'Gaslit' Review: Starz drama is a gripping modern take on the Watergate scandal

'Gaslit' chronicles a dark period of American history and assumes the perspectives of unknown people whose lives were changed forever


                            'Gaslit' Review: Starz drama is a gripping modern take on the Watergate scandal
Julia Roberts in 'Gaslit' (Starz)
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Adapted by Robbie Pickering from the podcast 'Slow Burn,' 'Gaslit' is a deep dive into the untold stories around the Watergate scandal, one of the defining moments of modern American history. The Starz drama chronicles this dark period through the perspectives of unknown people whose lives were changed forever. The eight-episode series details the abuse of power that took place during the scandal, from the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters to the FBI investigation to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.  

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The cast elevates the show, especially Julia Roberts, who delivers such an utterly impressive performance that it wouldn't be a surprise if she ends up winning major awards next year. She plays the infamous Arkansas-born socialite Martha Mitchell, who was the first person to raise alarm about the scandal despite her party affiliation, testing her husband’s loyalties. Roberts effortlessly portrays the witty and outspoken Martha while also exploring her dark and more vulnerable side after the cruelty imposed on her by President Nixon's aids. Sean Penn, who is almost unrecognizable in prosthetics and heavy make-up, seamlessly plays the pivotal role of her husband, John Mitchell.

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Roberts and Penn are supported by a strong ensemble cast. Shea Whigham deserves a special mention as the terrifying and foul-mouthed conspirator G. Gordon Liddy. Dan Stevens and Betty Gilpin also shine in their roles and successfully embody a couple with passionate intensity. 

Shea Whigham in 'Gaslit' (Starz)

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The show also captures 1970s America without exaggerating the period details, along with the casual racism and misogyny of the era personified by the straight white men who were part of the Nixon administration. The series mainly deals with satiric shades of dark humor while also flirting with elements of the thriller and the political drama.

'Gaslit' presents stories of individuals whose lives were turned upside down by the scandal. Martha is held hostage in her California hotel room to prevent her from revealing any information about the Watergate scandal. Throughout the series, she is labeled an alcoholic and a drug addict by the White House aides. Even though Martha eventually succeeds in revealing the truth, her personal life is shattered forever.

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Similarly, there is Frank Wills, the young security guard who was instrumental in detecting the break-in. The event, unfortunately, led to him being unemployed and his life ended on a tragic note. The series ends on a poignant note with Martha's funeral and the final scene flashes in a flower arrangement that reveals a message, "Martha was right".

A still from 'Gaslit' Episode 7 (Starz)

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Despite its positives, 'Gaslit' has some glaring problems. The show chronicles three stories at the same time. First, there's the story of the Mitchells and their tumultuous marriage and political careers. The second is the Watergate scandal and the third is how John Dean and Mo (Dan Stevens and Betty Gilpin) manage to survive in its aftermath. There are certain scenes in 'Gaslit' where the three narratives appear scattered and lose their focus and momentum, confusing the viewers as a result. Nevertheless, the show is an impressive modern take on the Watergate scandal. It employs unknown stories and does it in an engaging manner that makes 'Gaslit' a delightful watch. On the whole, 'Gaslit' is a thrilling, stranger-than-fiction tale of marriage, love, betrayal, and ultimately, hope.

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The final episode of 'Gaslit' is available on Starz.