This review of American Crime Story contains spoilers.
American Crime Story Season 1 Episode 2
It should probably come as a no-brainer that Ryan Murphy and the producers behind American Crime Story decided to focus their entire second episode around O.J. Simpson’s infamous car chase in the white Bronco. But what makes “The Run of His Life” (named after Jeffrey Toobin’s book that inspired the series) so mesmerizing is how it follows every other character following that Bronco, cementing the moment that Simpson’s case became an indelible part of pop culture.
It’s not even a case yet: It’s a black celebrity displaying some very suspicious behavior, running from the cops with a gun to his head and one of his lackeys (“the poor man’s O.J.,” they describe fellow athlete A.C. Cowlings) driving an identical Bronco to the one that has already been impounded for having blood on and in it. While Robert Shapiro and Robert Kardashian are playing victims and attempting damage control at O.J.’s Brentwood home, everyone—from the prosecution to the defense to random people in Los Angeles bars—is watching history unfold on television.
Because where the episode really soars is showing us how everyone was affected by this unprecedented breaking news. We see newscasters squabbling over turning their cameras from the NBA finals (“do you know how much people pay for these ad spots?”) to following the live chase. Sports fans in bars boo when the TVs switch over, then are suddenly silent, enraptured. Kardashian is steeling himself to tell O.J.’s family that—judging from the suicide note and the gun—Juice is probably dead, only to see the news disproving him.
Most interestingly, all of these moments are staggered, meaning that we watch each group discover in their own time, some tuning in later than others or only when their TVs are forcibly switched over to the story. What’s ironic, of course, is that in some ways there isn’t anything to see: The manhunt is hours and hours of a police escort trailing just behind O.J.’s Bronco on the 405 while the hysterical suspect sits in the backseat alternately threatening to blow his brains out or weeping that he wants his mother. It’s the kind of spectacle you could tune in to hours later and it would probably be the same—but of course, no one wants to turn away from the TV, for fear of missing that key moment.
It’s also a keen reminder of the heady rush of fame through the smallest amount of attention. When Kardashian is struggling to bring the situation under control at a Shapiro-orchestrated press conference (reading O.J.’s suicide note aloud but, thankfully, omitting the bizarre smiley-face signature), we’re treated to the sight of the four Kardashian kids watching the TV. “That’s Daddy!” Kim (I’m going to assume) shrieks in delight; later, when reporters can’t quite pronounce their surname, the children exasperatedly spell it out to the TV, as if they already know how many reporters will memorize its spelling a generation later. God forbid we forget that a large subset of our population now virtually worships this clan after Kim got caught in a sex tape—the everyday turned scandalous.
This hyper-focus on Simpson also cements (at least, according to this series) the moment that he decided to turn himself in. It’s when he and Cowlings are continuing their endless drive down the 405, and they begin to notice the crowds of people carrying signs of “You go, O.J.!” and “The Juice is Loose!” Never mind that these people claim that they’re not supporting O.J., they’re booing the LAPD for its treatment of black people. You can see on Cuba Gooding Jr.’s face that when O.J. takes in his fans, he visibly brightens. They’ve given him something to live for. They’ve given him an opportunity to wrest control back. “They still love you, Juice,” Cowlings reassures him. But it’s also a double-edged sword, as the crowds literally block Simpson from returning to his home—from which he soon emerges, allowing himself to be handcuffed and led to jail on his own terms.
This episode also sowed the seeds of the racial dilemma to come as the trial kicks into gear. Johnnie Cochran is already playing his part as a talking head, reminding viewers of the LAPD’s bad record of “shoot[ing] first and offer[ing] sloppy apologies after.” Christopher Darden waxes philosophic with his father’s neighbors about how Simpson became white as soon as he became rich—to which one retorts, “Well, he’s got the cops chasing him, he’s black now!”
Is Simpson another poor black man turned scapegoat, or a man so rich as to be seen as white, playing off his fame for sympathy? This American Crime Story is just beginning.