The origins of the Real Housewives reunions may very well lie in the grand jury testimonies of Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp. Stay with me.
As a TV tradition, these are spaces where the reality stars come to rehash their pasts and air grievances. Time is spent on choosing the perfect outfit that is meant to also be a statement about their persona. They are under extreme scrutiny; no question too probing or impertinent as long as it results in them “owning it.” The expectation is that you will admit to your shortcomings but also appeal to public sympathy. Receipts abound. It is, in short, an exercise in redemption.
Whatever the nefarious entanglements of politics and Bravo may be, the extended grand jury scenes in this week’s episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story take a nod from the reunion format. Or maybe it’s a reflection of the rise of politics as reality TV. It follows both Monica Lewinsky’s and Linda Tripp’s experience as they enter that courtroom, take an oath, and tell their story to twenty-nine average American citizens. This is their shot to break free from whatever slandering narrative—warranted or not—has been pushed by the White House, the press, and comedy bros. But like most reunions, one will emerge triumphant while another will solidify her villain status.
Monica enters the courtroom with her very best “not a deranged whore” look, which is hard to pull off because any style can be considered a deranged whore look if you run into the Kavanaughs of the world. Before her lies a guy in a ponytail, at least 15 no-nonsense aunties, and a handful of other people. Starr has brought in a lady lawyer because he understands diversity to mean checking off a demographic box for optics.
The questioning is rough. Copies of the Excel spreadsheet cataloguing her encounters with Clinton are passed around. She gets pointed questions from the prosecution about what sex acts she engaged in. An older woman with the attitude of your tough-but-fair elementary school principal asks her about her habit of sleeping with married men.
But soon, Monica is weaving her way into the hearts of grand jury. She does so by being vulnerable and honest. She talks openly about her feelings for the president with the sweetness of a broken-hearted twentysomething. At least five of those suburban moms want to take her to get mani-pedis and tell her why she deserves better. But nothing gets them on her side more than her account of being harassed and threatened by the FBI. By the time her questioning is over, the jury is lifting her up, organizing for police reform, and demanding Linda Tripp’s head.
Ah yes, Linda. Her turn on the hot seat is not nearly as victorious. She has spent the past months as a hotel recluse, sustained by a breakfast buffet and frustration over being away from her cubicle. She spends her days clipping articles about herself to the despair of her daughter. When she finally relents and goes home, what awaits is a bunch of sprouting potatoes and a New Yorker article that functions as an omen for her grand jury experience.
Linda is still under the impression that people will understand her if they can just hear her story. Unfortunately for her, no one gives a shit about her story. They care about Monica because she is the protagonist in this scandal. They are also Team Monica because she won them over. So, when Linda’s angle is to portray Monica as an annoying friend, it backfires.
The grand jury members poke holes in her narrative the way only superfans of any franchise with a vendetta can. Why didn’t you tell her to stop calling you? Why encourage her to give Clinton a tie? Why tape the calls? Sounds like you wanted to keep her talking. Why did she feel she was in danger for exposing the truth but didn’t think Monica would ever be in any danger? What evidence do you have over your Vince Foster conspiracy theory? Why do you prefer Marshalls to Ross?
Tripp trips on her account. (I’ve been waiting all season to write that.) When she leaves the court room, she is distraught. Her long-awaited statement to the press is a plea. “I’m you. I’m just like you,” Linda insists before listing the many ways she’s been wronged. She even ends it with a statement that most civic-minded folks would agree with: “I believe you have the right to tell the truth under oath, without fear of retaliation.” Nevertheless, this has no impact. Tripp might see herself as a whistle blower, but the country sees her as a bad friend. No one wants to identify with the bad friend.
In an episode that focuses on competing stories, there is also something smarter and deeper simmering under the Lewinsky-Tripp feud. And it has to do with the question of who gets to tell victims stories and under what circumstances. Most of the women featured are pressured to spill, which only traumatizes them further—as a kicker, the truth does not set them free either.
Jones gives us one of the more satisfying moments in the show when she kicks man-child Steve to curb. But she also does this in the aftermath of a nose job for a nose she “didn’t even know was bad until you made me do this.” Juanita Broaddrick tells the FBI about her rape only to end up as a footnote because Starr does not deem it a crime worthy of consideration.
As for Monica, she is adamant that her affair with Clinton was consensual. In her experience, there was affection, maybe even love. Her ordeal isn’t the kiss in the Oval Office. It’s the persistent questioning by authorities over it. It’s her recounting her most intimate details to yet another lawyer. It is the mortification over having to share her story, over and over, when she didn’t want to in the first place.
It’s a situation that stems from Tripp’s desire to co-opt Monica’s experience for her own gain, and a society hungry to consume tales of female trauma only to eagerly discard women as trash. Redemption—whether through an affidavit, a nose job, or a sympathetic jury—is short-lived.
- I know Monica truly saw Linda as a friend because of how they had a nickname for the man she was engaging in sexual activity with a.k.a. The Creep. That’s BFF behavior, right there.
- You can still read The New Yorker profile in their archives, which speculates that part of Linda’s motivation stems from her own philandering father.
- Was this episode also trying to rehabilitate the Karens of the world??? I tried to figure out who the real female lawyer was in the grand jury but from my understanding the three lawyers that questioned Lewinsky that day were Michael Emmick, Solomon L. Wisenberg, and Mary Anne Writh. And yet, here she is named Karen. At the behest of Monica and the grand jury, she is given permission to take over proceedings when Emmick leaves because he was making Monica uncomfortable. Um, let the healing begin?
- Another person looking for redemption? Bill. Not from the public, God no! He’s up in the polls. But from his wife, who is swayed by his admiration of her intelligence and political acumen.
- We can hold space for two truths: One, Bill Clinton is a total creep, to use Lewinsky’s preferred term. Two, he was also subject to a political campaign to thwart his presidency by the Republicans. This is the balance Impeachment wants to juggle by making sure Starr and his Altar Boys come off as sanctimonious misogynist pencil-pushers every step of the way.