American Crime Story
Juanita Broaddrick comes forward with the allegation that Bill Clinton raped her back when he was running for governor and she was a campaign volunteer. (“Comes forward” when the Ken Starr division of the FBI visits her house unannounced and prods her to correct her false affidavit, that is). It’s a bombshell claim, but for Ken Starr, it’s lowkey inconvenient. He wants to charge Bill with lying and abusing his power; rape is too distracting. “Put her in a footnote,” Ken tells an attorney helping to draft his report to Congress. A footnote within an appendix, actually. It’s an appalling, ugly, entirely fitting metaphor for how the suffering of individual women is reduced to exhibits on his team’s march to impeachment. As it pertains to the Starr Investigation, an office that appears to employ one (1) female attorney, a woman is either evidence or in the wrong room.
“The Grand Jury” is a scattered episode in the style of so many penultimate TV episodes as they hurry to place each character in finale position. The storylines don’t so much build on each other as they do tessellate: Juanita, Linda Tripp, Paula Jones, Hillary Clinton, Monica Lewinsky. We visit each multiple times because on Impeachment, Bill Clinton isn’t the star of the Bill Clinton story. The crimes are his, sure, but the punishment is mostly borne by the women unlucky enough to find themselves in his proximity, starting with Hillary.
Even more torturous than being Bill’s wife right now is, in some ways, being his First Lady. Regardless of their personal estrangement, Hillary still has to report for duty, which includes watching jovial Russians play the accordion and introducing the guy everyone’s really there to see. The names of Democratic Congress members circling an impeachment vote can fill a sheet of letter paper, so Bill focuses his energy on shoring up support from a public figure with a perfect record of showing up to work. He hauls Hillary into the Oval for a tearful speech about how much he values her, how riveting he finds her dinner conversation. “Everything good in my life comes out of us together,” Bill tells her. She’s either unmoved (YES, GIRL, LEAVE) or pretends to be.
Alas, she falls in line by the end of the day, for who can resist Bill’s Tin Man routine, how the sorrow renders his drawl even drawlier as he laments his fate as Andrew Johnson part deux. Hillary offers to call Rep. Jim Moran and persuade him to close rank on impeachment. This isn’t about Bill’s affair anymore; it’s about showing the GOP that hunting season is over. She’ll give the Dems in Congress “permission” to forgive Bill’s misconduct by publicly offering her own forgiveness first, however mortifying. In other words, Mrs. Clinton said she would whip the votes herself.
As the East Wing battens down the hatches, though, the Joneses are folding. Steve’s out of work — of both the acting and airline-ticketing variety — when a judge throws out Paula’s lawsuit against Bill. Suddenly, Steve is furious that Paula didn’t accept the settlement money that he absolutely refused to let her accept months ago. She’s pissed because pursuing the lawsuit made her famous, and now everyone’s sniggering at her bulbous nose, which she never even realized was bulbous before. Paula wants to move home to Arkansas, but Steve’s too embarrassed. Everyone back home thinks his wife blew the president, and Steve, in his heart of heart, suspects the same. In the middle of their fight, without asking a single question about who will care for their son, he grabs his keys and heads for the door. (YES, GO. LEAVE. GOOD RIDDANCE, STEVE.)
Meanwhile, Linda Tripp has evolved into the grand dame of the Residence Inn. She initially checked in when the press staked out her home, but she stays for the thrill of being an asshole on the waffle line. Her sequestered days have an unhealthy rhythm: continental breakfast, stewing over the ugly news coverage (only one out of every ten Americans sees Linda favorably, we learn), frozen dinners. The coast is clear at the house, but maybe that’s exactly what Linda fears: that her role in all of this is ending and no one sees her the way she sees herself. She’s persona non grata at the Pentagon, hanging onto her paycheck by a thread. Allison is learning about her family’s secrets in the New Yorker, and the DoD is investigating Linda for a youthful grand-larceny charge she omitted from her security clearance application. Linda’s paranoid delusions of a takedown by the Clintons have already come to fruition, no Clintons necessary.
