Review: ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’ plays ‘The Race Card’ between Cochran & Darden

03.01.16 3 years ago 56 Comments

A review of tonight's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story coming up just as soon as I show you my autographed photo of Arsenio Hall…

One of the smarter things the The People v. O.J. did was to recognize that with this sprawling cast of characters with conflicting interests and agendas, they had to find some way to keep the narrative feeling focused. A few weeks ago, we got an hour that was just about the day of the white Bronco chase. With “The Race Card” (written by Joe Robert Cole and directed by John Singleton), it's an episode primarily about Johnnie Cochran and Christopher Darden's former friendship and the ways each man relates to the LA law-enforcement apparatus.

The series had already reminded us that Cochran used to work in the DA's office, but that flashback to a younger Johnnie being cuffed in front of his daughters during a routine (and questionable) traffic stop still hit hard, and helped crystallize his interests in the case beyond a desire for wealth and fame. At the time of the trial, Cochran was painted as a cynical opportunist. This series has painted him as a man with legitimate suspicions about the LAPD, while also allowing him to be a hustler when he wants, like giving O.J.'s house an African-American-themed makeover before the predominantly-black jury  gets a look at it. He's no saint, but there are principles behind the chicanery.

Darden, meanwhile, gets another promotion of sorts when Bill Hodgman has to drop out of the trial over health issues, making him the new second chair(*). But it's a be careful what you wish for situation. Marcia Clark doesn't heed his warnings about Mark Furhman (it's here that Cochran's mentor instincts briefly resurface, as he warns Chris against being the one to examine Furhman on the stand), and he winds up in the mortifying position of having to make the argument for banning the N-word from the trial, which Johnnie thunderously rebuts.

(*) The episode over-dramatizes it a little, in that Hodgman's chest pains hit the next day at a staff meeting with Gil Garcetti, but he did get incredibly worked up in court.

While the episode mainly focuses on Cochran and Darden, it also presents a striking, uncomfortable scene where author Dominick Dunne (played by Robert Morse from Mad Men) has a gathering of rich white swells hanging on his every bit of O.J. gossip. This is, for now at least, a live-action soap opera for them, given the thinnest veneer of respectability because a fellow upper-cruster like Dunne is there to translate it all.

They wouldn't be the only ones viewing this trial about the brutal murder of two people as a mere entertainment, but “The Race Card” deftly illustrates just how seriously certain members of the prosecution and defense took every decision about it.

What did everybody else think?

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