Broadcasting ‘Gaslit’ At Perfect Time

Gaslit couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m sure the powers that be behind this eight-part limited series about the Watergate break-in and the aftermath weren’t anticipating the Jan. 6 hearings to happen during the series’ initial broadcast. When filming began in the summer of 2021, the Jan. 6 insurrection coup attempt was still fresh on everyone’s minds but there was no way of telling what would’ve come out in the past year.

Julia Roberts plays Martha Mitchell, the wife of John Mitchell (Sean Penn underneath a lot of make-up), who was the Attorney General under President Richard Nixon before he resigned in 1972 to work on his re-election campaign. Named the Committee toRe-Elect the President, it was given the appropriate anacronym CREEP. From the start of the series, they show that even Martha may have looked like a Southern Belle debutante from Pine Bluff, Ark., she wasn’t prepared to say, “Why I declare” whenever political topics came up. She definitely didn’t stay quiet when it came to Watergate.

Martha was outspoken for many women her age at the time. And this series taking place after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the middle of the Equal Rights Movement of the 1970 spotlights how times were changing for women. This might have been why so few people were willing to believe Martha, especially since a lot of what she was saying was hard for people to believe. There still was a mentality that women should always stand by their man no matter what and the marriage between John and Martha was crumbling before the public eye.

America in 1972 would have a hard time to believe that the President of the United States and his administration would put together a team to break into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters to install wiretapping equipment. And the whole plan would’ve been successful had security guard Frank Wills (Patrick Walker) hadn’t discovered tape around the doors and notified police. The irony of those being arrested by vice officers pretending to be hippies wasn’t lost on many as the Nixon adminisration didn’t care for the counterculture movement one bit.

Aside from body doubles, Nixon is only shown in archival footage. Most of the activities revolve around those behind the scene, particularly John Dean (Dan Stevens), counsel to Nixon, who would eventually go to prison for his association. There’s a lot of attention spent between John and his girlfriend and later wife, Mo (Betty Gilpin) as they meet and build a relationship. When he goes to prison, she stands beside him. I guess this is used to contradict the rocky relationship the other John had with his wife, Martha.

The series focuses on how Martha claimed she was held against her will for days in a southern California hotel immediately following the break-in and at one point was drugged. As she tried to go the media, her tales became more bizzare to most people. Mainly it was because Martha was so outspoken to begin with people just didn’t believe her to begin with. This is still a common issue with woman half a century later.

And just like America today as it was in the early 1970s, people were divided over who to believe, even as more and more of those in Nixon’s administration went to prison. Two FBI agents Angelo Lano (Chris Messina) and Paul Magallanes (Carlos Valdes) investigating the case themselves becoming conflicted over who really to believe. In the end, Magallanes is surprised to learn that after their investigation, Lano still voted for Nixon in 1972.

I will admit the series is a little long. There’s too much time devoted to G. Gordon Liddy (an over-the-top performance by Shea Whigham) that really should have been a smaller role. Liddy was always a strange character. I don’t doubt there’s much exaggeration with how he interacted with his wife and children or if a tense conversation between him and Dean took place or how he began to chant while on the witness stand to the point of being removed. It’s just comes off as a distraction as the scenes with Martha and John are taken more serious.

I like both Patton Oswalt and Nat Faxon but they are poorly miscast here as Charles Colson and H.R. Haldeman, respectively, especially if you remember their beliefs were very extreme. This might have worked if the series was taken the same tone as Dick, the satirical 1999 movie. But since the issues involving the Deans and the Mitchells are taken more seriously and protrayed more seriously, the casting just seems off.

As for Roberts, she is the stand-out and look for her and this series to appear on a lot of award shows. I would even say Roberts may have an Emmy to accompany her Oscar. She shines in every scene she is and even as things get worse, you can see her frantically try to keep it together. After John leaves her and her daughter, Marty (Darby Camp) wants to live with him, you can see how she feels as people seem to be turning their backs on her en masse. In the end, Martha’s legacy was the “Martha Mitchell Effect” in which medical doctors or clinical psychiatrists label a person’s accurate perception of real events as a delusional, resulting in misdiagnosis.

Even many years after Watergate especially after Nixon passed in 1994, many people still debated on what exactly happened and if it connected back to him directly. Earlier this year, journalist Garrett M. Graff published a book on Watergate detailing things we didn’t know. It’s still an issue now and will be for decades to come as it showed America that there was a lot of corruption and distrust in politics and especially the White House.

As the Jan. 6 hearings are revealing people close to President Donald Trump knew ahead that the seige of the U.S. Capitol was more than a peaceful protest that got out of hand. They are saying they knew there was no election fraud. Like Nixon’s aides, they are turning against each other. It’s no coincidence that Liddy has a Ronald Reagan campaign poster in his prison cell with the slogan reading: Make America Great Again.

But they will be people who still support Nixon and see it as nothing more than a slam on his presidency. It’s a good thing they never really do show him because it gets at the core of any presidency that there are many, many people working behind the scenes. As Dean tells Colson and the others in a prison yard, all his workers got Nixon elected twice and they ran the day-to-day operations of the Oval Office. Dean comments that no one would’ve voted for Nixon based just on his looks. Dean says they all created President Nixon.

And some would say that getting him re-elected meant keeping their jobs for four more years. That means, Nixon had nothing to do with Watergate, they’d say. Just as they’d say Reagan had nothing to do with the Iran-Contra Affair or Trump had nothing to do with the Jan. 6 insurrection coup attempt.

If you haven’t watched this series yet, I think it would be best to advise people there are scenes depicting spousal/domestic abuse committed by John on Martha as well as her forcibly being detained at times. There’s also references to suicide.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: