With Mark Fuhrman Looming, ‘American Crime Story’ Took A Long, Hard Look At Race

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In last week’s episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, there was a contentious scene in the judge’s chambers over whether the defense intended to play “the race card.” After Shapiro — still the lead attorney at the time — insisted that he would never, never do such a thing, Johnnie Cochran interrupted him with a speech about how racial issues are pervasive and can’t be ignored, and that of course they would be a part of the trial. Cochran replaced Shapiro as lead attorney by the end of that episode. This week’s episode — helmed by Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton — was titled “The Race Card.” So, I guess that settles that.

1) The episode focused almost entirely on the bubbling racial aspect of the trial in the lead-up to Mark Fuhrman’s testimony, which means we got a lot of Johnnie Cochran. This is by no means a complaint, as Courtney B. Vance is really doing tremendous work, filling him with confidence and a conniving charisma — alliteration! — while also showing us some of his motivation and private moments.

The most notable of these moments last night was the flashback scene at the beginning where he was stopped by a white cop with his daughters in the car. It’s was a tough line to tiptoe, one that risked leaving the viewer with the idea that Cochran’s entire view of the LAPD was shaped by one traffic stop, and Vance handled it really well. Vance and Sarah Paulson are putting in work on this show, and I’ve got to imagine people will remember when it comes time to hand out awards.

2) Also doing work last night: Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden. Darden was kind of the flipside of the Cochran coin in this episode. Where Cochran was a hard-driving force who mapped out a plan and stuck to it, Darden was left to second guess himself and have crises of conscience. Where Cochran would act, Darden would react. You could see it in their multiple asides throughout the episode (telling Darden he was trying to win, not be respectful; telling Darden to make the white people put Fuhrman on the stand), but you really saw it in the faces Brown made when he was processing bad news. Here’s the one from when Clark told him he was responsible for Fuhrman. More expressive than 1,500 words.

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