Before she can defend herself without endangering her immunity deal, though, Linda still has to testify in front of the grand jury, which is made up of 23 people who absolutely hate her guts. They hate her descriptions of Monica’s neediness and volatility as a friend, which sound self-serving despite being accurate. They sensibly question why, if Monica was so annoying, Linda didn’t simply ask her to stop calling. And if Bill was so bad for Monica, why did Linda sometimes encourage her? (Hands down, my favorite line of the episode is when Linda describes a comment about a tie Monica bought Bill as “pro-Marshalls” rather than pro-affair.) Linda’s received as terribly as Mike Emmick worried she would be episodes ago. Somehow she even manages to shoehorn into her testimony her suspicion that the First Family killed Vince Foster.
But when Linda later shares prepared remarks with the press, she seems like a different person. Less angry, more duty-bound. And sad, too. “Because I am just like you, I ask you to imagine how you would feel if someone you thought was a friend urged you to commit a felony.” Except she’s not like us in one very unlikeable way. “Do you regret taping Monica?” a reporter asks Linda when she’s finished her speech. Her lawyers refuse to let her take questions, but I wonder if the world would have been more understanding if Linda had simply been allowed to say, “Yes, of course I regret it. This is horrible.”
Which brings us, lastly, to Monica on the day of her grand-jury testimony. If Linda’s was a firing squad, Monica’s more closely resembles group therapy. Disarmingly, she asks for the jurors’ names, which are confidential; then she invites them to call her Monica rather than Ms. Lewinsky. As she did in real life, Monica explains why: “I’m just 25.” When a juror responds that she’ll “always be Ms. Lewinsky, whether you’re 25 or 28,” Monica is every inch of her 25-year-old self: coy, naïve, optimistic. “Not if I get married,” she replies. These scenes are Beanie Feldstein’s best work of the series. Her Monica is so charming and humiliated and shocking that it was only hours later, when I started writing this, that I wondered if perhaps Monica made a calculated decision to embellish that side of her personality. When asked about sex, she’s candid and soft-spoken, but it’s when she’s asked about the nonsexual component to her relationship with the president that she’s most sympathetic. She was in love with Bill, but now she’s not, for the same reason so many of us fall out of love with our partners: “It turns out he’s not who I thought he was.” It’s Monica, not Linda, who feels just like us.
When it’s time to testify about the day Starr’s team held her at the Ritz, Monica asks Mike to leave — a move that speaks succinctly and affectingly to how threatened and confined she must have felt that day. The jury is putty in her hands. At the end, when they ask Monica if she has anything else to say, she apologizes profusely for the affair. As she did in real life, Monica adds with a flourish: “And I hate Linda Tripp.”
It should be the end for Monica Lewinsky, but it’s never the end for Monica Lewinsky. To prove that Bill perjured himself by his own twisty definition of sexual relations, Starr needs to prove he intended to arouse Monica. It’s Kavanaugh, yet again horny for more details, who discovers the testimony gap, though they thankfully send a woman to get the dirt. Under oath, Karen asks Monica to give a forensic account of who touched who, where and when, and whether it was through the underwear or under it. Monica testifies that she orgasmed the first time she hooked up with the president. She tells them that, once, Bill penetrated her with a cigar. She doesn’t need to tell them this. If she doesn’t tell them this, they’ll never ever find out, but Monica’s so beaten down and strung out that she’s hardly up to weighing that choice. It’s awful what they extract from her on the threat of putting her in prison for a crime that barely exists: a lie in an affidavit in a lawsuit that no longer exists.
Monica is depicted as unfailingly kind. On her way out the door, she asks the pregnant lawyer whether she’s having a boy or a girl, somehow still able to notice that other human beings are human beings, even as she’s barely afforded the same respect. She’s not a woman with a private romantic past but a walking spreadsheet of times and dates and sex acts. To the Ann Coulters of this vast conspiracy, she’s collateral damage. And if Bill were able to evade impeachment, maybe she’d go from being a chapter in the Clinton presidency to something smaller. Skippable, even. Like a footnote.
Yes, They Really Did That
• Monica Lewinsky really did win hearts and minds during her grand-jury testimony. In fact, the jurors tried to comfort her. “We’ve all fallen short. We sin every day. I don’t care whether it’s murder, whether it’s affairs, or whatever. And we get over that,” one juror told Monica. “You ask forgiveness, and you go on. So to let you know from here, you have my forgiveness. Because we all fall short.”
More From This Series
- Fact-checking Impeachment’s Final Act
- Impeachment: American Crime Story Season-Finale Recap: Monica’s Story
- Fact-Checking Impeachment’s ‘The Grand Jury’