‘White House Plumbers’ Episode 1 Recap & Ending, Explained How Do Howard & Gordon Meet Each Other?


HBO’s new political drama miniseries “White House Plumbers” is not the first adaptation of the shocking political mess that was the Watergate scandal, but the satirical and comic tone that it brings along does look fresh. With Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux playing Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy respectively, the series presents the two men’s ridiculous plan of breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate office. The first episode of “White House Plumbers” focuses mostly on Howard and Gordon’s first meeting and also the first secret mission that they embark on.

Spoilers Alert

How Do Howard And Gordon Get To Meet Each Other?

The statements claiming that the show is based on a true story and that all names have been kept the same since nearly everyone was found guilty by the court of law, sets the tone for “White House Plumbers.” Scenes from the Watergate political scandal start off episode 1, as eight suited men praise their own plan and walk into the Watergate building with confident aplomb, only to realize that the specialist they have brought to break the lock on the door is carrying the wrong tools. As it turns out, there had been four break-in attempts at the Watergate building, and this was only the second attempt, which was an utter failure.

“White House Plumbers” Episode 1 then takes us back about a year in order to tell its story in full depth. The USA, or at least the CIA, was still in much discomfort over the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA agent, was also still reeling from this failure, as he had been fired from service after this, and in the present timeline that the series presents, the man struggles at a mediocre public relations job. Around the same time that he is almost done with this tedious job, Howard receives a call from his former boss, Chuck Colson. This telephone conversation immediately excites Howard, as Colson informs him that President Nixon is looking for tough individuals to handle the recent Pentagon Papers leak, and Howard Hunt is a good fit for it. The protagonist reports to the Executive Office Building of the White House on the following day and gets acquainted with Egil Krogh, who is to be his boss at the newly formed Special Intelligence Unit. The crisis at hand is that an individual named Daniel Ellsberg just leaked highly confidential Department of Defense documents to the press, which made clear the extent of the USA’s involvement in the ongoing Vietnam War. To President Nixon and the government at large, this leak is an immense blow and also a clear indication of the need for tighter security and more unconventional methods. It is to investigate the leaks that the SIU is formed, and Howard Hunt is recruited into it. At this meeting of the SIU, Howard first meets ex-FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy, and the two men are given the responsibility to look into the leaks and find out more about Ellsberg, who is suspected to be a Soviet spy.

With the plan of finding some information on Ellsberg to discredit him in public, the SIU sits with the FBI associate director to think of the next steps, but the two sides have clear differences in the way they want to work. Although President Nixon himself and Gordon Liddy are in favor of the administration conducting polygraph tests on people to find out more about the document leaks, the FBI strictly refuses to take such measures, especially since polygraph tests are no longer deemed ethically or professionally correct. Realizing that they will have to do the work mostly by themselves, Howard and Gordon make use of the information they have just learned—Daniel Ellsberg consults a psychiatrist named Dr. Fielding for therapy. The two protagonists now reach Los Angeles and drive towards Dr. Fielding’s Beverly Hills chamber to scope out the place, with the intention of ultimately stealing the medical file on Ellsberg, which can be used to investigate or discredit the whistleblower.

As their masterful tactic to not seem suspicious, Howard and Gordon take the help of a CIA operative to disguise themselves as tourists. The two men pose all around the doctor’s chamber for photographs like inconspicuous tourists, even though their disguises do stick out like a sore thumb. They then manage to bribe a maid working at the facility to enter Dr. Fielding’s chamber, where Gordon Liddy takes photographs of the entire place and of the drawers and cabinets with patients’ files in particular. After returning to Washington, D.C., the two men are praised by Egil Krogh for the work they have done, who then approves of their next plan—to steal the psychiatrist’s file on Ellsberg. The existence of such a file was very obvious since a doctor would definitely maintain a file on a regular patient, but Dr. Fielding had refused to share it with the authorities when he had been asked, stating that there is utmost confidentiality between a doctor and patient, especially in the case of a therapist.

Howard and Gordon now return to Beverly Hills with some mere cash that has been given to them by the SIU to carry forward their covert mission. The two men are not allowed to break into the doctor’s office since they have both been CIA and FBI agents, respectively, in the past, and it would be too scandalous if they were caught. However, there is not enough money to pay anyone to do the job either, so Howard recruits some old contacts of his. Felipe De Diego, Rolando Martinez, and Bernard Barker were all Cuban exiles who had closely worked with the CIA during the Bay of Pigs invasion plan, and the three men had been in contact with Howard since that time. At present, the three agree to break into Dr. Fielding’s office and retrieve the file on Ellsberg for free in order to be on good terms with the intelligence agency. Despite their supreme confidence and trust in their capabilities, Howard and Gordon’s plan is quite barebones and flimsy. The two follow the psychiatrist as he drives back home from the chamber and then wait for him to ensure that the man stays at home. Gordon then drives back to the doctor’s office and stays on watch while the Cubans break into the office and look for the file.

However, this plan goes massively wrong on both sides, starting with the Cubans realizing that the door to the office is locked. With no way to break into the place without any specialized tools, the men break into the building through a different entry point at Gordon’s suggestion. Along with this unnecessary step, which basically means that they break into other offices in the same building, the Cubans also trash up the entire office of Dr. Fielding and yet find no file on Ellsberg. On the other side, Howard loses track of his situation and then suddenly realizes that Fielding has left his home. He has to rush back toward Gordon and the rest of the group, and they have to end their mission right away and return to their hotel room. Their whole plan was to silently break into the office and search for the Ellsberg file without leaving any trace or proof of any break-in at all. But what had happened was just the opposite, as the Cubans had even staged the whole scene to look as if drug addicts had broken into the place and gone through the cabinets before fleeing.

