This American Crime Story review contains spoilers.
American Crime Story Episode 6
“Ohhh no,” I moaned, cringing away from Marcia Clark striding into the courtroom with an unfortunate new haircut and a confident smile, only for it to slowly crumble as she realizes she has just gave the tabloids days of fodder. “I can’t watch,” I told my boyfriend, literally peeking out from behind my fingers like in a horror movie.
“This is the part you can’t watch?” he asked in disbelief. Yes, because this episode of American Crime Story—this arc, really, as we get into the second half of the miniseries—isn’t about whether O.J. Simpson is innocent or guilty, nor the brutal details of the murder. It’s about the brutal treatment of poor Marcia Clark.
I don’t say “poor” to pity her; this woman has ovaries of steel. Puffing her habitual cigarette, she catches her name being thrown around on TV not in relation to her performance in court, but by the style police after-hours. “Oh, Jesus,” she sighs—on its own, the criticism is something she can handle. She’s not trying to win over the judge or jury with her looks.
But combine those TV-commentator potshots with personal attacks on her as a mother and as a woman, and Marcia loses her footing, pebble by pebble. I went into this episode knowing that Marcia got bullied on live TV, but I never imagined how insidious it became: Her ex-husband Gordon calling her out for asking him to babysit the kids when she had previously claimed she couldn’t stay late because of said children; her ex-ex-husband releasing a naked photo of her from their honeymoon; Johnnie Cochran sneering at the quality of her mothering in front of the entire court.
Even her boss, in the same breath, rails against the sexist commentary and then offers to set her up with “a fantastic media consultant.” It’s this kind of double standard that dogs Marcia—the “women’s issues” that will always seem supplementary instead of vital.
The worst part is, she’s kicking ass in court. Her takedown of Rosa Lopez, former housekeeper for Simpson’s neighbor, is one of the series’ best so far—revealing to what lengths the defense will go to, as we hear Cochran coach his team at one point, “tell the better story.”
Speaking of telling better stories, we see Cochran himself almost buckle under the pressure, as The LA Times prepares to release a bombshell story about his own history with domestic violence, with his ex-wife as the key source. The scene in which he skillfully bribes her over the phone without ever saying anything incriminating is hard to watch, mostly because of how you’re watching him get away with yet another falsehood.
Also wrestling with the papers is Darden, who’s being hung out to dry by the press for prosecuting a black superstar. “Who spends his days playing golf with old white men and his nights sleeping with young white women,” he counters, but the reporter won’t give him the benefit of the doubt.
As the trial drags on and both prosecution and defense become celebrities, everyone is concerned with how they look, both physically and figuratively. Marcia’s boss—the same one who is quietly tut-tutting over her appearance when she’s not looking—acts as if she could somehow distance herself from it all: “That is something you can control. Stop watching so much TV. If you listen to all that noise, you’re just going to start bringing it into the courtroom. The trial is in here, not out there.”
Except that it is out there, like the cashier who scans Marcia’s Tampax and quips, “Uh oh, I guess the defense is in for one hell of a week, huh?” Can you really blame her for going to the hair salon and hoping against hope that she’ll come out as someone else? As someone who would get cheers of “Go Marcia!” for more than one takedown?
Instead, as we cringe along to Marcia’s hopeful haircut scene (set to “Kiss from a Rose,” oof), the end result is her looking like even more of a caricature. “God damn, who turned her into Rick James?” asks the same guy slamming Darden, and he’s not wrong.
It’s ironic timing, actually, that this episode aired less than 48 hours after Kim Kardashian’s latest nude selfie sent the Internet into a tizzy. Fellow celebrities slut-shamed her, yet Kardashian was still lauded for being a body-positive icon. While there’s no proof that little Kim watched the exact events of this episode unfold in real-time, you can’t help but imagine that missing scene from American Crime Story, in which Kim realizes that “frump incarnate” is a worse label than “slut,” and that someone will put your naked body out in the world if you don’t beat them to it.