A modern look at Martha Mitchell and the 1970s Watergate scandal that reveals the details we didn’t learn in school

7 mins read

Where to Watch: Starz

First Air: 4.24.2022

Rating: TV-MA

Gaslit is a brand-new limited series thriller on Starz that gives a modern take on the Watergate scandal, centering its story on the forgotten characters of the era. The show, which just finished airing, presents the scandal in entertaining, raunchy ways, while still maintaining factual accuracy. It starts off a little slow, but quickly picks up in the third episode once Operation Watergate gets into full swing. 

The episode follows President Nixon’s henchmen as they break into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel. There were hiccups throughout the entire process: the burglars forgot to bring the wiretap devices and weren’t able to remove the door. The crew that broke into the hotel did so by putting tape over the lock of an entrance door, leaving it on horizontally in order to keep the door from locking on them. However, the horizontal positioning of the tape made it visible to anyone who passed by. A security guard on the night shift noticed it when he was doing his rounds, and he called the police to tell them about this suspicion. The responding cops went up to the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters on the sixth floor and caught the men in the office.

At the same time, Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt were watching the situation unfold from across the street, and immediately began trying to pack up and leave. Gaslit’s  third episode features an entertaining sequence of Liddy and Hunt freaking out, throwing expletives while trying to throw all the damning evidence in boxes, and rushing out of the building. One even drops a box on the sidewalk, papers flying over the pavement. 

The Watergate scandal is usually portrayed as a highly-organized, insidious plot, but this show highlights how idiotic it truly was: The FBI agents assigned to the case even call the orchestrators “morons.” 

Gaslit shows just how ridiculous the plot was in the third episode when Hunt asks overeager White House staffer John Dean to retrieve documents that could prove treasonous acts of other government officials. His plan falls apart as Hunt can’t even remember the combination to the safe containing the documents, which leads to a hilarious sequence of Hunt throwing out random dates, including his child’s birthday and D-Day. Of course, Dean eventually obtains the documents and passes them on to FBI Director Patrick Gray, who would go on to destroy that evidence.

While the show leans on the comedic elements of the entire scandal, it still touches on sensitive, and even terrifying, topics. In the midst of the operation, Martha Mitchell, the wife of Richard Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell, realized that she was being held captive in her California hotel room while her husband flew back to D.C. to figure out a way to prevent the story from breaking. Nobody explained what was happening, and the show follows her attempts to figure out the truth. All the technology in her room was disconnected because her husband feared she would go off and tell one of her journalist friends what had really happened.

Once she eventually discovered what had happened, she tried to find a way to reach out to one of her journalist friends in order to tell them that she was being held prisoner. One of the bodyguards assigned to keep her in her hotel room attacked her just to keep her quiet. This violent display of misogyny highlights how even women with power can be victimized and terrorized.

Showing the operation and scandal from the point of view of the unknown characters of history that were physically committing the crime shows this was not a plan that was created by the very top: It was a collaboration by people from the top and bottom of the food chain. It exposes how these politicians, in their quest to retain power, were so easily manipulated into sinking to new lows just to stay at the top. If we as a society don’t call out everyone involved, it’s bound to happen again. 

This show captures what we aren’t really taught about the Watergate scandal in school. We’re always taught the basics of it: Nixon was a paranoid man who spied on his opposition with the help of his team. When they were caught, he tried to have it covered up. But, we’re never properly taught the others involved in the scandal and to what extent. In my opinion, Watergate was the beginning of a more polarized political world, one which we’re seeing get worse every day. 

Watching history as entertainment allows us to laugh about a serious topic such while still learning how dangerous the situation truly was. At the same time, the fast pace of the show, in order to get to the more dramatic parts of history, forces the creators to gloss over certain fine points of the story.

While there are some raunchy and heavy themes shown throughout the show, Gaslit still gives viewers a hilarious, albeit accurate portrayal of the Watergate scandal, revealing key figures of the entire operation that are never mentioned in the news. If you are a fan of politics and the history of political scandals that shake up the foundation of government, Gaslit on Starz is the show for you. 

Azzurra Degliuomini

Azzurra is a Guest Author for Kidizenship from Santaluces High School in Lantana, Florida.

Latest from Featured Posts