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American Crime Story slows down

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One aspect of the O.J. Simpson trial (and most long-running trials for that matter) that isn’t discussed as often as it should be is the toll it had on the jurors. Just think of the how annoyed you were the last time you received a jury summons—then multiple that by 100. For the jurors on this particular trial, they were first excited about the idea (as evidenced by the flashback that shows everyone in the honeymoon phase of jury duty) because it meant a free vacation of sorts, a break from the wife and kids, and a luxury hotel stay with big beds, free cable, and a pool to unwind. It didn’t take long for this fantasy to come crushing down. Because of the highly publicized nature of the trial, as well as the high stakes involved, the jurors had to deal with incredibly strict rules. The televisions were removed from the rooms, magazines and newspapers were rifled through first (with multiple articles cut out and removed), the swimming pool was off limits, and jurors not only weren’t allowed to talk to any other guest in the hotel but they couldn’t even leave their floor.

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Sure, a lot of these rules make total sense—you don’t want a juror’s opinion tainted by media coverage or leaking anything to random guests—but these conditions would drive just about anyone crazy, especially around month eight. “A Jury In Jail” pulls focus away from the trial for a bit to focus on these jurors, showcasing the mental strain they are put under and the tensions that arise between jurors. The racial tensions that exist within the trial exist within the jury room as well. One juror, Tracy (who later tried to flee by screaming and bolting toward the door), is upset because she believes that white jurors get better treatment than black jurors (for example, white jurors got an hour for shopping while black jurors only got 30 minutes) and is sick of being treated like a second class citizen. In response, Ito decides to rotate out the deputies, which is an action that deeply upset some of the jurors who had formed friendships of sorts with the deputy, or who were being treated well. In protest (and in a truly bizarre court spectacle), a few members showed up to court all in black, as if mourning the loss.

Going stir crazy isn’t the only problem facing the jurors: the defense and the prosecution are now engaged in a battle where they’re each trying to get rid of jurors that favor the opposition (which, of course, breaks down by race). The prosecution sets the pace when two jurors are caught lying on their questionnaire (one man was arrested for kidnapping his wife and one woman once accused her husband of domestic violence) and dismissed by Ito. Cochran and co. quickly recognize what she’s doing and do their own investigations, ridding the jury of a white woman who was unaware her arthritis doctor is the same as O.J.’s. “Another One Bites The Dust” scores a fun montage that sees the collection of jurors rapidly dwindling and replaced by alternates until it’s clear that things have to stop soon.

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The attorneys’ tactics speaks to the level of desperation at this time in the trial. Clark especially is frustrated because of the disastrous glove demonstration that recently occurred, a dramatic court event that will remain clear in the jurors’ minds. Her next plan is to go hard on the DNA evidence (though you can see the jurors getting bored in the background during testimony) but even that backfires a bit in court. Clark knows that the case is starting to feel like a losing battle so the idea of getting rid of jurors that favor that defendant seems to be a good plan for trying to win. Unfortunately, with Clark and Cochran both dismissing so many jurors so rapidly, they’re now running the risk of facing a mistrial—which definitely isn’t going to work in Cochran’s favor.

As for the DNA evidence, even if it didn’t have a huge impact in court as Clark hoped, it certainly had a huge impact on one person in particular: Robert Kardashian. As we saw last week, Kardashian was already beginning to doubt O.J. Simpson’s innocence and now the overwhelming numbers with the DNA evidence might have destroyed any faith he still had in Simpson. Kardashian is at a crossroads, finding himself trying to decide if O.J. Simpson, the man who is supposed to be his best friend, could possibly also be O.J. Simpson the murderer. How do you possibly deal with something like that? And how do you deal with being on his defense team as you increasingly begin to believe that you’re defending a cold-blooded killer? In the final moments, Kardashian has a heart-to-heart with Kris Jenner in which he breaks down and admits that he can barely even look at his friend of 20 years. Kardashian doesn’t know if he can stay on the defense team but he knows that if he bails, he’s basically putting the nail in the coffin and convicting Simpson.

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It’s a compelling dilemma, though one that doesn’t work as well tension-wise as what we’ve already seen in this series. Maybe it’s because Schwimmer isn’t exactly the best actor in the ensemble cast, or maybe it’s because the stakes for Kardashian aren’t as high as the stakes for Simpson, Clark, Cochran, etc. It also doesn’t flow quite as well with the other plots in the episode. In fact, a lot ”A Jury In Jail” felt a little disjointed—not bad, not at all, but a little .. less than much of the series so far. Then again, after the last few weeks, maybe it’s a good thing to have a little breather.

Stray observations

  • This is the only episode I was only able to watch just once, so I don’t have that many notes to add. It was a fine episode! It just didn’t hold my attention quite as much as I was expecting it to.
  • That said: The jurors’ various dismissals are actually really fascinating, and one of my favorite parts of the Jeffrey Toobin book.
  • Most memorable scene is, hands down, F. Lee Bailey stating that a juror’s rape accusation against her husband wasn’t “legally rape” because it was in 1988 (spousal rape wasn’t made illegal across the United States until 1993, I believe). I think Marcia Clark spoke for all of us when she responded, in disbelief, “You just said that. Out loud.”
  • Why would anyone choose Seinfeld over Martin?
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