White House Plumbers S1E4 Recap: “The Writer’s Wife” — Third-Rate Burglars

Hunt and his lawyer walk out of the courthouse, confronted by reporters.
Photograph by Phil Caruso/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for White House Plumbers S1E4, “The Writer’s Wife” (directed by David Mandel and written by Alex Gregory & Peter Huyck). 

While White House Plumbers retains a lot of the ridiculous comedy that has punctuated the series so far, “The Writer’s Wife” is definitely a bit more serious in tone as the walls begin closing in on the Plumbers and the scope of the scandal becomes clear to the public.

Liddy appears to be holding onto his sanity about as well as someone would hold onto a handful of sand with no hands. His dependance on the idea of Nixon’s re-election has reached terminal levels and the man is absolutely deranged. At the office of the Committee to Re-Elect, he is tossing bundles of cash (as well as Watergate Hotel soap) into the shredder, announcing that the Federal Reserve could trace the serial numbers on the bills back to them. I’m not entirely sure if that’s how it works. I also loved the moments where Liddy calls Magruder a “towel snapper” and they are are briefly united together when screaming “GET THE F*CK OUT” when a staffer dares to enter the office. 

Later, walking with Dean outside, Liddy asks that he be pardoned by Nixon. Barring that, he tells Dean to let him know on which street corner to stand so he can be killed by a sniper (as long as it’s a clean headshot). He will literally take a bullet for the Nixon administration. 

Dean and Liddy face each other on a crowded DC street.
Photograph by Phil Caruso/HBO

Hunt isn’t faring much better, but he’s more along the lines of a cornered wild animal. He’s developed an obsession with cooking pancakes in a ridiculous flowery apron and screaming at his children to not answer the phone as he holes up in the bomb shelter that “came with the house.” He also recruits his son Saint John to help him dispose of evidence in the river after wiping it down (although he forgets to wipe down the hotel key). 

As Acting Attorney General Richard Kleindienst loses his golf ball in the forest, Liddy pops out from behind a tree like the wolf from Into the Woods to tell Kleindienst that McCord must be released before his true identity is revealed to tie him to Nixon. Kleindienst asks the question of all of our lips: “What the f*ck did you people think you were doing in there?” 

McCord, for his part, has kept the facade according to his fake ID, until someone in the Police Department recognizes him and calls him out by name, expediting McCord’s fate. Toby Huss has done a great job throughout the series making McCord into a character you love to hate for how much of a jackass he is, so it was extremely satisfying to watch his facade instantly be destroyed. 

Dorothy and the kids have returned from Paris to the scandalous maelstrom Hunt has placed himself in, and Dorothy is not having it: in an electric confrontation that emphasizes Harrelson and Headey’s performances, husband and wife clash over the next steps after this colossal mishap—punctuated by a very energetic and boppy jazz number that Hunt has cranked up to drown out the bugs that he is convinced have been planted in the house. 

That same gag is utilized later in the episode, where Hunt once again blasts the music even louder, to the point that the Hunts and their lawyer are yelling at each other over the music before Hunt is informed that anything said is protected by attorney-client privilege. Hunt shouts into his table lamp to to reinforce that fact. 

The meat of the episode comes with “Mr. Rivers,” who insists on talking only to Dorothy. Rivers tells Dorothy that the Cubans will be taken care of, but Liddy is on his own. Dorothy is quick to assert herself to Rivers and get them more money for Hunt’s service to the country, but Hunt insists that they take care of Liddy out of their payouts—while keeping the Liddys in the dark as to where the money is coming from. We get a montage of the Hunts paying off various people using the mysterious bags left in lockers by Mr. Rivers. Their lawyer’s envelope is significantly thicker than the envelope left for McCord; it’s a subtle visual gag that I really enjoyed. 

Dorothy Hunt examines a package she has retrieved from a locker.
Photograph by Phil Caruso/HBO

Eventually, the payments from Mr. Rivers begin to diminish. Things come to a head at a dinner at the Liddy residence. Fran has prepared a great meal for them and the Hunts, and after a toast, things get tense as Dorothy shares the honest truth that they may very well not get pardoned, and prompts Hunt to reveal his intention to sell a tell-all book. Liddy vehemently rejects this idea, his loyalty to Nixon blinding him to any alternative—until Dorothy reveals that the money being sent to Gordon and Fran has been from the Hunts, and the government could not care less about the mustachioed lunatic and his doting wife. Liddy also attempts to perform his “hand over a candle flame” stunt before Hunt immediately shuts it down by blowing it out. Justin Theroux has consistently been the main ingredient of the show: his threatricality (and that beautifully excessive mustache) punctuates how much of a clown show this whole thing was.  

I might be singing the praises of Theroux, but Harrelson still deserves love. After failing to appeal to Dorothy’s divorce announcement in another excellent scene with him and Headey, the camera lingers on Hunt’s face as he drives away from the airport drop-off, his default scowl trying and failing to mask the sorrow of losing his wife. It’s really a great moment in how Harrelson really sells the emotion of his dueling priorities. 

I was not aware of any of the real-life details of Dorothy Hunt, so the final moments of this episode hit like it was a massive plot twist (and, in a way, it probably was). Dorothy is about to reveal “the truth,” to a journalist she’s met on a plane before a sudden and jarring crash and one of the hardest cuts to black in recent memory. It’s an awesome cliffhanger. Back at home, Hunt is still stuck in his pancake-obsessed cook phase with his silly apron, as the camera holds uncomfortably long on the ringing, unanswered phone, undoubtedly to deliver the news that Dorothy had perished. Sammy Davis Jr.’s rendition of “The Candy Man” over the end credits was a delightful touch. 

One more episode! The culmination of this story is easily accessible, but as I have but a cursory knowledge of the event, this is a story I am fully invested in. It’s managed to strike a balance between being hilarious and shocking at how much of this actually happened. No doubt next week will show us how the consequences land for the Plumbers. 

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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  1. Excellent review of fine series. I was in college and law school as the real events transpired. Strange times.

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