After three episodes, bam! Here we are in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom where history happened, and the preliminaries are in full swing, including Johnnie Cochran literally splitting hairs over Marcia Clark’s request for a hair sample and O.J. Simpson confidently announcing that he is “100 percent not guilty.” Meanwhile, both sides are running focus groups to help determine strategy going into jury selection, discovering just how much black women love O.J. (a lot) and dislike Marcia (also a lot). With the pressure on, Marcia brings Christopher Darden (her new nighttime office drinking buddy) on as third chair. For, you know, “the optics.”
Most importantly, Robert Shapiro begins to find his position as lead attorney on the case slipping, thanks largely to arrogant calls like bluntly suggesting that Simpson make a deal for manslaughter. Publicly, the Dream Team claims that things are just fine, but by the end of the episode, Cochran, F. Lee Bailey (whose loyalty to Shapiro was shaken by the news that he wasn’t being paid for his participation) and Robert Kardashian have effectively orchestrated a coup that knocks Shapiro to the sidelines. With about a month to go before opening statements, it’s decided that Cochran will run with the ball (sports metaphor!).
Star Witness (Best Actor)
It wouldn’t shock us if Courtney B. Vance was featured again in this section of our reviews, as his interpretation of a truly larger-than-life character has proven to be — especially this week — incredibly grounded and centered. Vance is holding in a lot as Johnnie Cochran, making the moments he does explode all the more profound. The pep talk he gives Simpson — the visible boost in confidence that the man gets from Cochran’s personal story of being inspired by watching Simpson play some great football — was gripping and engaging. We can’t wait to see it broadcast during the 2016 Emmys, right before hearing the words, “…and the winner is…”
Oh, how we wanted to enjoy the scene where Ron Goldman’s father and sister meet with Marcia Clark. As two of the people most profoundly affected by the real truth of this case, it’s not hard at all to feel sympathetic. But while getting a real sense of Ron Goldman as a person through the eyes of his mourning family is theoretically a great idea, some over-the-top acting and too-blunt writing handicapped the moment. This was one of the few occasions so far this season that felt rushed and shoehorned in; something you might expect to happen a lot more, given the series’ scope, but thankfully is a relative rarity.
I Didn’t Know That…
We finally get to meet Judge Lance Ito, one of the trial’s most iconic figures, and, more importantly, his lovely police captain wife, in a scene that is clearly set-up for an upcoming twist (most likely revolving around Detective Mark Fuhrman, given his name on the document that Ito asked her to sign). If you’ve been deliberately trying to avoid remembering too much about the trial so this series would remain full of surprises, you’ll probably want to avoid Googling the name, “Captain Margaret York.”
The Most ’90s Moment
I swear to God if, over the next 24 hours, the Internet is not overloaded with hundreds of animated GIFs featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. busting a move to C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” (1991!), Tumblr is fired. Thank you in advance.
“On the Air, On the Radio…”
This week’s musical highlight comes to us courtesy of early ’90s hip-hop group Above the Law, who dropped the track “Black Superman” in 1994 just in time for it to accompany the Dream Team’s stride of pride into the courtroom for the episode’s final moments. It’s fun to note that the person with the most swag on screen might just be Marcia, confident that she’s made all the right choices. (We’ll see how long that lasts.)
Remember, This Really Happened
You know what’s fun? Tracking down the real book written by Faye D. Resnick (played here by the always delightful Connie “Coach’s Wife” Britton), which sure did throw a wrench into the proceedings this week. You can find “Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted” on Amazon! You can even listen to an excerpt from the audio book! And most importantly, you can read some of the user reviews. A sampling:
“Glad it Was in a Free Bin”
“Great Book, I really love it!!!”
“The authors tone fluctuates from caring best friend to envious sexual rival. There were many typos.”
“Only interesting for the Kardashian angle.”
“I wonder if book burnings are still conducted? If they are, this one should be at the top of the pile.”
All of those reviews pre-date the airing of this episode. I wonder how things might change now.
“If the Glove Don’t Fit…” (Best Line)
“We can’t even execute Charles Manson.”
– Gil Garcetti and Bill Hodgeman
This is the explanation Marcia is given for why they’re taking the death penalty off the table, despite her protest that a juror who is willing to sentence a man to death is a better juror for the prosecution. This was just one of many decisions made that might have ultimately cost the prosecution their case, but it’s also hard not to see their point when it’s put so bluntly.
Honorable mention, by the way, goes to Johnnie Cochran’s smooth but firm reminder that for this case, Robert Shapiro would “need to choose [his] venacular very, very carefully.” This moment, early in the episode, made two things clear: One, Shapiro didn’t know how to talk about race, and two, that could very well ruin their chances.
The Key Takeaway
It’s this week that one thing becomes clear: As the chaos around the trial increases, the one thing that’s lost in the mix are the real victims at the center of this crime. Nicole Brown Simpson’s life has become tabloid fodder, and Ron Goldman’s death has become an afterthought. Neither of them, or their families, were granted the dignity of a simple and straightforward trial, and it’s something that “American Crime Story” won’t let us ever forget.
Covering a lot of ground, including some key trial minutia and set-up for weeks to come, this episode still managed to be relatively juicy, in part thanks to the Faye Resnick interludes, but even more thanks to the battle royale that occurs between Shapiro and Cochran. The hubris, arrogance and betrayal are given a Shakespearean amplification that proves captivating, and while John Travolta’s performance at times feels a bit hard to pin down, the overall effect is incredibly watchable — while also still trying to keep things honest.