American Crime Story: The Verdict Review
The jury reaches its decision, and a country is changed. Here’s our review!
This American Crime Story review contains spoilers.
American Crime Story: Season 1 Episode 10
Halfway through the final episode of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, the jury reaches its verdict: Not Guilty. Just as in real life the jury took a shockingly short time to deliberate — four hours — it was jarring to reach this point in the narrative in just 33 minutes, with another half hour left to go. Why, I wondered, hadn’t they used that old cinematic trick of stretching out the verdict to the final moments, and cramming that time in-between with flash-forwards to everyone’s lives after the trial? That’s what I would have done.
But the verdict itself by no means constitutes a spoiler. Whether you watched the trial live or watched the events riffed on in I Love the 90s or pulled up Wikipedia when this miniseries began, you already knew the outcome. I realized, then, that the more effective storytelling strategy, as with the rest of the series, was to tell the events linearly.
And so, the closing statements were just one small part of the episode. Johnnie Cochran’s “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” only carries weight for the jurors, part of his manipulative rhetoric meant to appeal to their emotions rather than their logic. It’s especially galling because we watch the jurors deliberate, with the two white women (also the only two who vote Guilty) arguing for the litany of facts that the prosecution has laid out, reiterated, even pasted up on colorful posterboard for everyone’s reference. But what it comes down to is this reasoning: “You might think he did it — hell, I might think he did it — but can we sit here and say they proved he did it?”
Marcia Clark and Chris Darden don’t need to hear that particular piece of criticism, because they’re already blaming themselves. When I chatted about the case with my mother a few weeks back — who was glued to the TV at the time but wouldn’t let six-year-old me watch — she sneered at her memory of the prosecution bungling the case, calling them arrogant. Make no mistake, this portrayal of Clark was arrogant, this portrayal of Darden was cocky … but they’re also ashamed of themselves for every little mistake that cost them what should have been an airtight case. We accept their eventual resignations with a sad but unsurprised knowledge. I like that the series ended on them having a drink — Lord knows they deserve it.
While the prosecution was the more fascinating side to follow during the trial, that focus undeniably shifts to the defense. Courtney B. Vance’s portrayal of Johnnie Cochran is undoubtedly one of the best performances on television this year: He’s unapologetically manipulative, freely taking advantage of any emotional loose end he can get his slippery hands on. Only he could take in this powerful monologue from Darden, after he’s offered to bring him back into the black community…
“The police in the country will keep arresting us, keep beating us, keep killing us. You haven’t changed anything for black people here. Unless, of course, you’re a famous rich one in Brentwood.”
…and in the next scene, have the gall to force a single, powerful tear down his cheek when President Clinton gives him a special shout-out. “That’s the victory,” he whispers in awe (of his own razzle dazzle?). “Our story is now out of the shadows.” But when it comes to morality, Cochran has crossed over to the dark side.
But with the defense breaking up faster than a bunch of co-conspirators realizing they’ve overstayed their secret meeting, we refocus on O.J., as he replaces the entourage of his lawyers with his old friends. Except they’re not his friends anymore: The guys from the golf club don’t show up for his Star magazine-funded acquittal party; Kato Kaelin is mysteriously absent; one of his buddies gives him a puppy “so you’ll always have a friend.” Even Robert Kardashian — who spends the entire episode looking like the girl in a Lifetime movie who has just realized her boyfriend is actually the serial killer — walks out on him.
Again, it’s such a bizarre feeling to experience even the tiniest lump of sympathy for Simpson, and that’s due to Cuba Gooding Jr. playing O.J. as incredibly haunted. The fame that helped win him the acquittal has warped into an ugly infamy that will dog him for the rest of his days. The somber “where are they now” sequence over the credits is undeniably tinged with some snark when they get to O.J. and end on a serious of photos of him in a prison jumpsuit for his 2008 crimes, wearing a goofy grin.
But it’s not all goofy grins. The finale gives us several chilling moments of Simpson simply staring at himself in the mirror, his expression going from weary but carefree to coldly calculating. He scrutinizes himself — to see if he’s changed in prison? To examine old, suspicious wounds? It’s unclear, but Gooding gives us the face of a killer.
And yet, Ryan Murphy, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski’s miniseries is ultimately about the damning power of celebrity. We end on O.J., staring up at the godlike statue of himself, hearing the cheers of “O.J.! O.J.! O.J.!” that he will never be greeted with again.
All in all, I think that American Crime Story’s first season was a rousing success. Now I want to see them take on another infamous moment in our legal history, so long as it features the same bonkers yet fitting casting and modern commentary.