The Mole first aired 20 years ago and is finally streaming again thanks to Netflix, which is filming a new season with American contestants. This summer, I’m re-watching the first two seasons, and recapping, analyzing, and discussing each episode, starting with The Mole season 1. Today: season 1, episode 7, “Part the Seventh,” which first aired Feb. 20, 2001, on ABC.
The Mole is down to its final four: Charlie and the three friends, Jim, Kathryn, and Steven, who Charlie refers to as “The Unholy Trinity.” While that doesn’t exactly frame their connection in a positive light, I think that’s understandable for Charlie as the last remaining outsider, and perhaps other players who knew a tight alliance—I mean, coalition— might not be great for them.
And for me, seeing such a strong friendship form—especially among a straight female lawyer, a married male cop, and a gay male helicopter pilot— was one of the things that made season one so charming and enjoyable.
The first test splits up the players into pairs for two tests that run simultaneously. I love that The Mole was willing to do this, and it allows the show to have smaller, less-complicated tests without dragging them out for half an episode.
They’re simple tasks: corral sheep and create a work of art. Why have two smaller tests like this so late in the game? I think it’s because dividing them into pairs means one person is partnered with the mole, so it gives them a chance to observe each other and/or be more suspicious and/or strategize against the other two players.
Charlie and Steven go to corral sheep and then count them. They fail the second part, even though Anderson gave them the answer when he divides the group: He asks for a pair that can count to at least 751. That is the number of sheep—although it didn’t look like 751 sheep! I’m sure I remembered that clue from watching in 2001, or later on DVD, but I’m still surprised that both Charlie and Steven missed it.
By the way, as Charlie herds sheep, he repeatedly says a command. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m very curious if it’s actually spelled the way Netflix’s subtitles suggest it is:
Kathryn and Jim go with Anderson to an art gallery, where there are several simple conceptual art pieces, including a heart made out of slices of fruit, and at least one piece that I hope would not be made today: a question mark made of rope with a noose at the end.
They have to create a piece of art that will fool an art critic. What they miss is how simple everything in the gallery is, and so when they keep complicating the piece, it makes it stand out immediately. It’s a box with a boxing glove crawling its way out, and then a rope with another boxing glove at the end, reaching for some fake jewels that are on the floor.
The art critic likes their piece but also identifies it as the one created by the players. She does tell Kathryn “I’m glad you did” add the scattered jewels, and adds, “I really like it” as it’s “a really nice piece.”
Anderson Cooper has a lot of fun just sitting and watching Jim and Kathryn work. “I’ve heard Picasso found much of his materials in the city dump,” he says. “So I’ve heard.” He also stands and studies the boxing glove emerging from the box. “To me, it speaks of desperation,” Anderson says. “Your desperation.” Anderson Cooper’s exit from reality TV hosting is one of the genre’s biggest losses, even if he doesn’t realize it.
There’s a fun twist where Charlie and Steven are given the chance to win more money by identifying which piece was created by Kathryn and Jim, and they get it wrong—even though the boxing gloves are Charlie brand, and Steven says he was looking for a clue or sign.
Charlie makes a gay joke, looking at the piece made of fruit slices, and suggesting it could be the one because “this is kind of fruity,” which makes Steven and Charlie double over with laughter. We see Jim watching on a monitor and cursing Charlie, though he says later that “those things don’t really bother me.”
The second test is about trust, and I remembered its twist immediately: Three of the players have to do tasks blindfolded, guided by the fourth person. That’s Steven, who they all voted was the person they trusted the most. Steven knows that two of the three tasks are actually fake: Kathryn isn’t really going to have a knife thrown at her, and Jim isn’t really going to walk across hot coals.
But they don’t know this, and neither do we. Just mere possibility leads to the scariest moment in season one: Kathryn faints and slumps to the ground while Steven talks to her about the task.
It’s another moment in which Anderson Cooper looks genuinely horrified, reacting as a human being rather than, hypothetically, a host who’s also producing the show and thus obviously thrilled that he gets to produce a big moment and coordinate medics and host a talk show while someone is being attended to. Thankfully, Kathryn wakes up and is apparently completely fine.
Even after that, she goes through with the task! Even though the knife thrower just plants the knife far away from her head—and that’s when the editing reveals to us that it was fake—it still must have been terrifying.
Both Jim and Charlie also do their tasks. Jim just walks across charcoal that’s nearby some actually flaming coal, while Charlie has to actually walk a tiny plank off a bridge while blindfolded. Charlie is harnessed, so arguably he knows that he’s safe—though it still must have been terrifying! “We always see that parachute that doesn’t open,” Charlie cheerfully says.
The secondary twist is that only two out of the three have to complete their test to get the full $60,000, but Steven will receive an exemption if he convinces all three players to do that. This leads to Charlie wondering if he should fail his test intentionally, which of course would have deprived Steven of the exemption. But Charlie comes through for his fellow cop.
Steven is thus exempt, and the executed player is, finally, Charlie. That leaves the Unholy Trinity as the final three on The Mole season one. “All I wanted was to be playing the endgame with these two people here,” Jim says, and he got both his friends and his wish.