There was really only one way the finale of The People V. O.J. Simpson could go. After nine episodes building the foundation and examining the trial from almost every conceivable angle, the time had come for the jury to read the verdict we all knew was coming. And because we all already knew what was coming, the producers didn’t have the luxury of using a big reveal to provide drama. They had to create it the hard way, by showing the effect it had on everyone involved in smaller, more subtle ways. And they pulled it off about as well as anyone could have hoped.
1) It’s a little weird to know the ending of a piece of drama going in. It’s never been a barrier to success (see, Titanic), but it does raise the level of difficulty a bit for the people producing it, because they need to figure out a way to surprise and move the audience even when the audience knows exactly where they’re trying to go. It’s not just an issue for shows grounded in real events, either. We’ve also seen this in a few prominent prequels. We knew Lou Solverson couldn’t die in season two of Fargo, because we saw old Lou Solverson in season one. And we know exactly what happens to occasionally-well-meaning attorney Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul, because his tragic future was laid out in Breaking Bad.
Similarly, we all knew going into the American Crime Story finale that the jury was going to read that not guilty verdict, even after the prosecution laid out the evidence step-by-step, and even after all those shots of the Goldmans’ hopeful, hurting faces. And I was still on the edge of my seat when the foreman started talking. If that’s not the sign of a solid drama, man, I don’t know what is.
2) All that said, be honest here: There was a teeny, tiny part of you that wanted the show to throw the facts out the window and have the jury find him guilty, if not for reasons of justice, then at least for reasons of chaos and comedy. Like, think about the coverage this morning if the show had done that after nine episodes of sticking mostly to the truth. People would have lost their minds.
On the other hand, a guilty verdict would have deprived me of the ability to make a GIF of David Schwimmer puking in the bathroom, so let’s all agree that this was the right call.