They say to really understand someone, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. Well, in the third installment of American Crime Story, viewers get to walk several miles in the shoes of Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, and Paula Jones, three women in Bill Clinton’s orbit that led to his impeachment. Premiering September 7th on FX, here is a detailed recap of the first episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story, titled “Exiles.”
January 1998 – Washington, D.C.
It’s a rainy day and Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) looks out the window of her apartment, tears leaking down her cheeks. She’s packing up her apartment and as she fills boxes, she pauses for a closer look at several items: a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, a stuffed animal of a black labrador, a stack of press passes, and a copy of The Washington Post with the headline “Clinton Wins Second Term.”
It’s still raining outside of a coffee shop where Monica picks up her drink from the barista and lets him know that this might be the last time he sees her because she’s moving to New York next week. Her next stop is a group aerobics class at a gym, after which she sees a page from Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson), who asks to do lunch in an hour when Monica calls her. “I have good news, I may have found a solution to our problem,” Linda tells her.
Monica arrives at the Pentagon City food court, descending an escalator with a man in a suit with an earpiece a few steps behind her. We briefly see inside a room where other men in suits wait and one of them says “The subject has arrived.” Monica waits at a table with a magazine she just purchased when Linda Tripp arrives, descending down the same escalator. She looks nervous as she approaches the table, two men in suits flanked on either side of her. They’re the first to speak, announcing themselves as FBI and telling Monica that she’s needed in conjunction with the Paula Jones lawsuit, informing her that she’s in trouble. Monica looks stunned and tells them she needs to speak to her attorney, but Linda speaks up and tells her they did the same thing to her and it’s in her best interest to comply.
Monica is led up an elevator with the FBI agents and Linda Tripp, who can barely make eye contact with her. They proceed to a mall adjacent Ritz-Carlton and into a spacious suite filled with FBI Agents. Mike Emmick (Colin Hanks) introduces himself as a member of the Office of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. One of the agents suggests they close the doors to the room where Linda Tripp sits, but Monica says “No, make her stay and watch,” saying she wants Linda to see what she’s done to her. Linda’s eyes aver out the rainy window.
July 1993 – 5 years earlier
It’s 5:30 am when Linda Tripp’s alarm wakes her up and her first order of business is to light a cigarette. In the kitchen, she blends an Ultra Slim-Fast shake for breakfast. She works in the White House Council’s Office in the East Wing as a secretary to Vince Foster (Matthew Floyd Miller). During a bathroom break, she washes her hands next to Hilary Clinton (Edie Falco), who reapplies lipstick and greets Linda with a “Hello.”
Linda finds her friend Kathleen (Elizabeth Reaser) to gossip about how during the Bush administration, Barbara Bush never used the communal bathroom. Kathleen brings up a rumor she’s heard about an affair between Hillary and Vince, but Linda defends her boss as being nothing but an honorable man. Kathleen is a volunteer and Linda encourages her to ask the president for a real job.
When Linda enters Vince’s office, he’s watching C-SPAN and Ann Coulter is on discussing him. He asks Linda to bring him lunch and at the commissary, she adds a special treat to the tray in the form of a small box of M&Ms. Shortly after, Vince announces that he’ll be back soon and that he left some M&Ms for Linda. She enters his office and sees that he barely ate his lunch and he left his messenger bag. She turns around and sees him in the elevator as the doors close.
Vince drives to Fort Marcey Park and parks his car. He removes his jacket and necktie and steps out of the car. We see him pacing back and forth outside the car window. He has a gun in his hand. We see a view of the trees, a gunshot startling birds into flight. That night, Linda microwaves a potato for dinner and sits down with it at her TV where she sees the news that her boss is dead.
Arriving at work the next morning, two men in suits try to block Linda from entering the office, with Bernard “Bernie” Nussbaum (Kevin Pollak) telling the men to let Linda in. She passes an agent carrying out a box marked “Whitewater” and gets defensive, asking him who told him he could take the box. The agent tells her Bernie asked him to take it as the door closes.
January 1994 – Long Beach, CA
Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford) returns to her apartment from walking her baby. She talks to someone on the phone while looking at the cover of The American Specter, which features a caricature of Bill Clinton with a headline that reads “His Cheatin’ Heart.” She tells the person on the other end of the call that her husband Steve (Taran Killam) sounded upset when he walks through the door.
Paula anxiously folds laundry as Steve reads the article, angrily throwing the magazine across the room. Steve is a struggling actor who is working as a gate agent at the airport to pay the rent. He’s furious that the magazine implies that his wife went into a hotel room alone with Bill Clinton and that she reportedly said she wanted to be his girlfriend. She approaches her husband and says she can fix this by showing the world what really happened. She suggests they meet with a lawyer who handled her friend Deb’s divorce.
