‘Tis the season in DC but everyone has a case of the bah humbugs in this week’s Impeachment: American Crime Story. Winter magic? Not in this episode where the only white-covered landscape we are offered is Monica’s infamous dress.
There is nothing merry about the holidays as the many threads we’ve been following through the season start to unravel. As the Paula Jones case gains momentum, subpoenas are being handed out like one of Linda Tripp’s Christmas party invitations. I mean, even the cubicle mate she feuds with gets one! Enjoy that cheese log, Susan!
As the witness list grows, so do the concerns of many of our key players. Judge Kenneth Starr (Dan Bakkedahl) and his team of altar boys are reciting a prayer of defeat over their weak Whitewater evidence. Clinton is being drilled by his lawyers over the many “friendships” he had with women over the years. Lewinsky is a few weeks away from starting afresh in New York, but she has one last pesky chore to finish before she can: swear in an affidavit that nothing happened between her and the President. As for Tripp, her main goal at the start of the episode is to make sure that dress never sees the inside of a dry cleaner ever again.
Though the fear is palpable, we already know that only half this group truly need be concerned. The rest will go on to have storied careers. The stark division between how both camps will be treated starts to come to light in this week’s episode, most notably through the few scenes that depict Paula Jones.
Before she encounters Bennett, Jones is still beaming with hope as she and Susan Carpenter meet up with her Mama and Little Rock’s fanciest hotel. Mama asks her about the settlement money, to which Carpenter gives her some condescending answer about how any settlement needs to start with an apology.
The look Mama gives her screams, “Listen, bitch, I’ve survived 46 tornadoes, the Great Flood of 1927, and an attempted murder by noted serial killer Ronald Gene Simmons. You can shove an apology right up your uptight ass cause forgiveness only tastes as good as the money it comes with.”
This is enough to give Carpenter a signal to leave Jones and Mama a moment to themselves. Her concerned mother asks her the tough questions, like if she knew what they were going to do to her in that courtroom.
The answer is that Jones did not know. And what they did to her in that courtroom is straight out of a How To Slut-Shame 101 PowerPoint presentation. The questions revolve around penis. Penises? Penii? Mostly Clinton’s, but also about other ones she may have encountered. Possibly in the same night.
One suspects that Jones was sometimes thought of as fodder for ridicule in the show. It’s truly thanks to Annaleigh Ashford’s performance that the role hasn’t sashayed headfirst into camp. However, this scene was particularly poignant. It’s the first time Jones suspects she may have been duped by those who claimed to protect her.
This experience of being misguided (at best) and positively bamboozled (at worst) is one that ties the three women at the heart of Impeachment: American Crime Story. What happens to Jones is an amuse-bouche in comparison to the feast that Lewinsky is about to serve up.
In this episode, though, she is already being put on high alert. The mention of a hat pin in her subpoena has the potency of a threat—someone in her inside circle must have snitched. Clinton keeps telling her she’ll be fine, as long as she never told her friend in the Pentagon about them and says nothing happened in an affidavit. Vernon Jordan says she’ll be fine as long as she never had sex with Clinton, and he never asked her for it. Big gulp. Lewinsky, though, would feel a lot more comfortable if Tripp could just promise to not say anything.
Frantic, Lewinsky heads to Tripp’s Christmas party to reason with her. The house has been transformed into a citadel fit for the War on Christmas, where the pro-Christmas faction is overwhelmingly winning. There is no spirit of good cheer here though as Tripp tells Lewinsky she needs to talk to her lawyer before she promises anything.
Tripp walks into that office, though, and reveals everything she knows to her lawyer. Triumphant, she hands him over the tapes. Except, Tripp has never really controlled the narrative, has she? Like Jones, she too has been played by a more powerful woman than her. Unlike Jones, her massive hunger for prominence has made her believe she can outsmart everyone. But as the lawyer stares in horror at the illegally obtained tapes (always check your state laws, folks!), there is only one move to make: find immunity.
This puts her right in the hands of the Starr investigation. She is now taking orders from the FBI who give squat about Tripp’s book deal. They take over a lunch she orchestrated with Lewinsky to obtain the two pieces of info the federal investigation cares the most about: admission from Lewinsky that she plans on lying in her affidavit and that Jordan gave her the Revlon job as a quid pro quo. Tripp achieves both.
The trap has been set and we, the audience, already know who gets caught between its clutches—easy prey.
- Juanita Broaddrick makes a brief appearance, but she too keeps with the theme the writers have set. Though she is determined to keep her past in the past, you can see her façade break a crack as she is promised the protection of fine, Christian PIs and lawyers.
- Using ’90s TV clips as character-building details is clever and delightful to pick up. In past episodes, we see Tripp watching Gulliver’s Travels and news clips on Diana’s relationship with Dodi Al-Fayed. This week, we see Lewinsky watching Ally McBeal, a show about a barely-there lawyer who pines for her boss/ex-boyfriend. (Calista Flockhart later admitted to extreme dieting during her time on the show, which I’m only bringing up because of Lewinsky’s struggles with diet culture.)
- Anyone else get an echo of “binders full of women” as Clinton listed all the ladies in his cabinet?
- A young Kavanaugh saying, “I don’t like to take no for an answer”—I see what you did there.
- Another hat tip to the writer that made Tony Blair the great interrupter of devastating emotional moments, YET AGAIN.