American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson 1.05: “The Race Card”

This week’s episode of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson was entitled “The Race Card,” and it definitely stayed true to its name. In the first four episodes, they had foreshadowed the whole race issue, and as it came to a head in last night's episode, it ended up being a mishmash of race-baiting and a big ol’ pissing contest between OJ’s alpha-dog lawyer Johnny Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) and the younger, somewhat conflicted prosecutor Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown).

We start with Johnny Cochran and his kids in his car being pulled over for supposedly not signaling a turn. Cochran asks his little girls, “What do we say to the police?” They answer “nothing” in tandem. Then, he asks “Who talks to the police,” to which they chorus, “our lawyers!”

Cochran gets cuffed for spouting off to an LA motorcycle cop about addressing his kids rather than him. The cop (who looks like Jon from CHiPs) lets him go with an icy, “Have a nice night, Mr. Assistant District Attorney.”

Was it retaliation for Cochran’s role in the OJ case, or was it just run-of-the-mill police racism?

Hmmmmm.

We join Cochran in a primarily African American church, where he is speaking in front of cameras. Marcia Clark’s take on this is, “Great now Jesus is on their side…” Cochran goes on to shamelessly provoke prosecutor Chris Darden, painting him as a token and a tool that is being used by the DA’s office because he is black.

Yeah he went there!

He may as well have used the words “Stepin Fetchit.” There is a ton of psych-out tactics coming from Cochran that seem like an homage to the great Muhammad Ali’s taunts to George Foreman before the legendary “Rumble in The Jungle” match of 1974. 

Some highlights of said mind-games include a newspaper article touting Darden as an Uncle Tom. When Darden confronts Cochran about the abuse and disrespect to the media, Cochran gives him the over the glasses look of a dad about to whoop his kid and says, “Brother, I ain’t trying to be respectful.” Then Cochrane lowers his voice three octaves to achieve maximum bass frequency and says, “I’m trying to win!”

Yes, he went there AGAIN! Darden replied to this with a face that can only be described as DERP!

Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) takes even more of a backseat this episode. There is a great moment though, where he is acting like a spoiled brat because of how his former ally, F Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane), has portrayed him to reporters. Bailey responds to an accusation of “Judas!” with, “Blow it out your ass, Bob.”

This resolves to some rather annoying ping-pong edits between the legal teams strategizing. It went something like this…

Prosecution: We have a bloody dog!
Defense: Their main witness is a bloody dog! HA!
Prosecution: We need to put Detective Mark Fuhrman on the stand!
Defense: They are going to put DetectiveMark Fuhrman on the stand. HA!

Cochran sums all this up by admitting that evidence-shmevidence, the side with the best narrative will win the day.

Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar or don’t remember Detective Mark Fuhrman (played to creepy, deadpan excellence by Steven Pasquale), he was the cop on the scene the night of the murder. He also had a questionable moral record when it came to his take on race relations.

Somehow, the geniuses on the prosecution team get the already racial-issue-embattled Darden to prep Fuhrman for the case. Darden is the only guy that sees the writing on the wall, actively calling for Fuhrman to be taken out of his care. Under questioning by Darden, Fuhrman does the “some of my best friends are black” thing and denies EVER having used the “N” word when dealing with African Americans. He then goes on to say he loves Magic Johnson and collects WWII memorabilia.

There is another great psych-out scene (or maybe a moment of actual solidarity?) where Cochran tells Darden, “Whatever happens, don’t do Furhman. Make the white people do him.”

Of course, this was after Cochran shoots down Darden’s argument in court about keeping Fuhrman’s past (especially the ‘N” word portion of it) out of the proceedings. After he sinks Darden’s battleship, he leans over and whispers to his rival, “Nigger please.” 

Oh yeah. He went there again—and dropped the mic this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is more racially charged tension when the jury is allowed to tour OJ’s house. This is a thing? If I got accused of murder, would a jury actually come to my house? Or is this something they reserve for rich people?

Johnny Cochran has all of OJ’s pictures of half-naked women replaced with African art before they let the jury in. He then goes on to basically tell OJ that it would do him ill to be looked at as a sellout—that his “mayor of Brentwood” nickname would resonate badly with black jurors.

OJ makes it clear that he is disarmed by this; that he earned his nice house and “didn’t leave anyone behind,” but ultimately agrees with Cochran’s play. We end the scene with Simpson saying, “You should see the house I bought my momma. Got a pool and everything.”

The episode ends in court with opening arguments that are cut short when Cochran introduces witness names that Shapiro’s team failed to give the prosecution. BIG faux pas not giving “the people” the intended witness list.

Co-Prosecutor Bill Hodgman (Christian Clemenson) gets SO freaking verklempt at this affront, he clutches his chest and takes a face plant. So what does Marcia Clark do? She gives his role as Co-Prosecutor to Chris Darden—because well, why not? He’s been dragged through the mud in the press and he has no confidence in the key police witness—let’s give him a promotion. What could possibly go wrong?

We end the episode in the home of Detective Mark Fuhrman, where he is polishing a display case holding a bayonet…and a slew of Nazi war medals.

Oh come on! Don’t act like you didn’t see that coming!

 


Spyridon P. Panousopoulos spends his time whittling sharp sticks out of blunt ones. He has written for Flavorwire.comThe NY Press, and Gen Art in the past. He has 3 cats that all hate him. Follow him @TheRevSpyro.

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