Meeting with lawyer Daniel Traylor (Ian Alda), Paula recounts her version of events while Steve angrily sits next to her. She was volunteering at the registration desk of a convention in Little Rock, Arkansas when then-governor Bill Clinton came through. A State Trooper approached Paula and told her that the governor wanted to meet her in his hotel room, so she went to see him. Inside, Clinton tried to kiss her, so she moved away to a couch. He came to sit beside her and revealed himself to her, asking her to kiss his member. Paula says she said no and left the room. Adding credit to her character, Paula informs the lawyer that she’s a preacher’s daughter and doesn’t do that kind of thing. By the end of her story, Paula’s eyes are misty as if she’s fighting back tears.
“I want an apology,” Paula finishes. Daniel thinks she means from the magazine, but she corrects him that she wants an apology from the President of the United States of America. She adds that in addition, she wants her husband Steve to have a guest role on Designing Women, noting that the show’s creator is friends with the Clintons. Daniel doesn’t think he has that kind of power as a lawyer but says they may get what they want with some public attention.
George Stephanopoulos (George H. Xanthis) argues with Bernie Nussbaum about the need for an independent counsel to investigate Whitewater. Bernie, who’s been in the White House since Richard Nixon’s administration, tells George to drop it and that the point of an independent counsel is to destroy a president. Linda Tripp is right outside the door and overhears the conversation. Linda finds Kathleen to tell her to brag that if a special counsel is formed, she will be asked to testify since she’s seen so much in her time at the office. She tells Kathleen that she is off to a lunch meeting with a book publisher at the advice of a friend who told her that’s the best way to protect herself.
Lucianne Goldberg (Margo Martindale) sits on a bench smoking and talking on her cellphone when she sees Linda Tripp across the street and hangs up to greet her. At lunch, Lucianne asks Linda if she thinks Vince’s death was murder or if he was really having an affair with Hilary. Linda is not interested in smearing the reputation of her departed boss but tells the agent that she knows about a blonde white house intern that’s having an affair with the president. She doesn’t want to reveal the girl’s name and Lucianne isn’t interested, saying she only does big books. Linda defends her decision, saying her job is important to her and she doesn’t want to get fired, even though Lucianne is offering a six-figure deal. Lucianne ends the meeting by telling Paula that it’s CPAC and she has lots of meetings lined up with Clinton haters to find the book she’s interested in publishing.
Paula and Steve Jones arrive at CPAC, walking through a convention floor of booths selling anti-Clinton merchandise. At a press conference, Daniel Traylor announces that Bill Clinton made unwanted advances to Paula Jones at that out of respect for Paula and the Clinton family, they won’t be sharing specific details. The press are upset by this and continue to ask probing questions when Paula stands at the podium, talking down to her and insinuating that she was responsible for what happened to her.
Linda returns to the office to find a pizza party going on, which seems to upset her. She finds Kathleen with smeared lipstick, who asks to borrow hers. Taking Linda’s advice, Kathleen went to the Oval Office to ask the president for a job when he pressed her against the wall and kissed her. It didn’t last long because an aide knocked on the door and she rushed out. Bernie interrupts their conversation by calling Linda to his office. He informs her that he is resigning, to which she asks what will happen to her. He doesn’t know.
Ann Coulter (Cobie Smulders) sits in a room with Richard Porter (Christopher Wallinger) and Jerome Marcus (James Thomas Gilbert). She was sent a copy of Paula Jones’ press conference by George Conway and Ann sees Paula as the perfect person to take Bill Clinton down. One of the men in the room suggests that they hire a “Real lawyer” to represent Paula Jones.
Paula and Steve Jones sit at a desk meeting with lawyers Joe Cammarata (Emil Beheshti) and Gil Davis (Jeff Elam), who tell Paula that they can get her an apology from the president, but it won’t be easy. The three-year statute of limitations expires in just eighty hours and they encourage Paula to file an official lawsuit before then, but she doesn’t want to. Instead, she reveals that she can draw the president’s “Area” and the lawyers pass her a notepad and a pen. “It takes a dramatic turn,” she says as she slides the drawing back towards them.
Linda Tripp sees the writing on the wall while waiting at her desk. She goes to find Kathleen and suggests that they team up to meet with the incoming White House Council to convince them to hire both of them. Cut to both Linda and Kathleen side-by-side at an outdoor meeting with Lloyd Cutler (Nicolas Coster) and Cheryl (Lynn Downey). Linda tries to convince them that she will be essential in the transition for the office, describing Bernie as being unorganized. This comment seems to end the conversation, with Cheryl telling Lloyd they need to leave for a scheduled call.
