‘Impeachment: American Crime Story’ Season Finale Recap: “The Wilderness”

Linda Tripp is a woman with no face. It’s been mutilated, reshaped, covered in white strips of gauze like the Invisible Man. She has undergone cosmetic surgery, which, wouldn’t you know it, makes her look a lot more like actor Sarah Paulson than she ever has before. This has been done in service of her season-long attempt to look more like the kind of woman women are supposed to look like, a quest she shares with Monica Lewinsky and Hillary Clinton and Paula Jones, her friends and enemies and fellow travelers. “Until all this happened,” she tells an interviewer from the late JFK Jr.’s George magazine, “I didn’t know how ugly I was.” Indeed.


Paula Jones, too, received cosmetic surgery; specifically, a nose job. This has made her conventionally attractive enough to become a celebrity spokesperson for a psychic hotline, the sine qua non of late-Ninties pop-cultural reference points. “Satisfaction guaranteed,” she coos suggestively on the commercial, virtually inviting the giggling prank calls that follow. (As the Mystery Man says in Lost Highway, another second-term Clinton artifact, “It is not my custom to go where I am not wanted.”) Paula subsequently poses nude for Penthouse—tastefully so, it must be said—and thus burns her bridges with her conservative ersatz allies. Susan Carpenter-McMillan, that guardian of propriety, hangs up on her. Ann Coulter pronounces her “trailer trash,” then gets loaded with semi-closeted muckraker Matt Drudge in the green room at Fox News. (Somewhere along the line she makes fun of rival Laura Ingraham, who’s, er, “dating” Lindsey Graham. Best of luck to the lovebirds.)


In a parallel that’s too cute by half, First Lady Hillary Clinton sits for a Vogue photoshoot by superstar photographer Annie Leibovitz, cross-cut with Paula’s Penthouse shoot. In a parallel parallel, Hillary is one of three characters on the show, the others being Monica Lewinsky’s father and best friend, who refuse to read the Starr Report and its encyclopedic recounting of Monica’s sexual liaisons with Hillary’s husband Bill. Later, she is invited by casually crooked congressman Charlie Rangel to run for the Senate in the great state of New York. Her face on campaign posters greets Monica as she walks through the city. If you thought Hillary’s political career got off to a rocky start, just wait till you get to the end of it.


Somewhere in Arkansas, Juanita Broaddrick receives several phone calls—from congressional aides, from the National Enquirer, from NBC News. She has kept her story secret for years, decades even. When she finally opened up about it, it was buried in the footnotes of the Starr Report by that report’s titular overseer, whose religious mania precludes him from seeing sexual peccadilloes and outright rape as being two different things, the latter more serious than the former. When she finally goes on record with NBC, she asks if the interview will air while the president’s impeachment is still a live issue. She is assured that it will be; it isn’t. Broaddrick will eventually fall into the orbit of Rangel donor and Enquirer benefactor and Hillary Clinton nemesis Donald Trump, who will be accused of sexual misconduct many, many, many times, though not by Broaddrick. Bill Clinton, noted liar, calls her a fucking liar.

When the interview airs, we see Juanita dismissed by the public as “another Clinton woman.” They change the channel.

Monica Lewinsky watches as the whole world, up to and including Bill and Hillary’s daughter Chelsea, reads the Starr Report and its painstaking recounting of her every sexual encounter with the president. She watches again as Linda Tripp’s tape recordings are made public, airing out what she considers among her lowest moments as a person. Unlike Linda, though, she is able to parlay her ordeal into a book deal, in collaboration with the man who told Princess Diana’s story for her. She agrees to a book signing in New York. She’s overwhelmed by the flashbulbs, the cries of support, the actions of a stalkerish figure. “I just need a minute,” she tells her flacks as she retreats behind a curtain. “I’ll be okay.” She repeats it: “I’ll be okay.”


“I know it looks horrible,” Linda Tripp says through her new face to her interviewer. “I know it looks like a betrayal. But she was his victim. He caused all this. He did. I just wish,” she concludes, “she could see that I saved her.”

From what? From whom? 

Directed by Michael Uppendahl from a script by showrunner Sarah Burgess, the finale of ACS Impeachment, “The Wilderness,” is a brutal denouement for an excellent season of television. It entertains the idea that repulsive people can have repulsive enemies, who do the right things for the wrong reasons. It maintains a studied agnosticism about the worst of Bill Clinton’s crimes, while suggesting that their failure to be brought to light and punished in an efficacious manner is due to the puritanical nature of his enemies. It allows Linda Tripp to be seen as she wished to be seen, and demonstrates that this does her no real good at all. It gives Monica Lewinsky the last word, which does her no good at all either. For all the president’s women, it essentially offers their choice of patriarchal poison. It’s an escape room with no way out. If that escape room comes in the shape of the Oval Office, it is no less inescapable for that.

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

Watch Impeachment Episode 10 on FXNow