The People Vs. O.J. Simpson discussion, chapter 5 in focus sees “The Race Card” (Aired March 1, 10:00 pm e/p).
This is the episode that could have been called “walk a mile in my shoes.”
Johnnie Cochran is humiliated while driving through Beverly Hills in front of his kids en route to the Hamburger Hamlet, as a cop messes with the assistant DA in a flashback scene.
As the trial begins, Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) wrestles with the feeling he is a racial pawn in the city’s case mounting against O.J. Simpson as he and Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) face off in court.
Chris has doubts about Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale) as a witness. Rightly so, as he tries in vain to relay to Marcia Clark he feels the veteran police detective’s racism, well cloaked, but the vibe is apparent to him.
The episode also sees Cochran “Africanize” O.J.’s home reflecting a domicile the black jurors can relate to, much to O.J.’s chagrin. The jury visits the crime scene as Marcia and her team are apoplectic over these changes.
The episode is written by Joe Robert Cole; directed by John Singleton.
TV critics April Neale and Ernie Estrella continue their weekly discussion and talk about the episode:
April Neale: Ernie, this episode brings Mark Fuhrman into focus. What do you make of him and how he is being presented? Do you think he tainted any evidence and was just an asshole at the wrong place, wrong time?
Ernie Estrella: The idea that anyone could tamper or plant DNA evidence, blood for that matter, is just unfathomable. Of all the people that could’ve been there, it just had to be Fuhrman, which spelled doom for the prosecution.
When the man who found the evidence has his character put into question, it’s enough to plant the seed of doubt. It shouldn’t, but it did. He is definitely an asshole, though.
AN: Let’s talk about Darden (Sterling Brown) in this episode. I feel like this is where he shines and really emerges as the anchor to the prosecution.
Then there’s the relationship he has with Cochran (Vance). Do you think their familiarity with each other had any telltale moments during the trial? Do you think this is the point where Clark (Paulson) begins to really crack?
EE: It’s good to have a contrast to Cochran, someone who stood by the evidence, who believed O.J. was the prime suspect and that he was capable of the murders. Otherwise, history would have Cochran and O.J. against the white police and the white prosecution. But with Darden, we see a man going through a lot, alone.
He’s put out on an island by the defense team, which makes him second guess if he is a tool of the prosecution.
He respects Cochran, so to hear his execution of their craft criticized so harshly in the public, must have hurt him even more.
It’s a heart-breaking thing to see a guy jump at the chance to do what he thinks is a major career move, he’s also driven by the evidence and believes again that he’s doing right by his community and the people to ensure Simpson is proven guilty.
But instead, he’s being taken down, bit-by-bit. The public that bought into O.J’s innocence perceived Darden all wrong.
As for Marcia Clark, I think she gets the feeling that everything that can go wrong has. What do you think, April?
AN: Paulson’s Clark is a study in hubris melting away slowly, she is so cocksure that their case is bulletproof and her underestimation of how bad a witness Fuhrman is set the stage.
The tone deaf elements about race too are surprising but not unfathomable. Darden’s seems to be very patient with some of her more obtuse qualities.
EE: At the end of the fourth episode, it’s the first time he sees Darden as a member of the prosecution. Up until that point, Cochran probably had no problem steamrolling the other side, but upon seeing Darden, I wondered if he struggled at all knowing he had to tear a man he respected down.
In this episode, he tells Chris that he is winning at all cost but he’s having to sell some of his soul to do it.
AN: Hey, when you are being paid to defend a client, you have to do your job. They’re all big boys and girls, and perhaps (the n***er please moment withstanding) Cochran probably had an end game strategy to lure Darden away for private practice anyway!
All defense lawyers have an element of soul selling and nose holding to deal with their clients.
EE: Something that I thought was an odd inclusion in the story up to this point was Dominick Dunne. Mostly because there’s already so much packed in there and this seems like another subplot beginning. But this is classic Ryan Murphy. He likes to keep things busy, almost too busy.
You’ve felt it very little but this is the first time where I scratched my chin. Oh well, if could’ve been worse, we could’ve had another scene with the Kardashian kids.
AN: Yes but love Robert Morse! And Dunne did factor in this with some importance as he was the relayer of the trial for many people averse to watching the trial on TV. His own tragedy too colored his lenses as he wrote about the day-to-day.
I appreciate that he was shown, it was part of the craziness that was this entire trial and story.
EE: Good point, April.
AN: The scene where the Dream Team makes O.J.’s house more “black.”
Do you think those jurors bought that makeover? If so, why?
Do you feel that the crime scene visitation was appropriate or compromised in any way?
EE: I don’t know how in the world that makeover was permissible but it was. That completely polluted the minds of that jury to believe in a different person.
It’s an incredible misdirection that is small in the grand scheme, but every little thing adds up. I don’t know if the jury made up their decision at that moment, but some people out there thought they knew everything about Simpson, like any celebrity, and won’t allow something different to shatter that, especially when it’s something vile or criminal. That entire scene doesn’t sit well with me.
AN: The title of this episode is The Race Card, apt as they were playing it left right and center here…(director) John Singleton’s influence here, do you feel it in this episode?
EE: You felt it whenever Darden and Cochran locked horns. Whatever friendship they may have had was thrown out when they signed on to be a part of this case.
From my understanding, the “N— please,” whispered exchange that Cochran gave to Darden after his opening remarks, actually happened. Look, the way they are handling the race issue is superb.
They’re handling it in a way that allows you to see it from both ends. White people can understand why blacks rejoiced at the end of the verdict.
Blacks can understand why others didn’t. Singleton handled this and many other themes in a memorable way in this episode as have all of the episodes we’ve seen so far.
AN: Singelton did an amazing job. Looking forward to next week as the trial really kicks off. Is there anything else about this episode that struck you?
EE: I just love the warmth that Vance’s performance brings because he really makes Cochran this seductive personality.
No matter the shitstorm Robert Shapiro stirred up whether directly or indirectly, he remains cool. I know we’ve sung his praises before but he’s churning out great stuff.
Tune in next week as The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story is entitled “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” and despite her hard work, Clark is kneecapped by trivial and superficial bullshit as the defense tightens the screws on their case.