Today’s analysis is from episode 1 “Exiles” from the acclaimed series American Crime Story season 3 Impeachment. The scene features Sarah Paulson (Linda Tripp) and Beanie Feldstein (Monica Lewinsky).

Episode synopsis (IMDB): After the death of her boss, White House staffer Linda Tripp is moved to The Pentagon where she meets Monica Lewinsky. Paula Jones decides to sue The President for sexual harassment.

You can watch the scene here:

A circular structure

This scene, the beginning of the episode’s climax, reflects a circular structure. We go “back” to the beginning in terms of character relationships:

  • Beginning (teaser of the episode): At the Pentagon’s mall, Linda betrays Monica Lewinsky to the FBI agents.
  • Ending: Linda meets Lewinsky. She discovers that she’s hiding something from her time as an intern in the White House. Pay attention to that beat and at Linda’s eyes when Monica says: “I started as an intern and then I got hired at legislative affair.”

That sixth sense of Tripp, increased by her motivation to get revenge for her firing from the WH, drives the scene to the point where it seems more like a police interrogation than a casual chat between two co-workers.

Beneath the surface of the line “We’re out of creamer”, we find Linda’s eagerness for more information about Monica’s past and present.

Look at the eyes of Linda Tripp in the climax of the scene when she says: “Well, that’s no good. Tell me about him. (…) Someone important?“. We have previously seen Linda’s intention to write a book about some insights from inside, what’s more inside than an affair with the president of the United States?

However, this is just the beginning. In order to trust someone to the level of revealing a national affair, these two characters must have some sort of connection. In friendship relationships we move between loyalty and betray, so their “misery” condition becomes an important part of their union.

Linda Tripp Character Building

Considering a total of 400 characters involved during the season, “creating” characters from real life and adapting them into a TV Series form is an important job for both the screenwriter and the actress, Sarah Burgess and Sarah Paulson respectively.

Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin says: “Rather than tell the audience who a character is, I’d like to show the audience what the character wants“. Moreover, he gives us a clue on how to zero in on character creation. “Properties of people and properties of character have almost nothing to do with each other.” (You can watch the full interview here)

In the case of Linda we know from the very beginning what she wants: someone who wants to be in the spotlight; and the writer focus her creation into different distinctive aspects: context, dialogue, gestures and enemies.

  • Context: a fired WH employee who seeks for revenge.
  • Dialogue: a unique style of voice and word choice matched with her background as an important employee in the WH, studies, social class, etc. Examples: pet rock, a bureaucratic expert with her technical terms, wisdom hat, trim, fair-weather, … On the contrast, there’s one thing she doesn’t understand: “On my high school, they called me gus”.

She [Linda Tripp] noticed Hillary used the public ladies room in the West Wing and she said: “Mrs. Bush would rather have been catheterized than use a public restroom.” There’s never been an unnecessary word choice in “catheterized” and the knowingness of that, the judgement of Hillary comparing her to Barbara Bush.

Sarah Burgess on an interview with Final Draft
  • Gestures: that way of expressing herself through her body show us more about her way of thinking and how she considers herself than any line of dialogue.
  • Enemies: her desire to revenge her dismissal is partly driven by her aversion to Bill Clinton.

Set Ups & Pay Offs

This scene is the seed for future episodes:

  • A treason at the beginning versus a promised loyalty at the end of the episode. See the teaser as a flash forward of the entire episode.
  • We know Linda was betrayed by a fair-weathered friend and now she is going to betray her new friend.
  • The poster of Bill Clinton in Linda Tripp’s temporary office is what attracts Monica to her -> Monica is Bill’s mistress.
  • We know Linda is searching for an inside story of the WH as advised by Goldberg -> She approaches Monica to know more about that secret boyfriend.