“The Assassination of Monica Lewinsky.”

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My God, I don’t know where to start.

ACS Impeachment Episode 7, “The Assassination of Monica Lewinsky,” is primarily about just that—the character assassination of the young woman at the heart of the whole network of Bill Clinton scandals. It’s about the way a hungry press, an overeager right-wing prosecutor, and a gleeful entertainment industry took a vulnerable young woman and tore her to shreds, hour after hour, day after day, for month after month. It’s also about how a president lied to almost everyone he knew about the nature of his relationship with that woman. It’s also about how the friend who exposed and betrayed her was ridiculed in turn, nearly as badly as Monica Lewinsky herself.

It’s difficult to watch. It’s riveting to watch.

William Jefferson Clinton is one of the main characters in the episode. It’s fascinating to see him contort himself based on the task at hand. When he’s testifying in a deposition for the Paula Jones lawsuit, he is steely and self-confident in denying the allegations levied at him by Paula and Kathleen Willey, to the point that Paula herself runs out of the room crying, so horrified is she at his ability to dissemble—at least, that’s how she sees it.

His demeanor changes when Monica Lewinsky is brought up. He starts to stutter, umm-ing and repeat phrases as if he’s rehearsed. It’s noteworthy that he reacts this way only when discussing the Lewinsky situation; you could be forgiven if you thought this was the show’s way of arguing that these were the only allegations with teeth, if not for its portrayal of Paula as genuinely devastated when he denies sexually harassing her. It’s studious work on the show’s part, allowing it to remain agnostic as to the truth of the more severe charges against Clinton, allowing the audience to decide for itself.

Clinton is shown as digging deeper and deeper as his affair with Monica becomes a main attraction. Hillary lies to him. He kinda-sorta-yeah-but-not-quite-but-actually pressures his secretary Betty Currie into lying on his behalf. His lawyer Bob Bennett, Sidney Blumenthal, his senior advisor (David Lynch mainstay Patrick Fischler), and Mike McCurry (Scott Michael Morgan) are all lies. His disgraced pollster Dick Morris, Brent Sexton, is the only one to whom he believes he can tell truth. He was also a victim to a scandal of sexual-impropriacy. Clinton says that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”Even after twenty years, he has not been able to shock anyone with this bullshit since he introduced it to the public.

Monica? What can she do for herself? She simply holes up in her hotel suite at the Watergate with her mother as the nation’s newsmen and comedians turn her into a punchline. Everyone looks great here, from Jay Leno and David Letterman to Ted Koppel. She’s mocked for her weight and her sexuality. As pious victims of her acquisitiveness, her previous abusers are portrayed. In front of the whole nation, the president lies about her. She’s reduced to a shell of herself, sobbing on her bed.

And what is Linda Tripp’s reward for her yeoman’s work in bringing the Lewinsky Affair to the nation’s attention? Her transformation into a national laughingstock, the same as Monica, was followed by a brief flurry in press attention outside her frontdoor.

In one of the episode’s most retrospectively brutal segments, we watch a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Monica, played by a smiling Molly Shannon, has her fateful wiretapped lunch date with Linda, played by John Goodman in drag. Goodman, as beloved a Hollywood figure as can be, does nothing to disguise the fact that he’s a large man in women’s clothing; he even makes his voice more butch than usual. Linda looks ridiculously mannish and too large for her britches.

This leads to the heartbreaking part of the episode. Linda tells her daughter Allison (Emma Malouf), her childhood experiences of being picked upon as a child. Her high school classmates used to call her “Madame.” “Gus,”Like Gus Johnson (basketball player). “an enormous man.” Here was Linda’s opportunity to genuinely relate to Monica, who was also targeted for social opprobrium over her size, instead of exploiting her. Linda was blessed with a friend who could relate, but it was only a brief moment. Worse, she did it deliberately to fuel her own self-aggrandizement. It’s the biggest what-could-have-been moment of the series.

I think it’s to the credit of the episode’s writers (Flora Birnbaum, Daniel Pearle, and showrunner Sarah Burgess) and director (Michael Uppendahl) that every character save Monica is treated with the same blend of sympathy and disgust. Linda Tripp is clearly a pitiable character, made worse by her ambition. Bill Clinton is depicted as a man who’s grandiose ambitions and noble goals are subverted by his serial caddishness. Monica? She’s just some poor kid who got sucked into the wake left behind by powerful men, from Clinton to the ever-so-pious Ken Starr (as contemptible a person as exists in the show’s universe) to her high-school drama teacher. She’s been failed by every man in her life, up to and including her indefatigable lawyer Bill Ginsburg, who tries and fails to secure an immunity deal for her. Wouldn’t you be left crying on your bed, alone?

Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins), writes about TV for Rolling Stone and Vulture. He lives on Long Island with his family.

FX’s Episode 7 of Impeachment is now available

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