The following recap contains spoilers for White House Plumbers S1E2 “Please Destroy This, Huh?” (directed by David Mandel and written by Alex Gregory & Peter Huyck).
White House Plumbers S1E2 “Please Destroy This, Huh?” opens on June 25, 1971: a woman named Dita Beard chain smokes in front of her typewriter, punching out a memo. We’ll see what this is later, but the first big funny moment of the episode finds Beard yelling out to the office asking whether “commitment” has one “t” or two. She gets no answer. “Aw, f*ck it, who cares,” she rasps. As far as we can tell, she misspells it anyway.
Last episode, Liddy was said to hold his hand over a candle to demonstrate his resolve. We actually get to see it this week, and it goes about as well as you’d expect—his hand remains bandaged for much of the remainder of the episode from his burns, and he does not hesitate to state that it was intentional. This happens during a meeting with some prostitutes, in which the pair pitch to the prostitutes an opportunity to party on a yacht with some hidden cameras—part of a plan we later see to be their deranged multifaceted brainchild to smear the DNC.
The Hunt familial strife is thrown into sharper relief with a deeply uncomfortable country club dinner with the Hunts and the Liddys. The Hunts realize that their elder son John, along with Lisa, are also at the country club and are very high. After sending them off, the four start serving themselves. Liddy suggests recruiting stoners to make the DNC look bad. When asked by Hunt what she thinks, Fran says that they don’t discuss work—it’s the secret to a happy marriage. “I wondered what the secret was,” Hunt says, prompting a derisive look from Dorothy. When Dorothy speaks up about the risk of hiring stoners who would just tell the truth when arrested, Liddy immediately tells Hunt that maybe they should just talk about it at work.
We don’t get too long to feel for the tension between Dorothy and Howard, because Lisa is making a scene in the lobby over an alleged racist comment towards one of the employees by who I assume to be one of the executives of the club. The Hunts get their kids to leave, but are then confronted by another executive about their delinquent membership dues, which surprises Dorothy. Hunt claims his job has got him completely distracted and he will take care of it. Not a great way to spend the night, just before Hunt and Liddy are planning to pitch their huge project.
Dubbed “Project Gemsone,” this pitch to Attorney General John Mitchell was doomed to fail anyway. The scene is an increasingly bizarre series of operational ideas ranging from kidnapping (and possibly killing if Liddy has his way) the opposition, to giving “undesirables” Democratic campaign materials, to an airplane that can track the conversations happening on other airplanes. Hunt begins to panic as Mitchell grows increasingly bored and irritated by Liddy’s continued rambling. The meeting ends with Mitchell instructing Liddy to burn the posters he brought to illustrate his plans—not someone else, him; with his own two hands…and the bridge burned between Hunt and Liddy.
It’s not long after that we see what that opening scene was all about: Dita Beard was drafting up a memo revealing that International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation was settling an antitrust lawsuit from the Justice Department. In return, ITT would pay for $400,00 worth of hotel rooms for the RNC—felony bribery. Mitchell’s goose is cooked. In a panic, Deputy Campaign Chief Jeb Magruder relocates the RNC out of original San Diego and has to pay for the hotel rooms. When Liddy asks what he can do, Magruder sarcastically tells him to kill Jack Anderson, who released the memo.
Liddy immediately sets out to fulfill the instruction. Magruder runs outside to find Liddy on the corner, and insists that he was joking. There have been plenty of red flags before, but this is the first time we’ve seen a truly sinister side to Liddy. It seems that Liddy was proving to Magruder that he is serious about his job. When Magruder casually puts a hand on Liddy’s shoulder to ask him to come back up, Liddy bends his arm back and threatens to kill Magruder if he ever touches him again. Suddenly, the comedy of Liddy casually floating the idea of assassinating political opponents makes him seem like he was actually into the idea.
He’s also not opposed to killing Beard, who is set to be deposed the next day. Hunt carefully reminds him that the key witness to a felony bribery case dying the night before she’s set to be deposed won’t be a good look. So instead, Liddy once more dons his ridiculous disguise and visits Beard. After lamenting how her own party has turned her into a pariah, Beard mentions that she has “occasional angina.” This is the perfect reason to jet her off to a Colorado hospital, saving her from the deposition. It’s a hilarious visual to see the chain-smoking Beard being rushed through the airport in a wheelchair, with a canister of oxygen in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Still, they only bought a couple of days. Senators would instead be dispatched to the hospital to depose her right there in her room.
The day prior, Hunt faces a family crisis in which Lisa locked herself the bathroom and refused to come out, right as Hunt receives a call from the White House. Dorothy, begging him to stay, says that his family needs him. Hunt eventually breaks down the door to find a completely fine Lisa before leaving.
While the Committee firmly refuses to advocate any sort of coercion of Beard, Hunt sets out on his own to the hospital to talk to her. Beginning by declaring that Beard’s denial of the memo’s authenticity is what’s best for her party and country, Hunt pivots to appealing to Beard’s love for her daughter. As he talks, he seems to briefly realize that he himself could use the same advice. He leaves Beard with a parting gift—an entire carton of cigarettes. The plan ends up working, and Beard denies the authenticity of the memo in her deposition from her hospital bed, eventually feigning a heart attack in front of a group of unconvinced and irritated Senators. Later, at home, Hunt thinks back on his pep talks and decides to play Scrabble with his family. But when he draws a hard line in the sand that “Xerox” is not a valid play as a proper noun as opposed to a proprietary eponym, Lisa sweeps the board and storms off. Points for trying, I suppose? Hunt clearly can’t get out of his own way in his familial drama.
The episode closes with Hunt and Liddy back on good terms, and Operation Gemstone approved. Or, at least, one part of it: bugging the DNC—that means no yacht, and no hookers. Nonetheless, the seeds of the true Watergate operation are planted, and the posse seen at the beginning of the pilot stand on a balcony overlooking the eponymous office building. Of course, we fade out on all of them once again loudly bickering. Some things never change.
We’re still having a great time on White House Plumbers, and it’s insane how much of this story is actually true. This is a short five-episode series, so things are going to heat up very quickly, and I am here for it.
White House Plumbers airs on HBO Mondays at 9PM ET.