This American Crime Story review contains spoilers.
American Crime Story: Season 1 Episode 8
We’re now eight months into what was supposed to be a two-month trial, nearing an acquittal for the defense unless the prosecution whips out their silver bullet. And while we feel for Marcia with her unfortunate style choices, Darden fumbling the glove issue, and even poor Robert Kardashian seriously second-guessing the innocence of his supposed best friend, the people who we really should be looking at are the jury.
Think about it: While Marcia and Kardashian can go home to their kids, and Darden and Bob Shapiro can bullshit their neighbors and acquaintances, the jurors are imprisoned just as much as O.J. is: They’re held in a cushy hotel, sure, but there’s no television, no reading material, nothing from the outside world that would taint their viewpoints during the trial. They see their families once a week. They’re more invested in the lives of their deputies than in their own, just by proximity to the same people day in and day out. All they’re allowed to really talk about is the trial, yet at the same time their context is sorely limited to the conversations held in the courthouse and in the convention hall of the hotel where they eat their continental breakfasts.
Basically, the jurors are like the contestants of most reality TV shows. Consider Survivor, The Real World, The Bachelorette, America’s Next Top Model, Big Brother—all properties that require their participants to exist in a vacuum for however long it takes to shoot and up until the season finale actually airs. And just like those contestants and competitors, every little interpersonal interaction becomes anthropologically fascinating. There’s the young woman who feels psychologically attacked by microaggressions such as letting the white jurors shop at Target and the black jurors shop at Ross. Later, she has a mental breakdown during breakfast that has her running and screeching through the dining hall. There’s the older woman who wears all black after the jury’s beloved deputies are rotated out, and who inspires the rest of the jurors to follow her sartorial lead.
Some of these characters have names, but the episode doesn’t really require you to know them. Similarly, the prosecution, the defense, and Judge Ito all insist on addressing the jurors by their numbers. In this way they remain pawns on the larger game board, an integral part of getting the “Guilty” or “Not Guilty” verdict, but also interchangeable. And that’s exactly what each side tries to do: dig into the jurors’ pasts and find ways to discredit and dismiss them.
Some of the connections they uncover are astounding, from the woman who lied about her husband raping her because she didn’t want to be connected to domestic abuse, to the guy who looks surprised when Ito finds a photo of him shaking hands with O.J. at a Hertz (his place of employment). Was jury selection less rigorous in the ‘90s, or were these people so desperate to be even a little bit famous that they blatantly lied? Considering the current state of reality TV fame, the latter is not difficult to believe at all—especially as we see several of the dismissed jurors squeeze more seconds out of those 15 minutes of fame as talking heads on various competing news channels.
But while the jurors are eventually released from their prison, O.J. is waiting on that acquittal Shapiro is promising. Part of me would have liked to have an entire episode devoted just to the jury, but I understand why the writers needed to intercut those scenes with the main players. But whereas last week had O.J. hamming it up as he tried on the gloves in the courtroom, more scenes this week are devoted to his time in jail. He’s got a weekly poker game with his friends, who flake on the next game after Marcia Clark brings up the prosecution’s silver bullet of DNA testing.
Even though the defense is able to seed some doubt and bring back the conspiracy theory about the LAPD planting O.J.’s blood, Kardashian is clearly rattled. In a terrific scene, he dances around his own mounting doubts, asking O.J. (for someone else, ostensibly) how Nicole’s blood got in the Bronco. O.J. holds his gaze for several chilling beats, wheels turning behind a blank expression, before breaking into a guileless smile and a semi-panicked answer of “How am I supposed to know?” Damn if Cuba Gooding Jr. didn’t remind us how coldly calculating his O.J. is.
While David Schwimmer has mostly played Kardashian as hilariously hapless, he really brought it this week. One of the episode’s final scenes was one of its most moving, as Robert confides in Kris. Though they’re necessarily split by their respective allegiances to O.J. and Nicole, she’s still sympathetic at seeing how this trial is driving him to desperation.
Because Kardashian is in a prison, too—he’s caught in this case and has to see it through to the end. When Kris suggests he drop out, he morosely responds that he can’t: “It would convict him, I would convict him. It would make everything worse for us, for the kids.”
And yet, Kardashian’s continued involvement is what brings his kids into the limelight and their own reality-TV prison. His infamy from this case is part of what establishes them as socialites and public figures; in Kim’s case, a friendship with Paris Hilton and a sex tape does the rest. Almost everyone on this show is in a cage, but not everyone can see the bars.
Next week: Some damning tapes of Mark Fuhrman using the n-word as we race toward the finale in the second-to-last episode.