In a follow-up meeting with Cammarata and Davis, Paula is told that Bill Clinton’s lawyers were surprised by the drawing, but did not come to terms. There’s just a few hours left before the deadline to file a lawsuit and they ask Paula if there’s anything in her past that she doesn’t want to come out before they proceed. She faces away from them, her eyes watery as Steve tells her he loves her. “I can’t let him get away with it,” Paula says, confirming her intent to sue.
Outside the Federal Courthouse in Little Rock, Arkansas, Cammarata and Davis publicly announce the lawsuit brought by Paula Jones against Bill Clinton for sexual assault. The reporters begin shouting questions, including how these two high profile D.C. lawyers ended up representing a nobody like Paula Jones. They dodge the question.
Linda gets a letter at her desk and looks furious, racing to the parking garage to chase down Leslie (Michelle N. Carter) before she gets in her car and drives away. Linda Tripp has been reassigned to the Pentagon and Leslie tells her it’s a promotion that comes with a $20,000 raise. Linda argues that nobody is promoted from the White House to the Pentagon and Leslie reveals that Kathleen has been given her old job, which has been redefined to not have the same title. Leslie informs Linda that she asked all over the White House and no department wanted to keep Linda there.
Packing up her desk, Kathleen enters Linda’s office and asks to talk. Linda is bitter, telling her “Friend” that she thought they were women who support other women. Linda insults Kathleen by telling her the only reason she got the job is that the president wants her around. As Linda walks towards the elevator, Kathleen yells that the president doesn’t even know who Linda Tripp is. She stops, sets down her box, walks to Kathleen, points her index finger at Kathleen’s face, and threatens “I will get you for this.”
Linda arrives at the Department of Defense Press Office where she has been reassigned. She shares a cubicle with a woman named Susan and immediately gets off on the wrong foot with her, turning around and asking the supervisor Willie for a private office. She states the reason that she has high-level knowledge of Watergate expects to need privacy for phone calls with the special counsel. Willie denies her request.
April 1996 – 23 months later
Monica Lewinsky enters the Department of Defense Press Office at the Pentagon where Willie gets her set up in a cubicle outside of Assistant Secretary Bacon’s office. Across the floor, maintenance is being done above Linda Tripp’s desk and she goes to Willie to complain about the fumes. She finally gets her private office, albeit temporarily, working out of Assistant Secretary Bacon’s office while he is away. She picks up the phone and calls Lucienne Goldberg because she’s now ready to write her tell-all book, but the agent is no longer interested in the past, only in something “Current and inside.
When Monica walks by the office Linda is using, she pauses to comment on the poster of Bill Clinton. Linda learns that Monica was just transferred from the White House and that she started as an intern there. Linda invites Monica to lunch where Monica confesses that she is expecting to go back to the White House in a few months. The two bond over their diet food preferences. Neither of them wants to be at the Pentagon, another thing they have in common. Linda also shares some details from her past, saying that when the Clinton’s moved into the White House, she worked at a desk just outside of the Oval Office. She believes Hilary Clinton asked her to be moved because she was trimmer back then and didn’t want her close to Bill. Linda also talks about how she was stabbed in the back by a “Fairweather friend” and Monica confesses to being lonely because the friends she made during her internship didn’t get placement and moved away.
Switching topics to relationships, Linda learns that Monica is in what she describes as “Something like a relationship.” Linda keeps probing, jumping to the conclusion that it’s someone important at the White House, which is why she was moved to the Pentagon. Linda gives Monica a tour of the office, loudly talking about the other employees as if they can’t hear her. Arriving at Monica’s cubicle, Linda notices that her planner has a countdown on the calendar. She helps herself, flipping pages and realizing that the countdown is until the election, which also aligns with when Monica said she expects to move back into the White House. Linda invites Monica to have drinks with her.
That night, we see that both Monica and Linda are sitting down to the same low-calorie microwave dinner. Linda makes a phone call to Lucienne and asks her to define “Inside,” implying that she’s on to something. Monica waits around doing nothing and gets up excitedly when her phone rings. It’s Bill Clinton (Clive Owen) calling to ask how her first day at the Pentagon was.
Impeachment: American Crime Story returns on Tuesday, September 14th with the second episode, titled “The President Kissed Me.” I leave you with the description of next week’s episode.
Monica reveals to Linda that she is having an affair with the most powerful man in the world.
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).