American Crime Story: Episodes 3 & 4

*Contains Spoilers*

A knife was found buried on the grounds of O. J. Simpson’s estate last week. I’m not talking about a TV show here. This happened. It’s a coincidence as far-fetched as the events in Director Ryan Murphy’s programmes; and to happen at the same time as the airing of his already acclaimed miniseries is unfathomable. The lack of evidence was the key detail in the acquittal of O. J., and a key factor in this lack of evidence was the failure to identify a murder weapon. Now, all could change. As episode four of The People v. O. J. Simpson aired in the UK earlier tonight, revelations unfolded across the pond. Excitement grew in a legal-drama whose non-fictional origins lie in the realms of fame, celebrity and scandal as though it were plucked directly out of the filmography of Sofia Coppola, and viewers settled in to see what happened next. With discoveries like these, might there be some last minute changes to the end of Murphy’s miniseries? Only time will tell. Here, I’ll review episodes three and four of the drama.

The beginning of the third episode of The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story saw Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) mince awkwardly, with the same nervous expression Schwimmer’s been bearing for the past three episodes, into a packed-out restaurant with the Kardashian clan in tow. Following the waitresses’ recognition of Lawyer Kardashian, the family are swiftly taken to a table without having to queue. Exclamations of “Oh Em Gee!” obviously ensued (or whatever it is that infantile Kardashians exclaim whenever anything happens). The children playing the Kardashians are very annoying, and whether or not this is intentional on the part of writer D. V. DeVincentis (the previous two episodes had been written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) or not is debatable, but they are very irritating.

Soon after, we see O. J.’s Time Magazine cover being developed – “He really looks trapped, the falling of an idol.” Reports are quickly made that O. J. was made to look “blacker” on his cover in what is described as a racist attempt to make him appear all the more guilty. This is also a great example of fame and celebrity being the focus of this series. The director of episode three, Anthony Hemingway, really enforces this idea throughout, perhaps under the instruction of Executive Producer Ryan Murphy who has previously highlighted fame as a key theme of his anthology series.

Fame, it seems, is affecting all involved in the O. J. case. The viewers see Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) addressing the press in a conference concerning the upcoming trial, before retreating back to her office welcomed with congratulations and even hi-5s in acknowledgement of her speech. If Clark wasn’t already your favourite character in this series, she becomes it in these episodes. We learn more about Clark’s detachment from her cases; Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) accuses her of not getting “emotional” about anything, which is an important insight into her state of mind. This detachment is important in the prosecution, since Clark is required to overlook the racial tensions underpinning the case and, instead, address the facts. It seems, though, that this detachment and cold approach to the case distances her from jury members, or so a sample group declares.

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Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) plays a pivotal role in episodes three and four, and the character really becomes part of the drama. Having been a spectator commenting on the upcoming trial on news channels like NBC, Cochran is finally employed by the defence on the basis of his past activism and celebrity status. Episode four makes clear the wisdom of Cochran and the ignorance of O. J.’s chief attorney Shapiro as Johnnie addresses both his legal team and the jury with the confidence Simpson’s case needs. This tension between Cochran and Shapiro dominates much of the later action, as rivalry continues to mount when Robert insists on leading the press conference rather than the more media-literate candidate, Cochran. It is extremely awkward later, then, when Shapiro is demoted in favour of Cochran making the opening statements in the Simpson trial. Cochran becomes head attorney. Courtney B. Vance plays an incredibly likeable character, with the wit and charm that viewers can presume will eventually work in Simpson’s favour.

The demotion of Shapiro wasn’t the only scandal we’ve seen so far in the trial, episode four also saw Christopher Darden appointed to the prosecution team with a little encouragement from Marcia Clark. The addition of Darden threatens the defence’s argument that the prosecution are operating in ignorance of race issues, since Darden is of African-American descent.

In another highlight of the past two episodes, Connie Britton’s character (Faye Resnick) is developed a whole lot more. Resnick represents everything that Los Angeles socialites are stereotyped to be. Sassy, classy and trashy all at once. Resnick reveals all of Nicole Brown Simpson’s secrets to a reporter who clearly intends to exploit the drama for all its worth. Having Connie Britton and Selma Blair both play ditzy, dim socialites is hilarious to watch and even funnier when you realise that characters like these not only dominated the media then, but continue to today.

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The book based on the juicy details Resnick divulged to reporters temporarily brings the jury selection process to a halt, leading to further complications when it becomes clear that the book might benefit the side of the prosecution and weaken that of the defence.

With revelations like these in a mere two hours, it can only be anticipated that the drama will continue to heat up, tensions will continue to rise and scandals will really begin in the coming episodes. Marcia’s eyebrow raise at the end of episode four was incredible, and these feisty little mannerisms that we see from Clark at the end of most episodes are enough to look forward to in themselves.

The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story continues on BBC Two next Monday (14/03/16) at 9pm.