Can’t Miss Episode of the Week: It’s Monica vs. the FBI on ‘Impeachment’
Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one! Spoilers ahead.
American Crime Story: Impeachment opened with a flash-forward scene in which Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) is confronted by the FBI and discovers that her friend Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson) has sold her out. In this week’s episode, which aired on October 12 on FX, we finally catch up to that scene. What we weren’t prepared for? What came after it. The FBI escorts Monica to a hotel room to be interrogated, but when she makes things difficult for them, they end up holding her there for 11 hours. These federal agents, even after using every unethical intimidation tactic they can think of, are unable to break the 24-year-old terrified Monica, which makes for one highly entertaining hour of television.
The episode smartly frames this as a David vs. Goliath story. As small, tearstained Monica stands surrounded by agents in suits, the camera is wielded to put us into her point of view. It zooms in on an agent’s finger hovering over the switch hook of the phone, threatening to hang up Monica’s call to her mom in case she says something they don’t like. When Monica convinces them to let her call her mom back from a payphone downstairs in the mall, the camera focuses on the elevator button as Monica frantically jams it, on the security camera perched in the corner of the elevator, at the various agents stationed around the mall surveilling her, all while the scores swells, intensifying the moment, and Monica’s heavy breathing comes through. This is the federal government throwing its weight around to intimidate a young woman, and the episode does an excellent job of making us outraged on Monica’s behalf, especially as they repeatedly dissuade her (making it even seem like she’s not allowed) to call her lawyer, all while threatening her with decades in prison. What Monica hasn’t figured out yet, is that if they haven’t arrested her, then they have no right to hold her, and she can leave anytime she wants.
And yet, somehow special prosecutor Ken Starr’s (Dan Bakkedahl) team has bitten off more than they could chew with Monica. They’ve labeled this sting “Operation Prom Night” in a case of you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up, and it’s named so, as prosecutor Mike Emmick (Colin Hanks) explains, to signify “half hour with a girl in a hotel room.” Of course, it doesn’t take a half hour, it takes almost a half day. Part of the thrill of watching this episode is Monica making the prosecutors and agents run in circles. She has some amazing one-liners, and Feldstein delivers them with a perfect zing. “She’ll call the police, if she doesn’t hear from me,” Monica says with a smug smile to prosecutor Jackie Bennett (Darren Goldstein) to get him to let her call her mom. She follows it up with, “You gonna arrest me if I walk out of the room?” in the very next scene.
Built into this melodrama is the hilarious absurdity of the prosecutors and FBI just sitting around, going shopping, getting a burger with Monica, while they wait for hours for her mother to arrive, because Monica has refused to talk to them without her. Well, if Ken Starr’s team wasn’t prepared for Monica, then they really aren’t prepared for her mom, Marcia (Mira Sorvino), who goes full Jewish mother on them protecting her baby. She’s happy to push Monica into cooperating, that is if she can get it in writing that Monica will receive full immunity. But they can’t get Starr’s approval on the immunity, because it’s after 11 o’clock at night. The fact that these men were so confident that they could get Monica to roll over on Clinton (Clive Owen) in no time, that they didn’t even have a plan for whether they could offer her immunity if she asks for it, proves their immense hubris and incompetency.
Perhaps the most satisfying part of the whole episode? When they finally get Monica’s dad’s medical malpractice lawyer William H. Ginsberg (Fred Melamed), on the phone, and he curses Emmick out for detaining Monica, and calls out the poor excuses Emmick is giving for why they can’t get Monica’s immunity in writing (It’s the Ritz Carlton. Of course they have a fax machine). When he tells Monica to leave and go home, it is a triumphant moment.
But, I have to admit, I’ve been beating around the bush here. It doesn’t matter if they’d gotten permission for immunity from the very beginning. Nor does it matter if Marcia had agreed to strong-arm her daughter into cooperating. Ken Starr’s team ultimately underestimated Monica, because she was never going to betray Clinton like that. Maybe they and her mom could have convinced her to answer questions about the relationship, but she was never going to make recorded phone calls to entrap the President. In a show where everyone is out for themselves, Monica, even after everything, is extremely loyal to Clinton, and somehow, these prosecutors never considered that. If nothing else, you have to admire Monica’s strength of character, and underneath all of the theatrics, it’s what gives the episode its heart.
Other observations we thought made this episode stand out:
- The revelation that Linda went shopping after betraying Monica when the two met in the mall is the final nail in Linda’s coffin for any sympathy she might have left with viewers.
- Cobie Smulders’ cartoonish portrayal of Ann Coulter as she sweeps in with multiple bottles of wine, proclaiming to her colleagues that are listening to the tapes in celebration of their successful coup, is the high camp this series, and really any Ryan Murphy project, needs.
- Monica saying thank you to Emmick when she leaves the hotel, because he’s been playing “good cop” this whole episode, is outrageous.