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Review: ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story’ Episode 5 ‘The Race Card’ Does Not Flinch

Review: 'The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story' Episode 5 'The Race Card' Does Not Flinch

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story’ Episode 4, ‘100% Not Guilty’: Swag Giveth, Swag Taketh Away

Opening Statement

After a brief but powerful flashback to Johnnie Cochran during his ADA days, getting pulled over for “Driving While Black,” we’re in the thick of the action, as both sides compare their cases and get ready for battle.

A pre-trial hearing is a disaster for the prosecution, thanks to Christopher Darden requesting that “a racial slur” be forbidden from use and Cochran slapping that idea down with an outraged speech about Darden’s implication that there are “words black people can or cannot handle” (a word Cochran’s not afraid to throw in Darden’s face immediately afterward). 

The big issue is Detective Mark Fuhrman, who Marcia Clark insists on putting on the stand to testify regarding the physical evidence, despite the fact that his past record more than hints at him being racist. Darden wants to get out of being the one to question Fuhrman, something to which Clark finally capitulates, deciding to do it herself. Presumably, this is because she doesn’t know about the “World War II medals” that Fuhrman likes to collect — specifically, Nazi Germany medals. This is all going to work out just great.

Star Witness (Best Actor)

Courtney B. Vance had the showier role this week and was particularly striking in the opening scene. But at the end of the day, this was really Sterling K. Brown’s episode, and he brought to it a quiet grace that captured just how difficult Darden’s position was, as a black man caught up in one of the 20th century’s most insane public hurricanes. Brown may be the least famous member of this core ensemble, but with each week he’s consistently proven he belongs.

Objection!

There’s heightening the drama of a moment, and then there’s Bill Hodgman collapsing dramatically in the middle of opening statements; a moment that played so over-the-top that we immediately rushed to Google for the true story. And in reality, Hodgman did react dramatically to Cochran’s opening statement, interrupting it several times, but a stress-related collapse actually happened later on and outside the courtroom, during a prosecution strategy meeting. At the time, People Magazine covered the news in this rather human profile of Hodgman, which features this charming tidbit:

Between trials, [Hodgman] unwinds by playing guitar with the Assassins, a group of amateur rockers from the D.A.’s office. (“I’m sure it’s probably painful for him to hear this, but he’s not very good,” confides L.A. defense attorney Michael Yamamoto. “The only time I saw him get really wild and excitable was at a Bruce Springsteen concert.”)

Anyways, point is, staging his collapse in the actual courtroom, during the actual trial, didn’t seem strictly necessary. Keeping closer to the facts would have had a similar effect.

I Didn’t Know That…

…The jurors were taken to visit both the crime scene and O.J. Simpson’s mansion, which the defense redressed to make Simpson seem more relatable to the largely black jury. This entire storyline serves to highlight just how out-matched the prosecution was, strategy-wise, by the defense, who knew how to make the racial undercurrents of this case into grand opera.

The Most ’90s Moment

Oh, the pride Judge Lance Ito took in showing off his “fan letter” from Arsenio Hall. Not only did Kenneth Choi really play the moment, but it triggered nostalgic memories of how Ito became a favorite target for another late night host — never forget the Dancing Itos.

“On the Air, On the Radio…”

As the Simpson legal team gives O.J.’s mansion an extreme home makeover, we’re treated to the dulcet tunes of Coolio’s 1993 breakthrough single, “Fantastic Voyage.” Man, Coolio was a big deal in 1995! Remember when he guest-starred on the Fox sci-fi series “Space: Above and Beyond”? It was the same episode where David Duchovny played a robot! (It’s okay if you don’t remember that.)

Remember, This Really Happened

This week brings to us the gift of Robert Morse (Bert Cooper from “Mad Men”!) as Dominic Dunne, who did actually get a permanent seat in the courtroom and wrote many dispatches about the case for Vanity Fair. Mike Hogan has a thorough profile of Dunne’s impact on the public perception of the case, including links to Dunne’s actual coverage. It all makes for fascinating reading.

“If the Glove Don’t Fit…” (Best Line)

“Evidence doesn’t win the day. Jurors go with the narrative that makes sense.
We’re here to tell a story. Our job is to tell that story better than the other side tells theirs.”

– Johnnie Cochran


It’s not the first time that something to this effect has been said on this show, but as sum-up lines go, it’s pretty much a perfect encapsulation of why Marcia Clark’s evidence-first strategy failed to win over the jury, while the Dream Team — despite all that in-fighting — came up with the winning approach. It’s impossible at this point not to directly reference the fact that we all know the basic fact of how this story ends: O.J. gets off. But with each passing episode, the reason we can’t help mention it is because why that happened just keeps getting more and more obvious.

Runner-up: Robert Kardashian reminding us, “I’m sure everyone’s aware their bombshell witness is a dog.” This is a very different performance we’re getting from David Schwimmer, of course, but after 10 years of sitcom work, the man knows how to sell the crap out of a zinger.

Closing Argument

Directed by John Singleton, “The Race Card” kept up with all the key threads of the trial and introduced a few new plot threads, all while letting the weight of the narrative rest largely on three black men, revealing through both subtle moment and direct discussion how different experiences create very different attitudes towards racial politics. One of the best things that comes with true diversity on television is that characters aren’t forced to represent one entire minority; they’re instead allowed to be unique, to have their own individual stories who make them who they are. And this is one of the things that “American Crime Story,” so far, is doing very, very well.

Grade: A-

READ MORE: John Travolta and Courtney B. Vance on the Love Affairs in ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’ That Did and Should Have Happened

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