wants to abort but Gordon is calling the shots and motivates them to go again. A vote is finally called to decide and they decide to go. They’re able to breach the door as Howard and Gordon celebrate. But Wills has caught wind of the tape and reports in his observations.

Alfred reports that a few hippies with guns are on the sixth floor. Gordon instantly deduces they are cops and packs up. Macho does not respond to Howard’s communication. He finally responds and tells them they have been caught. Howard realizes he has a room key to the room Gordon and he are staying in. They pack in a hurry, fearing what’s coming next for them. Howard is right in presuming the Cubans won’t talk, but the episode ends as the police find the letter Howard gave Macho to post before going in. He clearly forgot it has Howard’s name on it, which is addressed to the Lakewood Club.


The Episode Review

In quite thrilling fashion, WHP recounts the story of the Watergate break-ins, finally manifesting them on our screens. In yet another phenomenally acted episode, we saw Frank Wills help bust the burglars of Watergate. This was by far the most engaging and lightfooted episode, narratively, and had a bunch of laughs and ironic character-building. I really do not get why the series has been received poorly by the critics. The HBO show clearly encapsulates its setting and era of paranoia in America with witty dialogue and sharp storytelling. Even with a clear sense of what will happen next, one cannot help but find the action in WHP’s episode 3 edgy. Our central protagonists have a hard road from here. Nixon’s wretched treachery will be exposed in front of the world but hopefully, for HH and GL, there is some redemption.

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1 thought on “White House Plumbers – Season 1 Episode 3 “Don’t Drink the Whiskey at the Watergate” Recap and Review”

  1. June 17, 1972 was the date of the 4th and final attempt for the 5 burglars to break into the DNC HQ at the Watergate.

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