At long last, we are here. The “impeachment” part of Impeachment: American Crime Story unfolds during the jam-packed, extended cut of the season finale. The Starr report is sent to the Hill like a stealth bomb about to blow the scandal wide open, with an unsuspecting Clinton administration caught completely off-guard. I was going to say the news spreads like wildfire, but we are reminded again and again that it is the late ’90s and we were all relying on ethernet cables.
The point is that it eventually gets to everyone’s AOL account. And yes, we see Bill fuming, and there are mentions of yays and nays, and later we hear that he will be acquitted. But the episode doesn’t linger on the ins-and-outs of behind-the-scenes negotiations with different state reps or focus on scenes of legal maneuvers that saved Bill Clinton’s presidency. Instead, it does what it does best: focus on the women.
That’s because Impeachment never had at its center the actual legislative process that gives it its name. The crime that is under its magnifying glass isn’t even exclusively that of the multiple sexual assault allegations that pop up during the Clinton administration. They are opting for a more poetic understanding of the term, to encompass a much larger dysfunction in society than anything that can be found in the penal code. And it is best epitomized by an exasperated Linda Tripp who exclaims to her lawyer “I trusted our institutions!” It was maybe her biggest fantasy of all.
The show’s main thesis is this: The real crime is that institutions don’t give a fuck about women.
Since it’s the finale, the whole gang comes back together to react to the report. We get snippets of Drudge, Slenderman-bride-to-be Ann Coulter and her minions, Starr and his altar boys, perpetual-voice-of-reason-BFF Kat, and more. Still, the most compelling parts of another exquisite episode are the scenes that contrast the consequences of the four main women we have been following throughout.
Earlier in the episode, we get intercuts of Hillary’s photo shoot for Vogue with the world-renowned Annie Leibovitz with Paula Jones’s shoot for Penthouse in a gaudy mansion. Later, the same technique is used to show a book signing event with Monica while Linda Tripp sits down with a journalist from George magazine. Though in both cases one woman is being celebrated while the other is being diminished in some way, the writing is smart enough to let us know that these are all moments of defeat.
Paula Jones is left high and dry by Susan Carpenter-McMillan who is absolutely incensed that she would do something against her faith like pose nude. Jones tries to explain that this is her last resort—she has a pile of tax and legal problems that cannot be covered by the pennies she makes as part of the Celebrity Psychic hotline. (The ’90s were WILD.) Steve is still unemployed and isn’t sending alimony which sounds about right. Pizza Hut won’t even hire her because she will turn into a “distraction”. Susan does what righteous conservative Christians do which is turn their back on the downtrodden. No religious nor pearl-clutching institution is going to save her.
Hillary Clinton, in the meantime, is polling GREAT. Yeah, there was a time when people in this country actually wanted to hear about Hillary Clinton. Sometime before Fox News and the self-described dirtbag left shook hands, teamed up, and decided to pour all their frustrations and misogyny onto her. Because of her popularity, she is tasked with saving both her husband and the entire Democratic Party.
Oh, I know they encourage her to run for Senate and it’s the first time she gives a genuine smile but think of all the energy she could have used on her own political aspirations if she didn’t have to spend so much time cleaning up Bill’s freaking mess. Truly one of the greater examples of leaning out of marriage so you can lean in to literally anything else, but she was a woman of a different generation.
Then we have Monica, whose entire future is about to be robbed even though she is still young enough to hold some hope. Her bills are also exorbitant, which is why she spends part of the episode discussing a book deal that would be co-written with Andrew Morton, who wrote the book about Lady Di. (Another woman the 90s spit out and destroyed.) Every time she feels better about her situation, she allows herself to dream of a husband and the white picket fence, there is someone in the media ridiculing her.
It finally dawns on her that whatever great love she had for Clinton, it wasn’t enough for him to every help her. In any way. She may be surrounded by adoring fans in her book signing, but Monica isn’t comforted by the attention. It overwhelms her and is another symptom of the dark reality that is her life now. She may be able to hide in a closet, but she’ll never escape the limelight.
Finally, Linda. She, the most unsympathetic of all. Petty, vindictive, nosy, and self-aggrandizing. The Bad Friend before a story of kidney donation and plagiarism ripped Twitter apart. At the end of the show, she is ousted from her job, harassed by passersby, facing a Maryland indictment because her federal immunity doesn’t cover the state, and is still living under the shadow of Monica. Her book deal is dead because no one wants to hear from her. She feels betrayed by the laws and procedures she so staunchly admired.
It’s hard to admit that someone this unlikeable can be correct and even insightful about a society that vilifies her, however fair that assessment may be. After all, when she tells her story about her philandering father, isn’t it true that well-liked men—which isn’t the same as saying ethical or innocent men—get a pass for all sorts of horrors while women are pushed to sidelines? Isn’t that the narrative we see, time after time, as yet another politician/celebrity/leader/influencer/etc. is called out for sexual harassment after decades of a “unspoken” knowledge regarding their behavior?
Or as she tells the reporter: “I know it looks horrible. I know it looks like a betrayal. But she was his victim. He caused all this. He did.”
- Monica’s Story became a #1 New York Times Bestseller and in 2012 she signed a $12 million deal for a memoir which never materialized.
- Linda Tripp also wrote a memoir, published by Post Hill Press. This is the same press that would later become infamous because of their plans to publish a book by the cop who shot Breonna Taylor.
- The big winner of the entire Lewinsky scandal? The internet. Between Congress deciding to upload the report before Bill Clinton could even get its hands on it, Drudge becoming a superstar, and the American population obsessing over websites with information, the show gave a nod to the rise of our “click refresh” obsession.
- Drudge yelling at the internet provider for servers crashing is—sigh—relatable.
- Thanks for joining me on this journey! And if anyone knows Monica Lewinsky’s Venmo, let me know. I want to buy her a much belated drink.