Despite the fact that drugs had been strewn all across the floor—drug addicts would never leave behind drugs they had come to steal—the LAPD announced the crime scene to be an act of addicts. The two protagonists massively disagree on their failure, with Gordon claiming that Howard’s recruits were terrible workers who messed up the whole plan, while Howard believes that the plan had failed irrespective of the Cubans, and instead, it was his recruits who had saved them by staging a false scene. The men are not very keen to report back at EOB since they have no Ellsberg file and would potentially need one more mission to search the house of Dr. Fielding for any such file. But what they find out upon their return is even more shocking. The SIU head, Egil Krogh, has been fired and replaced by White House Counsel John Dean, who then fires both Howard and Gordon from the unit. However, the unusual techniques that the men had used to get their job done impressed Dean, who immediately hires Gordon to a different committee, and Gordon quickly brings Howard into the team as an advisor. This Committee happens to be the Committee to Re-elect the President, which is formed to ensure that Nixon wins the next upcoming elections. Dean affirms that the men, or the Committee as a whole, would be given any amount of money to carry out any tactics like sabotage, infiltration, and surveillance on the political rivals. Howard and Gordon propose a budget of a million dollars, and John Dean agrees to it as if it were no big amount at all. Jubilant at this break they had been waiting for, Howard and Gordon are excited to start their new role, which will eventually lead to one of the worst political scandals in the history of the United States of America.

Who Are Howard And Gordon In Their Personal Lives?

The events shown in “White House Plumbers,” starting from the CIA’s failure in Cuba to the Pentagon Papers leaks by Daniel Ellsberg to the eventual Watergate scandal, are all obviously true facts that are well-known and publicized. It is, therefore, probably to create a unique distinction about itself that the miniseries delves deep into its two protagonists, and “White House Plumbers” episode 1 gives an introduction to their personal lives. Howard Hunt is a typical Republican supporter of the 1970s. He blames former President Kennedy for the CIA’s failure in handling Cuba and largely hates most liberal ideologies. The fact that he is a great patriot and lover of his nation is something that Howard has to keep stating, and there is even a sort of competition between him and Gordon in this regard. Howard despises the fact that his teenage son is into music and is influenced by hippie culture to some extent, and he is shocked at seeing the existence of a Time magazine with Ellsberg’s face on the cover in his son’s room. The man is extremely agitated by the anti-war protests that he has to pass through on the road every day, and like most people with such beliefs, he perceives all of them as just unnecessary traffic jams.

Howard wants his children to stay away from such ideas, and he tries to be controlling towards his wife Dorothy but is mostly unable to dominate the woman owing to her capabilities as an active CIA asset. During his post-CIA days, Howard had been trying his hand at writing a spy thriller novel in which his hero goes around having romantic flings with women along with being a spy. The man himself wishes for such a colorful life still, and he does not mind having casual extramarital affairs with women he can easily impress, like the air hostess. But Howard and Dorothy’s lives are also tainted by some accident that occurred a couple of years ago, which affected their children a lot, especially their daughter Lisa, who wants to drop out of college because she is still having trouble because of the accident. So far, it has been revealed that the whole family had to consult a psychotherapist to cope with the memory of this incident, and more will possibly be revealed in later episodes of “White House Plumbers.”

Gordon Liddy, on the other hand, is even more unusual as a proud patriotic American who draws inspiration from Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. Gordon admits that the Nazis did some terrible things, which he does not support, but the man still keeps around records of Hitler’s speeches at his house and plays them as music for guests. Gordon is also extremely obsessed with lineage, having selected his wife Fran because of her Celtic/Teutonic genes and wanting to carry forward good lineage through their children. The man also shows enough violent intolerance towards people who do not agree with him, and even children, for that matter. After moving to a new neighborhood, Gordon told his children to strictly adhere to their beliefs and principles and then drove some children away by threatening them with a gun. Gordon later reveals the reason for his obsession with Hitler, saying that he had grown up before the events of WWII in New Jersey’s Hoboken, which had a considerable German population at the time. Young Gordon was heavily bullied because of his timid character and would mostly stay inside his house when his German nanny would listen to Hitler’s speeches on the radio. It seems that Gordon found a relatable character in Hitler and had learned to stand up for himself in the worst of ways from the worst person to take inspiration from. The differences do make their way into the relationship between Howard and Gordon, as they have a temporary spat towards the end, but then they ultimately iron it out very quickly when they are made a part of the Committee to re-elect the President.

What Can We Expect From ‘White House Plumbers’ Episode 2?

“White House Plumbers” episode 2 would continue to delve into how the two protagonists came up with the idea of breaking into the Watergate building and also provide an insight into the actual reason for the break-in. Along with their professional activities, the focus on Howard and Gordon’s personal lives can also be expected to continue, as their wives, played by Lena Headey and Judy Greer, respectively, seem to be important characters for the show as well. A growing bond of friendship between the two men, along with the introduction of some more realistic figures from the government and administration of the time, can also be expected.

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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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