Recap: White House Plumbers (S1 Ep3) — Fun Yet Unfocused Episode Finally Gets Around to Watergate

Will the leading men of White House Plumbers ever catch a break? After two episodes of buildup, the infamous Watergate heist (or heists, because as we see in “Don’t Drink the Whiskey at the Watergate,” there were four) is finally here, and it goes about as well as anyone would expect. Take a handful of mid- to low-intellect grown men that have probably seen one too many spy movies and task them with infiltrating a government building, and the result seems kind of inevitable, doesn’t it?

This week, White House Plumbers is all in on the crime that the series is centered around, and the results are mixed. On one hand, it’s quite funny and draws its best moments from its simplest jokes, but on the other, the episode feels overlong and stuck with a B plot that’s been underdeveloped since it was first introduced. There’s a good forty minute episode of television in here about the numerous attempts to get into the Watergate, but it’s dragging the weight of an extra fifteen minutes along with it.

The first attempt is predictably the most disastrous. Liddy (Justin Theroux) spends more time than he probably should trying to shoot out a security camera in the episode’s best joke. It’s another image that speaks to the incompetence of Liddy and his co-plotter Hunt (Woody Harrelson), something that’s starting to feel beaten into the audience, but it’s funny to watch him struggle regardless. Same is Hunt and one of his men being forced to hide all night from security in a storage closet, although they do have a lot of shelved alcohol to keep them company, at least. (I do like that Hunt insists that the fake corporation he and his men work for does “business” for a living, because of course he didn’t have a good lie prepared.)

We’ve actually already seen the second attempt—it’s the incident that opens the series where the man tasked with picking the Watergate’s lock forgets his tools. In between attempt one and two, Hunt’s daughter Kevan (Kiernan Shipka) is introduced, the humor in the scene coming entirely from Liddy’s presence. (He just had that loaded gun ready to pull on Hunt’s young son, didn’t he?) Unfortunately, like the “Hunt’s family” subplot from the previous episode, it rings hollow this time around too. It’s a touch more interesting here, as Hunt chooses breaking into the Watergate for a fourth time (the third time is successful!) over going to Paris with his wife and kids, but there’s just not enough done with it to make it feel justified giving it so much time.

It is nice to see Hunt and Liddy’s not-entirely-legal antics pick up the pace. (If Liddy was the main character of this series, I would one hundred percent watch it with much more eagerness than I do now. I can never get tired of Justin Theroux in anything.) There’s some good filmmaking to be found in the break-in sequences, too; the gold-dark lighting when they’re inside the locked room looks really nice, and the people from the news program that their surveillance man is watching as they cheer for Nixon when the Plumbers finally break that damn lock is a really nice editing touch. Scenes like these are nice ways to prove that White House Plumbers can still be good fun when its head is screwed on straight.

The Plumbers have to go back a fourth time—the wiretaps they used were (of course) mostly defective, so Hunt and Liddy do recon while they send their guys in. Being that Hunt and Liddy are (frighteningly) some of the more competent members of the team, it’s easy to think this would end in total failure, but everyone seemingly gets in alright. But it’s the smallest—and stupidest—thing that gives them away, because this is White House Plumbers, and if you leave a door open, disaster is going to walk through. One of the Plumbers—the same guy that provided the crappy wiretaps, funnily enough—tapes the lock of a door and rips off a bit of the paint when he removes it. An eagle-eyed security guard spots it, and before you can say “massive political scandal,” the majority of the Plumbers are in handcuffs and Hunt and Liddy are fleeing the scene.

There was only so long that the Plumbers could coast by on dumb luck, and it’s almost satisfying to see it finally fall apart. White House Plumbers recaptured a bit of its fun tone in this episode—I gave both this and episode two the same rating, but I prefer this one more—but I do wish it either tightened up its B plot or cut it loose.

This episode of White House Plumbers is now available on Max.

Sam Layton
Sam Layton

Sam Layton is a Chicago suburb native that's trying his best to make a career out of his (probably unhealthy) habit of watching too much television. When he's not working as the Third Coast Review's current sole TV reviewer, he's making his way through college or, shockingly, watching too much television.