The Watergate scandal happened almost 50 years ago. What was initially a low-level breaking and entering case turned into a national scandal that divided people even more and caused a U.S. President to resign. This story has been told before several times, most famously in All the President’s Men.
But what has hardly been mentioned is a stranger than fiction event that happened peripheral to the Watergate scandal is what happened to Martha Mitchell. She was the outspoken and extravagant wife of John Mitchell, the U.S. Attorney under Richard M. Nixon, who would later be convicted in his role as he was working for the Committee to Re-elect the President, known by the fitting acronym CREEP.
Julia Roberts in only her second TV series role plays Martha with a lot of piss and vinegar of a woman who wants to be a Southern Belle debutante, a high-society elitest, and an outspoken feminist all rolled into one. Roberts reteams with Sam Esmail who directed and produced her in Homecoming, a psychological thriller involving military veterans. So far after two episodes, the series seems to have that same strange thriller mentality.
However, I must confess, the show isn’t exactly sure what it wants to be, a dark comedy or a Coen Brothers-esque thriller. Sean Penn, hidden behind a lot of make-up and a huge smoking pipe, plays Mitchell but so far hasn’t found his niche. Also, Shea Wingham, who played against type in Homecoming, seems to think he’s doing a MadTV parody of G. Gordon Liddy.
The series also seems to focus a lot on John Dean (Dan Stevens), counsel for the White House, and his relationship with his girlfriend and future wife, Mo (Betty Gilpin), a flight attendant he meets on a match-up and has an attraction to. Their chemistry and relationship is believable but you feel like you’re watching a romcom.
So far, they’ve only gotten to the Watergate break-in and arrest which if anyone who hasn’t seen All The President’s Men makes it even stranger. They were arrested by undercover vice cops who were in the immediate area. Looking like narcs trying to be hippies, they were notified by security guard Frank Wills (Patrick Walker) who noticed tape on the interior of doors that should have always been locked.
The second episode ends with Martha waking up in a southern California hotel and being told by a security guard she couldn’t leave. Anyone who knows what’s happens next knows that Martha was kidnapped and held against her will and not allowed to know anything about the Watergate break-in. And it only gets worse from there.
And maybe the show might pick up from there. Watergate had an effect on politics for the last 50 years that has been seen in the Iran-Contra Affair, Bush v. Gore and the whole Trump Administration. So, hopefully, the series airing every Sunday on Starz might pick up. To the best of my knowledge, the only other time I’ve seen her portrayed is in a small role by Madeline Kahn in Nixon where she was also portrayed as a critic of the President but it didn’t go into a lot of detail.
There are some nice roles in the supporting category. Bill Duke appears as Wills’ supervisor who says he will get $2.50 more a week for his job. You can hint the racial tension that was still so prominent in 1972. Chris Bauer, a character actor who always stands out, plays James W. McCord Jr., a CIA officer who was involved in the break-in. You can sense through his few scenes McCord thought he was doing the right thing for America by doing what they can to keep George McGovern from being President.
What do you think? Please comment.