Our first day watching the first episode of season 3 of American Crime Story was stunning. Terrific writing and 20 years of perspective will help this new class of viewers see this story with wide eyes. There is nowhere nerdier than Washington and this Nerd is here for it. Read on for a recap of episode 1 of Impeachment: American Crime Story.
Nothing is more depressing than rain in January. One possible exception to this is packing up mementos from a relationship that has soured. Our first vision into the soul of this new season of American Crime Story is a tear-stained cheek of Monica Lewinsky packing up items from her condo, specifically a hardcover edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, as she angrily throws the gifted stuffed animal into a moving box. There we see what we are meant to see in this series. Priority is given to the first person. It’s not the cameras flashing, it’s not the glamour of a white marbled Washington Monument standing gloriously over a beautiful city on a hill. It’s swampy Washington. It’s raining, dreary. It’s a girl and her dreams that are sent packing.
This is a story told in the first person from Monica Lewinsky’s perspective and those of the producers of American Crime Story. True to the American Crime Story genre, the story is what is being displayed. It’s one with characters. It is not an exposé, it’s not a documentary. These are characters we think we know and are only too pleasantly surprised to find out more about them while we indulge in the storytelling.
The second scene is later that day where Linda Trip asks Monica Lewinsky to meet her at the Pentagon City Mall. As she hangs up the phone, we see the suits in Washington announce, “The subject has arrived.” In a legal ambush, Monica is told by Linda Tripp and the suits that she is in a lot of trouble and it’s best if she comes with them. They escort her to a hotel room in the Pentagon City’s Ritz Carlton (Apparently investigations of this magnitude spare no expense.) There, in the hotel room, more men in suits appear including Mike Emmick, who announces himself as a member of the staff of the Independent Counsel, Kenneth Starr. As Mike asks to dismiss Tripp, a defiant Lewinsky states, “Make her stay and watch. I want that treacherous bitch to see what she has done to me.” The camera pans onto the announced villain of the story, Linda Tripp.
Introducing the Villain
There are many villains in this story but none as glorious as Sarah Paulson’s Linda Tripp. The show then takes us back five years before where Linda Tripp goes to the bathroom and encounters Hillary Clinton (Edie Falco). A surprised Tripp cannot believe that the First Lady was in a communal bathroom and laments that a Hillary Clinton has an office in the West Wing. According to Tripp, it is a breach of protocol. She then is seen exiting by saying to a staffer, “Well you excuse me. Some of us have real jobs.” Then she proceeds to get her boss lunch. Thus the many contradictions of Linda Tripp begin.
This is where the Crime Story element casts a wider net than just the Monica Lewinsky story. It’s about impeachment and scandal. At the time, there were many scandals during the Clinton White House. Linda gives her boss, Vince Foster, his lunch and a surprise treat, M and M’s from the White House cafeteria meant to cheer him up. He looks despondent with the fact that he is the scandal of the day. As he exits in what will be his last time, he claims he will be back. Cue ominous music. He will not be back. He enters a long winding road into Fort Marcy. We see the gun, Vince pacing, and a gunshot sound as the camera focuses on birds disturbed in the treetops canvassed by a blue sky. Linda Tripp finds out her boss, Vince Foster, is dead when she microwaves a baked potato and listens to the news.
Enter a new victim, Paula Jones. As she plays the domestic housewife, her angry husband erupts and throws the magazine with the article in it of her encounter with then Gov. Clinton. A victimized Paula Jones tells a lawyer the story of her harrowing encounter with Bill Clinton that seems more in line with Harvey Weinstein. For a minute, the viewer is riveted by the tale as another teary-eyed victim trying to stand up for herself and demand an apology. But then the lawyer asks incredulously, “You want an apology from the President?” This was 25 years before the Me Too movement but after Paula’s story, it seems a very reasonable request. So far we are with Paula. But then she asks for a role for her husband on Designing Women as recompense and we are left wondering what to believe. Even the victims in this story seem suspect.
What I Saw in the White House: An Exposé by Linda Tripp
It’s actually nice to see the typical DC backroom deal done by two women. But the sausage seems to flounder as Linda Tripp listens to tell-all writer, Lucianne Goldberg (played masterfully by Margo Martindale) and decides against selling her career out. As the waiter tells Goldberg to put out her cigarette, Goldberg explains, “The whole earth is becoming Berkley, California.” She then tells Tripp, “I live like I’ve got nothing to lose, Linda. I recommend it.” As she describes the current CPAC audience, “You might have noticed a Kmart atmosphere.” It’s clear the writers have gifted her some of the best lines in the series.
Speaking of CPAC, the story then turns to Paula Jones at CPAC announcing to the press her story while laughed at by the press. But it’s enough to get Jones noticed by the conservative Ann Coulter. After getting nowhere with her lawyers, her new Coulter-connected lawyers press her into filing suit before the Statute of Limitations runs out on Jones. They ask her multiple times if she has anything they need to know that might affect her credibility. Of course, we know by now that this is ACS’ version of foreshadowing.
Back to Linda Tripp who tries to hold onto her job in the White House after Foster’s suicide. As the new General Counsel takes over, Linda is passed over for a new position in the White House and replaced by a donor’s wife, played by Elizabeth Reaser, who told Tripp earlier of Clinton’s attempt to kiss her. Linda alludes to Reaser that this is why Reaser is still there. As she leaves, Reaser states, “The President doesn’t even know who you are.” But the viewer knows he eventually will.
Linda Tripp, who is played by an unrecognizable Sarah Paulson, is banished in her words, “to Siberia”, the Pentagon press office. She then reconsiders Goldberg’s offer who tells her she has missed the boat. Lucky for her and unfortunately for Monica Lewinsky, Linda befriends Lewinsky after discovering she also has been banished from the White House as well, with a possible story Linda can sell. This is not a matter of money for Linda. This is a matter of revenge.
That night, as Linda Tripp calls Goldberg to pitch the story, Monica receives her own phone call from President Clinton. We see him in the Oval Office as he states, “How was your first day?”
Impeachment: American Crime Story airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT on FX!