‘Impeachment’ Episode 2 Recap on FX: “The President Kissed Me”

Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is most well-known for the scene through which Robert De Niro’s quickly disintegrating title character, Travis Bickle, seems at his reflection within the mirror and asks “Are you talkin’ to me?”, however this isn’t the one pane of glass into which Bickle gazes. During his disintegration, he additionally watches tv. He stares on the tube, gun in hand, as young couples slow dance on American Bandstand. He slowly suggestions the TV set over together with his foot whereas watching one other younger couple handle their star-crossed affair on a soap opera, till the TV falls and explodes. He is aware of he has reacted inappropriately to those shows of romance, however he’s powerless to cease the toxic emotions they engender in his thoughts. 

“Damn,” he whispers to himself as he cradles his head in his palms, certainly one of them nonetheless clutching a gun. “God damn.” 

I considered these scenes quite a bit throughout this episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story (“The President Kissed Me”), due to a equally staged scene involving its central character, Linda Tripp. (More on her centrality later.) On Inauguration Day, 1997, she’s at residence, whereas her younger good friend Monica Lewinsky is dressed to the nines in a surprising crimson robe, attending the Inaugural Ball. Her teenage daughter offers her shit and mocks her job. Her dinner is a few joyless eating regimen concoction, nuked within the microwave. And there on the tv are two individuals she casually loathes, Bill and Hillary Clinton, celebrating their second historic victory. As they dance to Nat “King” Cole’s posthumous duet together with his daughter Natalie, the Nineties remix of “Unforgettable,” they beam lovingly into one another’s eyes.

Linda is aware of this can be a sham, is aware of Bill is having an affair, is aware of that he habitually can’t hold his palms or different components to himself. She is aware of issues that may deliver the entire Clintonian edifice down. Yet there she is, alone, consuming a TV dinner, dodging the insults of her personal youngsters, whereas the world strikes on with out her. Director Michael Uppendahl, working from a script by showrunner Sarah Burgess, cuts from closeups on Linda to closeups on Bill on the display, arranging them so it virtually seems as if Clinton is staring proper into her eyes, teasing her, taunting her. In this second, you may really feel the years of roiling resentment which have constructed up inside Linda threaten to burst free, as we all know they may ultimately do, destroying the lifetime of her good friend and practically destroying a president. But for now, like Bickle, all she will do is sit and stare at a world that holds higher issues than what she’s been given by it. 

Damn, you may all however hear her suppose. God rattling.

The second episode of ACS Impeachment makes the primary really feel like a lot throat-clearing. In this outing, we find out how the connection between Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton got here to be. We’re afforded glimpses of the psychosexual hangups that drive them—for Monica, a recurring attraction to unavailable males; for Clinton, a must show that he’s not “soft” to such males as George H.W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, and (now right here’s an fascinating juxtaposition) “my stepdaddy.” We see Monica slowly however certainly start to leak the information of her affair, to her mom (who thinks she’s joking), to her associates (who don’t, having seen her patterns earlier than), to Linda (who takes all of it in by way of a collection of rapt, alternating closeups on the 2 ladies’s faces), to the bigger world of Washington D.C. (by way of which Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, performed by Danny A. Jacobs, is working doggedly to unearth precise verifiable proof of Clinton’s harassment and philandering). We see the well-known hug Clinton and Lewinsky shared on digital camera the day after his second victory.

We additionally watch Paula Jones grow to be subsumed by the broader right-wing infrastructure devoted to bringing the Clintons down by any means needed, embodied right here by Susan Carpenter-McMillan (the nice Judith Light), doyenne of “conservative feminism” and Paula’s new handler and picture marketing consultant. We’re given extra perception into Linda’s life—how she’s had a divorce so boring she feels the main points don’t even bear mentioning, how her adolescent youngsters take her without any consideration though they (and Christmas decorations) are nearly the one issues in her life that make her completely satisfied and excited. And when Isikoff comes calling at her cubicle for intel about allegations leveled at President Clinton by her ex-friend Kathleen Willey, we see her seize on the likelihood to play I do know one thing you don’t know, intimating to Isikoff that he might be on the verge of discovering a narrative a lot, a lot greater. 

Two issues cease me from giving this episode, and the present, my full-throated endorsement. And no, this time neither of them is the prosthetic make-up. While I nonetheless discover the prosthetics pointless—if it was so essential to you to solid individuals who regarded extra just like the individuals they’re taking part in, simply do it; if it was so essential to you to solid these particular actors in these roles, simply allow them to act—I not discover them as a lot. Maybe it simply took some getting used to, however this time round, after I noticed Linda Tripp and Paula Jones and Bill Clinton, I merely noticed Linda Tripp and Paula Jones and Bill Clinton, not Sarah Paulson and Annaleigh Ashford and Clive Owens in Dick Tracy make-up.

The very first thing that offers me pause, or maybe hinders my enjoyment is a greater phrase for it, is the truth that lots of the components within the story being explored listed here are nonetheless stay points at the moment. This in fact can be true of American Crime Story’s earlier iterations—racism, homophobia, and the chasm between the wealthy and everybody else didn’t instantly go away after O.J. Simpson and Andrew Cunanan did what they did—however the gamers and the establishments have largely modified. 

This isn’t true of Impeachment, which options as a personality Ann Coulter (Cobie Smulders, observe good), the ghoulish fascist who’s nonetheless spreading her filth at the moment—or for that matter the complete Republican Party, which in a wide ranging show of hypocrisy (information flash: water is moist) has by this level in historical past shifted its goal from allegedly constraining the powers of an unchecked govt (that is Coulter’s said purpose on this ep) who additionally occurs to be a con man and a serial intercourse abuser, to putting in simply such a person as chief govt and eradicating all checks and balances completely. This is to say nothing of Carpenter-McMillan’s militant anti-choice bloviating, which given Texas’s dystopian new legislation in opposition to abortion virtually bodily hurts to listen to. The queasiness we really feel in recognizing the similarity between conservative motion’s structure then and now could be little doubt intentional, but it surely removes plenty of the campy enjoyable that’s Ryan Murphy’s inventory in commerce, even within the comparatively severe and harrowing O.J. and Versace seasons.

The second factor is a matter of craft relatively than details: the way in which the revelation of Monica’s affair to Tripp is dealt with. As famous above, Lewinsky reveals the main points of how her and Clinton’s relationship started and blossomed in a lunchroom convo with Linda, many months after all of it occurred. I get why the present does it like this: Tripp, not Lewinsky, is our true focal-point character, so it makes some sense for the present to disclose these things solely when Tripp herself would have grow to be aware of it, and never earlier than.

But romance, even a vastly inappropriate romance between an intern and the world’s strongest man, blossoms within the second. By treating the formation of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair as a fait accompli, the present leeches a lot of the sense of depth, intimacy, and discovery from these early flirtations and conferences. Monica can say how scorching all of it was, but it surely’s arduous to intuitively grasp when it’s all being informed prior to now tense, even because the present actually will get into the weeds of all of it, from Monica flashing him her thong to Clinton shopping for her a duplicate of his favourite e-book, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (In retrospect, Gale Boetticher’s present of this e-book to Walter White in Breaking Bad is darkly hilarious).

Be all that as it might, this can be a sturdy second outing for Impeachment, rooted in sharp interpersonal observations and an consciousness of how the non-public and political intertwine, gas each other, feed off each other, till the individuals are consumed and solely the politics stay.

Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, actually. He and his household stay on Long Island.

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