Content warning: This feature contains discussion of sexual abuse and harassment as depicted in Impeachment: American Crime Story.
Episode 1 of Impeachment: American Crime Story focuses on the background of Bill Clinton’s other scandals as well as Linda Tripp’s past before meeting Monica Lewinsky, which ends in Lewinsky hardly being featured in the premiere episode. American Crime Story season 3 depicts the events leading up to President Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment, focusing on the perspectives of the women who were key players in the lead-up to the trial. The series exhibits the media frenzy, sexism, unfair power dynamics, and targeting that was placed more on women like Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein), Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford), and Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson) during the impeachment.
Impeachment’s premiere episode begins with a scene from 1998, showing the independent counsel and FBI sting on Lewinsky at the Ritz Carlton with the help of her once coworker Tripp. The episode then travels back to 1993, a few months into Clinton’s first presidential term where he is already subject to the controversy surrounding the Whitewater scandal, deputy White House counsel Vince Foster’s death, sexual assault on a White House volunteer, and a highly publicized sexual harassment lawsuit by Paula Jones. In the course of the premiere, Lewinsky herself isn’t even reintroduced until the last 20 minutes of the 90-minute aired episode.
Since much of American Crime Story season 3 was promoted with Lewinsky’s image and that Impeachment would be telling her recollection of the infamous Clinton scandal, it was surprising how little she was featured in the premiere episode. While Lewinsky came back at the end to finally bring all of the moving parts together, the majority of “Exiles” followed Linda Tripp’s introduction as a quite conniving and snooping force within the White House as well as setting up Bill Clinton’s patterns as a sexual abuser who was no stranger to controversy before the 1998 scandal broke out. The premiere episode is primarily used as a way to set up the context for how the key players would eventually intersect, with all of Clinton’s controversies, wrongdoings, and lawsuits later culminating in his impeachment.
The episode is also important in explaining that Lewinsky was not the first woman to be subject to Bill Clinton’s power abuse in the context of a sexual encounter. While the Clinton sex scandal involving her may be the most famous, several other women had been survivors of his unwanted advances beforehand, as shown with Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey in Impeachment episode 1. Until the episode’s final moment, Clinton isn’t even present, revealing how important it is for American Crime Story to frame the events from the point of view of the women who were largely silenced or attacked at the time.
Additionally, American Crime Story’s episode focusing on Linda Tripp sets up how Tripp was already prodding for controversy or gossip before meeting Lewinsky, it just happened to be the perfect storm with them being transferred to the same department. Lewinsky was lonely in D.C., and Linda Tripp sparking up a friendship with her in hopes of uncovering whatever man she was seeing in the White House is the ultimate betrayal, especially since the opening scene shows the moment when Linda is the one who traps her for the FBI and Independent Counsel. Even when only featuring her for less than half the episode, Impeachment’s premiere episode frames all of the pre-existing working parts that eventually place Lewinsky as the center of one of America’s most infamous events in the past few decades.
Next: How Monica Lewinsky Is Involved With American Crime Story: Impeachment
New episodes of Impeachment: American Crime Story air on FX every Tuesday.