‘The Big Cigar’ Episode 3 Recap & Ending Explained: Is Stephen Dead Or Alive?


AppleTV+’s biographical drama series The Big Cigar might not have received any overwhelming response in its premiere week of streaming, but there is still time for it to build up a better reputation. This week’s episode 3 takes the plot ahead as Huey P. Newton struggles against the growing FBI pressure against him and realizes that he has to escape Los Angeles before things go severely wrong for him. However, the show still lacks the sharpness and balance that would be required to aptly tell such a story about an activist who was pushed to violence throughout his life by an oppressive society.

Spoiler Alert

What makes Huey fear for his life?

In the opening episodes of The Big Cigar, we were introduced to protagonist Huey P. Newton, the revolutionary and political activist behind the formation of the legendary Black Panther Party. The series began in the turbulent times of 1974, when Huey was wanted by the police and the FBI for the alleged murder of a sex worker, although it seemed most likely that he was being falsely framed for the crime. In order to escape arrest, Huey had to seek help from his friends in Hollywood, producer Bert Schneider, and his business partner, Stephen Blauner. A solid plan was made, in which Bert and Stephen would pretend to be making a new film, titled ‘The Big Cigar,’ for which they would go over to Cuba for shooting purposes, and Huey would be hidden among the crew. This would ensure a safe passage for Huey P. Newton to Cuba, where he would possibly team up with Fidel Castro and further develop his promising political career.

But the plan had been halted fairly early on, as a certain individual crucial to it failed to show up in time. A Cuban pilot by the name of Tajo had been hired to fly Huey out of the country and into the safe haven, but he had figured out exactly who he would be transporting, and at the same time, he got caught up in his heavy gambling debts. Not only did Tajo fail to show up at the designated airstrip with his plane, but he also actually spilled information about the whereabouts of Huey to the cartel to whom he owed money. Although this had created a terrible situation for Huey and his friends, they are not yet aware of it at the beginning of The Big Cigar episode 3, and the protagonist is seen driving back to the city in a hurry after leaving the airstrip. However, Huey is once again stopped by the police for speeding, and memories of his troubled past once again haunt him.

As soon as the police officer, a white man, starts to interrogate Huey about his driving, he is reminded of the previous time that such an encounter took place, a few years ago. That situation had terribly escalated when the police officers believed Huey to be armed and used racist slurs against him, and in the end, Huey was imprisoned on charges of killing one of the officers, despite there not being enough evidence. In this case, though, the police officer turns out to be a decent one, and all he does is write up a fine for the protagonist’s speeding offense, and soon the matter is over. However, throughout the episode, Huey remains disturbed and haunted by the possibility that he will be harmed and even that his life will be taken. While initially, it seems like his fears might be unwarranted and even a bit out of proportion, it is gradually clarified that Huey’s insecurities are quite justifiable. 

Even after Bert and Stephen come to the realization that Tajo has duped them and has essentially stolen their money, Huey fears a different possibility, which is actually the truth. It is he who immediately thinks that Tajo might also sell him out to the FBI, and his insecurity begins from here on. Very soon, the restaurant that was being used to plan the Cuban exile mission was also visited by FBI agents, although they were unable to enter the place without a search warrant. Within the next couple of days, the feds appear in front of the houses of the Hollywood producers as well, including that of Stephen Blauner, where Huey has been currently hiding. The episode then sheds more light on the large-scale persecution of the Black Panther Party and its members, which reached its heights around three years earlier, in 1971. Huey’s closest friend and the co-founder of the organization, Bobby Seale, was arrested multiple times, with harsh and false charges brought against him each time. There was widespread propaganda against the party as well, as they were portrayed as intentional disruptors of peace and villainous enemies of the public.

When Seale was later released from prison, he came up with the idea of a free health clinic for the people in Oakland, and the funds for it came from both his personal account and the party’s. On the day of the inauguration of the clinic, Huey was also present by his dear friend, for it was truly a joyous occasion for all the party members. However, the festivities were very quickly marred when someone bombed the clinic right during its inauguration, causing massive destruction of property and a great setback for Seale and his friends. Even when the news on television reported this incident, the clinic was referred to as a youth recruitment center for the Black Panther Party, while its actual intention was to provide free healthcare to the public. Simply put, the black community was always looked at with unwarranted suspicion and prejudice, which was too much to deal with. Along with the hate against them, though, the Black Panther Party’s activism was met with severe criticism and harsh action from the authorities in an effort to curb their freedom, and people like Huey constantly had to live with death threats.

How does the FBI attempt to catch Huey?

