After two episodes, the stage has been set for the trial of the century, and by the end of Episode 3, all the major players on both sides have been lined up. After some panic over his ability to actually win the case, Robert Shapiro brings in some heavy-hitters — celebrity lawyers F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz and Johnnie Cochran — as well as the key strategies that could dismantle the prosecution’s major advantages.
Meanwhile, Marcia Clark Is losing key witnesses to the allure of “cash for trash” — selling their stories to the media before she can get them on the stand. But while she originally feels pretty confident that the physical evidence will win them the day, it’s Christopher Darden who helps her realize they can’t continue to think of the case as unbeatable. He’s the one who brings up the issue of race — something Johnnie Cochran is already way ahead on. As he tells O.J. Simpson in their first meeting, after O.J. tearfully claims that he’s totally innocent: “One black juror, just one, and I give you a hung jury. I give you a hung jury, you’re going home.”
Star Witness (Best Actor)
This was the first time that John Travolta’s performance as Robert Shapiro really came together for me. Perhaps because so much of his role this episode was focused on the case and not on his own persona, Travolta had a focus and an energy to him that brought out his best work yet. Whether sparring with Alan Dershowitz or relishing the discovery that Mark Fuhrman — and the issue of race — might win this case, this week he really found his groove.
Honorable mention, as well, for Sterling K. Brown, who’s been more than solid so far as Christopher Darden and is increasingly one of the show’s most intriguing characters.
Okay, yes, the O.J. Simpson case did consume the national media in 1995, but let’s all admit that the dramatic device of happening to flip a television on just in time for the exact perfect moment of news coverage is a bit tired.
Here’s a bigger thing, though: As Indiewire covered previously in an interview with showrunners Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski, O.J. Simpson really did once say, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” But the context was very different, which we learned about two weeks prior to interviewing Alexander and Karaszewski when I spoke with Ezra Edelman, the director of the upcoming ESPN documentary miniseries, “O.J.: Made in America.”
According to Edelman, “He said that to Harry Edwards, who’s a sociologist, in 1967 when he was approached to be part of the Olympic boycott movement.” That is an extraordinarily different set of circumstances, especially for a line that is so loaded, given the way the show is digging into how race relations affected this case. It works for the scene. It works for the moment. But from the point of view of history, it might not really work.
I Didn’t Know That…
…O.J. Simpson was Kim Kardashian’s godfather. Which is, well, pretty incredible. (I’m also pretty content with the fact that I didn’t know this before watching the show. There’s only so much Kardashian trivia one human should ever possess.)
Looking at the reaction to last week’s episode, the critical read on the inclusion of the Kardashian children in the narrative is pretty split. And in “The Run of His Life,” I definitely felt that their presence wasn’t particularly…necessary, at the least. But the opening scene this week — in which Robert Kardashian tries to talk to his children about decency and good values while they can think of nothing but the fame that’s been showered upon their family — did play well (mostly because Bobby looked so lost and alone in that crowded restaurant).
The Most ’90s Moment
Newsstands still exist these days, as do print editions of magazines, but if the O.J. Simpson trial had happened today, that Time Magazine cover would have been kicked up and down the pavement by the Internet before it even made it to print. (It’d be nice to believe that our society’s attitudes toward race have evolved to the point where that cover would never have even happened, but that’s a pretty big ask.)
Of course, the montage of TV talking heads captured the exact same sort of conversation that would have occurred online… And, it turns out, actually did occur online! Per the New York Times, which covered the kerfuffle over the Time Magazine cover when it happened in 1994:
The cover has been criticized and discussed in newspapers and on television as well as in dozens of electronic messages on America Online. America Online, a national bulletin board with 800,000 subscribers, carries an electronic version of Time magazine.
Dozens of electronic messages. 1994. Incredible.
“On the Air, On the Radio…”
Tonight’s most notable song selection was definitely the 1993 Michael Bolton tune “Said I Loved You… But I Lied,” easily the saddest music ever picked to underscore a Father’s Day brunch. (Though the official music video, embedded above, will bring you such joy.)
“If the Glove Don’t Fit…” (Best Line)
– Kato Kaelin
Oh, darling naive Kato, basking in the glow of fame and the California sun, not quite knowing how his life’s about to change, but knowing that something is happening. Frankly, this is the sort of comic relief that this show does best: using the big personalities surrounding this case to highlight just how absurd things ended up getting.
The Key Takeaway
A big emphasis this week was the fact that good intentions and rational thinking can, all too often, lead to bad decisions. Two of the biggest: A scene depicting the Time editors tweaking the O.J. photograph to make it more “dramatic” sets up the decision as a purely artistic one, but it still created an incredibly uncomfortable image. (It’s also something that likely would not have happened had any of the people involved in the process been black, in case we needed yet another reminder of how important diversity is in the newsroom.)
And the prosecution deciding to host the trial in the downtown courthouse, which would be able to accommodate all their needs, as well as prevent them ending up with the sort of all-white jury that acquitted the Rodney King assailants and ended up setting Los Angeles on literal fire for a few days. “The optics” of course matter, but if the prosecution’s major goal was to win this case, this episode showed the moment where they maybe lost it. Always important to remember: Good ideas don’t necessarily lead to good choices.
There’s a lot of foreshadowing in play this week, which is another way of saying that a lot of stuff gets set up without a ton of payoff. But that’s the sort of thing we come to embrace with a serialized narrative like this, and along the way we get the beginnings of some truly delicious material: specifically, the very different dynamics of these two legal “dream teams.” With Marcia Clark dragging Christopher Darden back into the courtroom and Robert Shapiro enlisting some big guns he may not be able to control, the drama is only getting more intense and intriguing.