It’s here, it’s here! The Hillary Rodham Clinton episode is finally here! After using Edie Falco as the prestige thespian carrot to keep us hanging on, we finally get an hour-and-a-half of her playing the woman who should have become president in 2016.
But before we get HRC, the presidential candidate; or even HRC, the First Lady; we get HRC, the wife of the Governor of Arkansas. If we must be precise, the episode doesn’t even begin with her. It starts off with real footage of the press conference during the 1992 election where Gennifer Flowers stated she had a 12-year affair with Bill Clinton. In a way, it’s a fitting introduction to the way Hillary is portrayed—as a woman who is defined by the mistakes of her husband and is punished for them in ways that he never will be.
HRC is used to cleaning up her husband’s messes. This is clear from the no nonsense way she arrives at the New Hampshire headquarter ready to talk strategy. The problem is that she isn’t used to playing the sweet-yet-broken housewife the electorate wants. You see, it’s not enough that she dons a headband, cozy up to him on a couch, and relive the experience of his adultery in 60 Minutes. She was supposed to be demure as well. Instead, she explains herself this way by saying, “I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together. And you know, if that’s not enough for people, then heck—don’t vote for him.”
With that, the contentious relationship between Hillary and the American public is born. The lesson learned is that you can’t insult Tammy Wynette and expect Middle America to let you get away with it.
When the Monica Lewinsky story breaks, Hillary is once again making the press rounds to do damage control. She is a pro at explaining Starr’s political machinations and brushes off the more salacious aspects of the Lewinsky rumors. Poll numbers are high, and she is confident that she is working as a team with her husband. Monica is still hiding from the press and refusing to talk. There are reasons to believe the Clintons will weather this.
But Starr won’t let his obsession with who did what to whose privates go. He instructs the Altar Boys to “turn up the heat” on Lewinsky, which just means asking Monica for a writing sample and some fingerprints, but it works. She fires Ginsburg, hires a new team, and her new lawyers strike a deal with Starr: Monica will air her dirty laundry (wink, wink) as long as she and her family gets immunity.
When Bill Clinton’s DNA matches the residue left on the blue dress, the independent counsel celebrates with an almost morbid glee. It’s the booster they need to talk dirty to Bill Clinton when he testifies before the Grand Jury. It pains me to say this, but it is also the spunk that gives this episode, well, spunk. For while the first half was efficient in bringing us up to speed with the series of events that finally put Clinton on the stand, it wasn’t particularly riveting. Once Clinton realizes he will not be able to avoid Starr any longer, the episode turns into a mesmerizing domestic drama. Because there is also no way for him to avoid Hillary any longer.
The morning of his testimony, HRC wakes up to find her husband in her room. He finally admits to her that he “slipped up”, framing Monica as the temptress as one does, to a stunned Hillary. The reaction is one you’d expect: anger and shock. But there isn’t time to linger in the pain and what we get is but an amuse-bouche of Edie Falco’s craft. A spicy one at that.
The episode then gives us an extended take on Bill Clinton’s verbal duel with Carrie Bennet. While many of the Bill’s scenes have paled in comparison to that of the women in the show, this is one instance where the focus is well-warranted. If only because the whole interrogation is absolutely unhinged.
If you’ve ever witnessed a Twitter debate go off the rails because of semantics, this will feel oddly familiar. Carrie drills Clinton on his definition of sexual relations, but Clinton says he will be using Paula Jones’ legal defense team definition, which is “touching certain parts on another person to arouse or gratify.” Since he did not ever touch Monica with that intent, he can deny ever having had sexual relations. It’s a self-own in the stylistic tradition of Ben Shapiro, but one that lets him off the hook!
I mean, Clinton spends a solid two minutes sounding like a Burning Man aficionado’s Tinder profile with his philosophizing over the word “is.” Starr decides to intervene, and he is not afraid to ask the tough questions. Like, does kissing count as sexual relations? Boobies? How about oral sex? Time is up though and Clinton, triumphant, just points to his written statement as explanation.
When facing Hillary, though, Bill is useless. Secluded in Martha’s Vineyard for his birthday, HRC instructs the staff to put her husband’s belongings in the guesthouse. At dinner with Vernon and his wife, Bill tries to get back into her good graces by sharing an anecdote about running into an ex-boyfriend of hers. As he describes the encounter, the camera lingers on Hillary’s face, lost in thought, her silence and stiff jaw the only clues we need to understand she is thinking of what could have been. Not what could have been with that other guy, but what could have been if she had invested in herself instead of them.
But the real highlight of the episode is what happens when they’re back home, alone. Bill is begging her for forgiveness, but her response is to throw a vase against the wall. This is only the beginning though of an intense discussion where Edie Falco expertly guides us through a whole smorgasbord of human emotions. From rage to heartache to regret to shame to longing to pride to a pure, pure ache, we ride that emotional roller coaster firmly by her side. After a lifetime of having her marriage painted as a calculated agreement, HRC finally accepts that this might be the reality. Not because she wanted it to be that way, but because Bill’s recklessness has given her no other choice.
The wait was long, but boy was it worth it.
- Another heartbreaking moment was watching Monica comfort herself by saying that in a decade she will be married and have kids, and this will all feel far away. Reader, that was not what her future was going to be.
- Another excellent performance: Chelsea side-eyeing her father in disgust LOL. If she never appears again, I will still consider that a stellar moment in the show.
- Threaded through the episode is a lot of talk of the East Africa Embassy Bombing perpetrated by al Qaeda and masterminded by Osama Bin Laden. I wasn’t entirely sure what this addition was trying to accomplish other than make the case that Clinton was still dealing with Presidential crap while his marriage imploded? That better decisions would have been made had he not been so distracted by his horny ways? That he was still doing his job despite it all?
- The last shot of Hillary wrapped in a chunky cream-colored sweater, staring at the ocean with tears and determination in her eyes gave me strong Nancy Meyer’s aesthetic vibes.
- “Just because you didn’t always finish doesn’t mean you didn’t start.”