Among the instances in which Huey absolutely panicked for his life, one of the most disturbing ones comes during a house party of the organization’s members. At the time, the protagonist is extremely fearful of getting caught by the FBI and is almost hysterical about being under state surveillance at all times. Thus, when he arrives at the party, Huey is completely lost in his own thoughts, even though the rest of the members are engrossed in merrymaking. One of the sex workers hired for the party even approaches Huey and wants to help him relax, but the man retorts rudely, evidently getting riled up by the term “baby” that she uses very unmindfully. Incidentally, in reality, Huey P. Newton was believed to have killed a sex worker in 1974 only because she referred to him as “baby,” and this act angered him beyond his wits. Coming back to the biographical series, though, Huey does not carry out any such violence but instead tosses the entire place around, breaking through every possible hiding space, in order to find proof of surveillance.

Interestingly, he does eventually find a listening device inside one of the overhead lamps and realizes that the FBI is constantly listening to the party members’ discussions. Although the other members do not believe his suspicion that the otherwise friendly men living in the next apartment were FBI agents, this turns out to be the exact truth. At the time, the FBI had appointed an agent named Sydney Clark to lead the operation against Huey and the Black Panthers, and the federal police went to extreme heights to try and nab them. While their operation originally began with eavesdropping on the organization’s rented property through the surveillance device, it did not work for long since Huey found it and removed the bug. Thus, the agents had to change their strategy and focus more on flushing out Huey from inside the apartment and getting him arrested on some other false charge. The FBI agents even organized a fake shootout inside the building, hoping to have Huey react to it and arrest him at this chance. 

All this scheming was because the authorities did not have a proper search warrant for any of the properties where Huey could be, and the matter was ultimately taken to court. But the judge ultimately rules in favor of the Black Panther Party lawyer and refuses to believe that the organization poses such a great threat to society. Permission for issuing search warrants to arrest Huey and the other activists is denied, and Clark has to rethink his plan once again. However, the men are eventually able to understand the effect of the Hollywood producer, Bert Schneider, on Huey, so they instead target him in a greater attempt to stop the Panthers. Towards the end of the episode, Clark is able to find out about a gala party being arranged for the birthday of Candice Bergen, the ex-wife of Bert, where the producer would also be present. 

The FBI agent also manages to get an invitation to the party and thus plans to arrest Bert Schneider at the very place. However, Bert had also gotten in touch with his contacts, who could give him more information as well as funds for his plans. An industry insider named Paula Feinberg is one such close friend, and he initially approaches her in search of information about the Cuban pilot, Tajo. But perhaps more crucially, Paula is able to inform Bert, right at the birthday party, that the FBI team is present to arrest him. This helps Bert escape the authorities for now, as he immediately leaves the party, but it is very clear that the FBI is closing in on him as well.

Does Stephen get killed?

As the original plan to have Huey flown into Cuba fails, Bert comes up with a different scheme, in which the activist would have to be taken to Miami somehow, following which he would be transported to Cuba in a boat. But this plan faces a major setback, too, as Hurricane Carmen hits the coast and wrecks multiple boats in the harbor, including the one that was supposed to carry the protagonist. But still very determined to help out the man, whom he even calls his best and closest friend, Bert Schneider, arranges more money to carry out the plan. Although this money is raised as an investment for his and Stephen’s upcoming documentary film, Bert intends to spend the entire amount on the Big Cigar mission. This naturally causes a slight rift between him and Stephen Blauner, as the latter is understandably worried about their own finances, but Bert once again manages to convince his childhood friend.

While Huey prepares to be transported to Miami and Bert visits his ex-wife’s birthday party without any idea that the feds are waiting there for him, Stephen is sent on a different mission. Stephen meets with Tajo at a restaurant upon the insistence of Bert, for he wants his friend to threaten the Cuban into paying back the money he had taken for the mission. However, neither of them know about Tajo’s ties with the cartel at this time, and it is only at the birthday party that Paula tells Bert about this matter. It is already too late for Stephen, though, as a shootout breaks out at the restaurant, and although he had been accompanied by a couple of armed Black Panther members, things do not seemingly go well for him. The end of the episode has two gunshot sounds, but it is also not very clear as to who fires the gun and at whom. If we are to go by real history, then Stephen Blauner did not die in 1974, and so while he might have been shot by the Cuban, it is possible that he only got injured by the incident. However, it is also quite unlikely that Stephen would be able to get away from the incident without complications, especially after being shot at from such close range. Therefore, it seems most likely that the gunshots actually hit and killed someone else, possibly Tajo himself.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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