As has been widely reported, Monica Lewinsky was the main consultant on Impeachment: American Crime Story. Part of the publicity campaign leading up to the show framed it as an opportunity to tell her side of the story. Lewinsky has also never wavered on the fact that the indiscretions she and Bill Clinton engaged in were consensual, describing it multiple times as an affair in the 2014 Vanity Fair essay that finally broke her silence.
This means that for the second episode of Impeachment, the show doesn’t go for President-as-Predator, in case you were holding out for that angle. It maybe goes for President-as-Creepy, but in the sense that most fortysomethings hitting on recent college graduates are creepy. What we do get is President-as-Fuckboy. So straight out of FBOY Island central casting, I fear poor Sarah will ditch Garrett only to land in the arms of Bill.
How is Clinton reminiscent of whatever beefy-faced Brad broke your heart in your youth? Let me count the ways. During their first conversation, Clinton (Clive Owen, looking like an escaped animatronic from Disney World’s Hall of Presidents) asks Lewinsky for her thought on the government shut down only to mumble about his own thoughts instead of listening to her answer. Once their affair begins, he disappears for weeks, leading Lewinsky to wait for his calls at home instead of enjoying the D.C. nightlife. To be fair, that’s the equivalent of a wild night out in D.C. anyway. She admits to her BFF Kat that she confessed her love to him. Clinton’s response? “That means a lot to me.” Ouch.
Like many a lovesick youth, she cannot stop fixating. She does the ’90s equivalent of social media stalking: poring over Clinton’s schedule for clues on whether he’s busy or not. She cannot stop blabbing about it to Linda Tripp, though she is careful not to name him. She holds onto the fantasy that once he wins re-election, their “thing” will go back to normal; she gets her hair done and revamping her wardrobe in preparation. Yet she’s still alone at home that night while the Democrats celebrate.
This is such a twentysomething storyline, I feel like I’m recapping Sex And The City: The Lost Carrie Years. As tabloid-ish as it is, it drives home Lewinsky’s youth more than Beanie Feldstein’s baby voice ever could. On the other hand, are we ever going to get beyond the salacious aspects of this case to include a more keen analysis on the power dynamics at play? It’s interesting to note the episode titles puts the action squarely on Clinton’s shoulders, but what we get is relentless pursuit from Lewinsky.
The cringe-worthy carnival of crush horrors continues. She is filmed greeting him after his win, where she receives a hug but is also elbowed aside so he can greet other constituents. Ladies, get yourself a man willing to acknowledge who you are to him in a worldwide coverage of his reelection! Honestly, this had me mumbling “oh, honey, no” like a concerned tía.
During a particularly depressing lunch, she lets everything out.
To Linda Tripp.
She tells Tripp how “when that man focuses his attention on you, the world stops”. It’s so H-A-W-T, she returns the favor by flashing her thong. For the kiddos out there, this was the 90s version of a thirst trap. Lest you judge Lewinsky, please scroll through your Instagram to see what kind of questionable selfies you’ve posted in your twenties for public consumption. She brings him food to his office to complain about being lonely. She emphatically tells Tripp it isn’t only about [redacted]. They talk! He buys her gifts! He tells her about his stepdaddy issues! Been there, girl!
As for Tripp, she is eating this up like the microwaved hot potatoes she loves. While earlier in the episode, her talk of motherhood revealed some redeeming qualities, we are now back in vindictive land. For though Lewinsky is ready to give up, Tripp convinces her it is only the beginning. She feeds the obsessive nature of Lewinsky’s infatuation by suggesting she use excel spreadsheet to record all the events of her affair to search for patterns. You can hate Tripp all you want. Her uttering the word “moist” at the top of the episode is fodder for the commentariat to hate her even MORE. But you can’t say she isn’t clever, for she is wielding all her cubicle-acquired knowledge for her own evil reasons.
Over on the Right, the manipulation of Paula Jones continues. Susan Carpenter McMillan (Judith Light, radiant) an anti-abortion activist with a love for the theatrics, has come barreling into her life. She consults Jones on how to present herself in the media. She takes her to Nordstrom and buys her clothes appropriate for country clubs that prohibit minorities. She trains her in exactly what to say to the press that is starting to latch on to this scandal.
She’s not the only preternatural blonde with questionable motives. Over in a dungeon controlled by the Mumm-ra spawn known as Ann Coulter, minions are working on briefs in the Jones case. Her underlings believe they’re approaching the legal case for reasons of American values or justice or something lofty, but Coulter sets them straight. This is about impeachment, chaos, and her desire to eat one day someone’s young.
In addition to Republican trolls, we also have reporter Michael Isikoff (Danny Jacobs) hot on the Kathleen Willey story. He shows up at the Pentagon to ask Tripp if she can corroborate Willey’s story on Bill Clinton groping her. Holding on to her petty grudge, fueled even more by her daughter’s dismissive comment about her job, she refuses to do so but not without warning Isikoff first that there is a much bigger story he is missing.
- If you’re curious to learn more about Susan Carpenter-McMillan, a 1997 Slate article offers background into this “conservative feminist.” Spoiler alert—she got an abortion but doesn’t want YOU to have a right to one!
- The episode also points at another fun fact: If it weren’t for the 1995 government shutdown, Clinton and Lewinsky may have never met. The shutdown was due to Newt Gingrich, a man of impeccable moral standing (lol), refusing to approve the budget. This resulted in the ye olde American tradition of exploiting interns when your organization goes to hell, landing Lewinsky right in the West Wing.
- I could write a whole other recap solely on the depiction of Tripp and Lewinsky’s toxic relationship to food. Though the debate about Paulson’s use of a fat suit is valid, and we could certainly do without the talk of deprivation from both, it isn’t exaggerating the ’90s terrible diet culture. It could also be a way to symbolize the lack of control Tripp and Lewinsky had in other areas of their life, to attempt to hyper-manage the one thing they can: their bodies.
- A line that made me cackle, courtesy of Carpenter-McMillan: “You have a look that says rural Arkansas that I love.”
- A line that made me wince, courtesy of Betty Currie to a desperate Lewinsky: “He said you were a good kid.”