My most consistent and major gripe with the first three episodes of White House Plumbers is the insistence that the audience is supposed to care about Hunt’s (Woody Harrelson) family. They would show up once an episode, all well and good, but nothing was ever done with them beyond “look at how bad of a father and husband Hunt is and how this is partially a result of his job!” I knew that the Hunts were eventually going to become relevant to White House Plumbers‘ A-story, but I was getting tired of them taking up so much time when they weren’t being used.
So along comes “The Writer’s Wife” to answer my prayer, along with my wish for this show to be just a little more fun and high-energy. After a couple of weeks of decency, White House Plumbers pulls a fairly strong and very fun penultimate episode out of thin air about how one of the Watergate “masterminds” was dumb enough to drag his family into the mess.
First, he involves his son, clearly just eager for his dad to like him, and pulling him out of bed early in the morning to go toss everything that places him at Watergate into a river. (“Make it look like we’re fixing a flat,” Hunt advises as a car goes by, which mostly amounts to them kneeling down and trying to look inconspicuous.) Then he gets wife Dorothy (Lena Headey) involved when he inevitably gets found out; Hunt, his co-conspirator Liddy (Justin Theroux), and their men need money for lawyers, so it’s Dorothy’s responsibility to surreptitiously transport it to them.
The lengths Dorothy goes to in order to protect her husband, and by extension, the men who helped him jeopardize her family, are part of what makes “The Writer’s Wife” the best episode of White House Plumbers since its premiere. Dorothy has been a borderline tertiary character for most of the series, so it’s nice to see her (and to a lesser degree the rest of Hunt’s family) take center stage here. Headey’s performance allows us to see her increasing exhaustion over all the crap she has to do for her husband, and it’s engaging to watch it wear her down throughout the fun montage of her delivering all the money.
Admittedly, Hunt’s whole “I’m constantly obstinate and pissed off” shtick is starting to feel a little tired. He has a reason to be paranoid and angry—he believes he’s about to be arrested, after all, contrasting Liddy’s casual attitude pretty wel. But Harrelson is overplaying his anger in this episode. Theroux is as entertaining as ever playing Liddy with the character’s usual comedic insanity—I’m thinking particularly of the scene where he’s just casually tossing loads of money into a paper shredder—and he continues to be White House Plumbers‘ strongest facet.
What makes “The Writer’s Wife” work better than the other, weaker episodes of the series is that it feels more focused. Now that Hunt’s family finally has some more plot relevance, they don’t feel like a weird distraction whenever they’re on screen, and it makes the episode flow better. The episode isn’t always telling the most interesting story it could be; for as nice it is to see Dorothy actually doing something, the episode is kind of overlong due to how much time is spent on the intricacies of getting the money spread out.
However, it does end on a high note. Dorothy finds out that Hunt involved their son, so she makes plans to leave him after making one last drop. They argue, and Hunt predictably resorts to vitriol when he can’t win her back. She leaves, gets on a plane, prepares to talk to a journalist about Hunt and his various shady activities…and then the plane crashes. The phone in the Hunt household rings, but Hunt, either too paranoid to pick up the phone or too exhausted by the news of his pending divorce, doesn’t get it, leaving it to go unanswered.
“Your father is always at his best when it’s too late,” Dorothy says of Hunt shortly before she decides she’s had enough. It speaks to Hunt’s character as a whole—all throughout this episode, he puts the burden of saving his ass on his wife again. “The Writer’s Wife” functions best as a study of the relationship between Hunt and Dorothy. All throughout the series, he’s treated her and their children as second to his work, and when he finally decides to merge the two, it ends in disaster. This isn’t just the best White House Plumbers episode since the premiere because it’s entertaining—it’s the best because it gives us a little more insight into the show’s major characters, something the show has been lacking.
This episode of White House Plumbers is now available on Max.