Spoiler alert: The below contains details about “The Wilderness,” the final episode of “Impeachment: American Crime Story.”
“Impeachment: American Crime Story” promised a glimpse into a tawdry affair between an intern and a married president but in the end delivered a sharp message about scorned women and the class divide in this country.
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Tuesday night’s finale on FX pulled no punches in depicting how the fates of Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones and Hillary Clinton hinged on their social class, with Linda Tripp, a divorced bureaucrat with an abrasive personality and ridiculed physical appearance, the recipient of the most censure by her peers. After a media flurry surrounding the release of the Starr Report, rife with sordid details about President Bill Clinton (played Clive Owen), the episode ended with cheated-upon Hillary (Edie Falco) running for Senate, Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) simultaneously hounded by the media and embraced by fans, Jones (Annaleigh Ashford) reduced to posing for Penthouse to pay rent and Tripp (Sarah Paulson) a reviled outcast despite having undergone plastic surgery to improve her looks.
Jones’ conservative champion, Susan Carpenter-McMillan (Judith Light) tries to talk Jones out of posing in Penthouse and is unmoved when Jones tells her she needs the money to pay her bills. “What a disappointment,” Ann Coulter (Cobie Smulders) disgustedly remarks to Matt Drudge (Billy Eichner) about Jones. “Turns out she’s just the trailer park trash they said she was.” Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is seen getting a glamour shoot for Vogue throughout the episode.
Lewinsky, a pawn in a political battle between President Clinton and conservatives at the time, also frets about hefty legal bills in the episode, but scores a book deal to offset them. And she clearly has more resources than Jones or Tripp through her upper middle-class parents. Now an activist against bullying, Lewinsky served as executive producer on “Impeachment,” and brought awareness of the class differences between the women at the center of scandal to the project.
“I spent a lot of time during production talking about status and class differentials,” she told the audience during a Q&A following a DGA screening of the finale on Monday evening.
“For me as a producer, one of the things that was really important was that we find nuance and context and for there to be a sense of humanity for all of the people who are portrayed in the show,” said Lewinsky, who was a game if occasionally awkward moderator as she asked actors Paulson, Feldstein, Ashford and writer Sarah Burgess about events and people she knew intimately.
Paulson’s Tripp has drawn criticism as being too unlikable, much like the late civil servant herself. For the actor, it was important to avoid taking off the hard edges of her personality. “I think there’s a lot to dislike about her,” says Paulson, who can do a “Tripp dip” into her voice on command and did so frequently during the Q&A session to sometimes unsettling effect. “Personality, I think it’s challenging for people to sit with a person who is unhappy — or seems to be unhappy.”
Rather than try and engender good will, “we were trying to honor the truth of what happened,” she says. “And there is undeniably an irrefutable fact, which is that there was a real betrayal that happened.”
In the final episode, the audience learns more about Tripp’s background and how that influenced her reaction to Clinton’s infidelity, but it is not presented as an excuse for the behavior. For Paulson, the key to playing the character was zeroing in to the part of Tripp that felt virtuous. She felt she was protecting Lewinsky even though she was unable to see the consequences of her behavior.
Paulson’s biggest regret: Not being able to connect with Tripp after shooting wrapped, much the way she did with former prosecutor Marcia Clark following Paulson’s Emmy-winning turn in 2016’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” anthology about the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Tripp died of cancer in 2020.
“I guess I imagined deep down that there was some fantasy that I had that I would get to meet Linda and that I would maybe hopefully have it be a pleasant experience,” Paulson said.
Toward the end of the final episode of “Impeachment,” Tripp acknowledges that she rubs some the wrong way.
“Clearly, I generate a visceral response in people,” she tells a reporter. “I know it looks horrible. I know it looks like a betrayal — but she was his victim.”
Tripp’s view of events is made clear in a line that Paulson delivers in the final episode about her former friend: “I just wish that she could see that I saved her.”
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