White House Plumbers S1E3 Recap: “Don’t Drink the Whiskey at the Watergate” — Don’t Panic!

Hunt and Liddy sit together with drinks in a country club.
Photograph by Phil Caruso/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for White House Plumbers S1E3 “Don’t Drink the Whiskey at the Watergate” (directed by David Mandel and written by Alex Gregory & Peter Huyck). 

As we learned in the pilot episode of White House Plumbers, multiple attempts to breach Watergate were made, with the second being that opening scene. This week shows what happened in the first attempt. Hunt’s idea to infiltrate the DNC office involves them booking a banquet room in the building, and enjoying dinner until the DNC staffers leave the office. Of course, as has been repeatedly shown, the Plumbers are woefully uncoordinated. 

The first half of the episode is an increasingly hilarious caravan of mistakes and mishaps. Hunt and the crew struggle to explain their fabricated organization to the waitstaff when asked what they do (“Business!”). After everyone but Hunt and Villo leave for their part of the mission, security guard Frank Wills comes by to remind them that he needs to lock up at midnight. Hunt and Villo pack up and hide in the closet, so when Wills comes back, he sees the room vacant and locks up. The lock is not one that Villo can pick, which means that the pair get to spend the night in the closet. Hunt urinates into a partially full whiskey bottle barring any other option. It’s a wonder someone didn’t end up accidentally taking a swig, but I’ll be very surprised if that doesn’t happen over the next two weeks. 

Meanwhile, Liddy, McCord and the other Cubans are going to get into McGovern’s office, but there’s a very bright streetlight over the back door, which Liddy, drawing his gun, says he can fix. I’m no espionage expert, but I’d imagine a covert infiltration would lose a bit of its effectiveness if a light got shot out. 

I snorted when the camera swept up for a dramatic shot of Liddy raising his gun, carefully aiming…and then there’s a very undramatic ping as the shot misses. The gun only holds one bullet, so Liddy has to reload it each time his misses, which is several times. We also learn that while he did serve in the armed forces, he didn’t make it past basic training because he blew out his appendix in a sit-up contest. He finally shoots out the light, sitting on Frank’s shoulders, and they all celebrate the feat. 

With that out of the way, Liddy confidently mentions that he has a “professional” on the inside to let him in. As he knocks on the door, said professional appears on the street—a young man who was discovered by the janitor when he was hiding, who says that he’s not cut out for this before scampering off. So ends attempt number one.

With McGovern having added 24/7 security to his campaign office, Watergate is the main focus. That brings us to the opening scene of the pilot, which of course we know was a failure. Between McCord chatting up some security guards he used to know, and Villo not having the right tools, Liddy is fuming, and demands that Villo get to Miami, get his tools, and come back. Liddy is becoming increasingly unhinged—when visiting the Hunts for breakfast the day after the first attempt, he responds to Hunt’s son David pointing his toy gun at him by pointing his own very real gun at David. 

Shockingly, shockingly, the third attempt goes beautifully: the tape trick works, they remove the tape after they enter so they leave no trace, all of the bugs get planted, and Wills finds nothing amiss in his patrol. The boys celebrate outside, and Hunt and Liddy are later summoned by Dean and Magruder to follow up. Dean lays it on suspiciously thick when he mentions the “fruits of [their] magnificent labor.” It turns out all of the microphones did not work, save for one recording a woman complaining about her haircut. 

Hunt and Liddy stand facing each other in a hallway.
Photograph by Phil Caruso/HBO

Hunt and Liddy propose a follow-up to Mitchell after the last episode’s colossal failure. This time they suggest hippies covered in McGovern paraphernalia urinating on the carpet of McGovern’s suite for the world to see. Mitchell and Magruder feign curiosity, even amusement, until Mitchell furiously informs them that he has booked the suite for the next day. Talk about a bad day at work—and Hunt still hasn’t paid his club fees. 

Drowning their sorrows at the pub, Liddy utters what might end up being the best and most ironic line of the series, in regards to Nixon: “I worry about some of the people with whom he surrounds himself.” 

A defeated Hunt decides he’s going to accompany Dorothy, David and Kevan on their trip to Paris. Ready to leave the White House behind and realizing how he’s neglected family, he rebuffs multiple attempts by Liddy to make one more attempt to breach Watergate and fix the microphones. However, he finally caves when Liddy appeals to Hunt’s desire to restore his wounded reputation in the CIA, and gain power within Nixon’s good graces. 

And so begins the fourth attempt to break into Watergate, using the exact same tactic as before. Hunt and Liddy stay out of the action this time, camping out in the hotel room while McCord and the Cubans breach. However, Wills finds and removes the tape from the door before they can enter. Before they re-attempt, Hunt gives one of the Cubans (Macho) an envelope to drop in the mail for him.

This time, they are able to get in thanks to the tape trick. In another of what ends up being multiple fatal mistakes, McCord fails to remove the tape from the door after they get inside. So Wills, when he finds it for the second time, knows something is wrong. The slow zoom into the tape after the door closes cements the fact that everything is about to blow up. 

Hunt and Liddy enjoy a few moments of celebration before the pandemonium. Their lookout in the adjacent hotel room relays that there are some men dressed like hippies in the DNC office, and they’ve got guns. Realizing they’re cops, and that Macho has a key to the hotel room they are currently in, Hunt and Liddy panic and begin packing their bags. The scene is a dynamically shot and energetic sequence of Liddy frantically stuffing things into bags while Hunt attempts to remove the too-tight antennae on the balcony, both men yelling at each other not to panic. 

White House Plumbers is packed to the gills with talent, but I still think Justin Theroux is the secret sauce to a lot of these sequences. He gives Liddy such a bizarre energy in how he talks, as well as how he moves. He gets a great physical comedy bit where he stuffs a bunch of hotel soap into his bag (his wife loves the hotel soaps) and then grabs a couple of tissues and does one of the most pitiful wipe-downs I’ve ever seen. 

Hunt is confident that the in-custody Cubans will not spill the beans, and that seems to actually be the case as the cops lead them out of the office. Unfortunately, Macho failed to drop off Hunt’s envelope. An envelope filled with cash to be sent to the Lakewood Country Club and fulfill his dues—and an envelope with Howard E. Hunt’s home address in the corner. 

With two episodes left, White House Plumbers looks to be getting into the consequences of Watergate. I remember only scant details of the actual events, but seeing how badly these morons are botching every facet of the scheme, it’s going to be interesting to see how they attempt to escape the consequences. And hopefully nobody drinks that “whiskey.” 

White House Plumbers airs on HBO Mondays at 9PM ET.

Written by Hawk Ripjaw

Hawk Ripjaw has been sharing his opinion on film and TV since his early teens, when the local public library gave away prizes for submissions to their newsletter. Since then, he's been writing for local newspapers, international video game sites, booze-themed movie websites, and anywhere else he can throw around some media passion. He watched the Mike Myers Cat in the Hat movie over 50 times in two years, for science.

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