The star of the trial of the century wasn’t O.J. Simpson. It was Johnnie Cochran.
The famed black attorney was not only incredibly talented at his job—and a brilliant wordsmith—but he was passionate, he was quotable, he was whip smart, he was memorable, and he got the job done. His official inclusion in the “Dream Team” and becoming a more prominent character in the series jolted some more electricity into American Crime Story as the attorneys begin the jury selection process.
“First question: Who thinks O.J. did it?” Shapiro asks as the lawyers are all meeting together. Cochran’s wide-eyed, nonverbal response succinctly sets up the strained and antagonistic relationship that will exist between the two men for the duration of the trial. Both men are egotistical, but Shapiro more dumbly so, letting his ego poorly influence his decisions when it comes to the press and public appearances. Cochran’s prominence threatens Shapiro’s need to be the center of attention. It doesn’t help that Shapiro is uh, not exactly eloquent when it comes to conversations surrounding race. “You know how these people think,” Shapiro says at one point, causing myself—and every other black person watching—to bristle and ready for attack.” Cochran manages to keep his cool while speaking sternly: “You need to choose your vernacular very, very carefully.” You’d think Shapiro would learn to hang back but no, later in the episode, during the longest elevator ride ever, Shapiro states that he believes that he should be the one to speak out to the press about the prosecution getting rid of most of the black jurors. He holds a press conference against Cochran’s wishes but Cochran shows Shapiro by holding an impromptu conference while getting his shoes shined. Because Cochran is a boss, and that’s that.
“100% Not Guilty” brings two other players into the game. First, there is Faye Resnick (the fabulous Connie Britton being incredibly fabulous—no one eats a carrot better than she does) who, under the instruction of a psychic, wrote a sensationalized, salacious book about Nicole Brown that temporarily disrupted the jury selection proceedings. Written within two weeks, the book went through all the mainstays for exploitative stories—she did coke, had sex with other women, lots of partying, and so on. Resnick claims she wants to bring attention to domestic violence but everyone knows she’s just in it for the fame. Again, fame is the theme of the O.J. Simpson trial, from top to bottom.
The second player is the occasionally-bumbling Judge Ito. Ito wasn’t exactly the smartest choice for the case: he’s obsessed with celebrity stars, he’s married to a cop (conflict of interest! just look at that hesitation when she spots Fuhrman’s name), and he has a tough time keeping order when it comes to squabbles between the two sides.
The bulk of ”100% Not Guilty” is about the extremely long, controversial, and tedious jury selection process. Through a focus group, Marcia Clark’s hardships begin early; she learns that the public generally thinks she “seems like a bitch” or a “know-it-all.” One guy pipes up, “I wouldn’t want to be her boyfriend.” It’s no secret that sexism was abundant during this trial—remember all the tabloid covers about Clark?—and I love that American Crime Story knows that this is an important aspect of the trial that must be covered. The average person, it looks like, have no interest in the facts that Clark is presenting in the sample footage shown to the focus group. They only care about how she sounds (stern, arrogant, confident, and intelligent which, as we all know, translates to mega-bitch), what she looks like, and how she carries herself. It’s suggested that she soften her look, maybe try something different with her hair or wear skirts instead of suits. Then, the kicker: Smile a bit more. It’s a go-to catcall for gross men on the street, an order to fix your expression so you look more pleasant, more appealing to men. It’s a ”suggestion” in the workplace so women will come off nicer, more docile, polite and affable even when arguing a murder case.
But there will be more about Clark later in the series. Right now: jury selection. Once again, race relations are front and center while the attorneys grill and dismiss potential jurors. The lines are clearly drawn. At first, Clark prefers black women because she thinks they’ll be deeply sympathetic to Nicole (it’s a pretty good depiction of clueless white feminism to assume that all women will be sympathetic to women instead of taking intersectionality into account) and because Clark believes she has a positive history with black women jurors. However, black women are actually more on O.J.’s side—he’s handsome, masculine, and charming—and are wary of Nicole—not only do they think she was a gold digger but, as it’s put earlier in the episode, black women “don’t like their men marrying white girls.” The selection comes to a head in a meeting in the chambers (“They played the race card!” “We cannot be so held up on skin color!”) with everyone revealing their true biases.
Aside from that, the other major development in “100% Not Guilty” involves switching up the attorney teams a bit. Shapiro is no longer lead counsel — that honor smartly goes to Cochran — and basically gets fired while he’s on vacation. On the opposite end, Darden (who earlier found out the Cowlings case won’t be going forward so he bonds with Marcia over a workplace bottle of tequila) is added as third chair for the prosecution. “When did they get a black guy,” questions Simpson while Clark’s eyebrow raise and small smile says it all: Both sides can play the race card.
- Have I mentioned the music choices in this yet? From the opening blaring “Everybody Dance Now” to“Black Superman” as O.J. spots Darden — everything has been great.
- Speaking of that opening, I (surprisingly?) loved that contrast of him living it up, boozing, and eating shrimp vs the quick cut to him in jail in front of a meal on a cardboard tray. It was easy, but it worked. (On the other hand, while the acting in the scene featuring Cochran visiting Simpson in jail was great, the dialogue got a bit overwrought.)
- “No one is going to vote to execute O.J. Simpson.” “Marcia, we can’t even execute Charlie Manson.”
- Did we all add “Brentwood Hello” to our list of sex terms learned from television? Or am I the only one with that list?
- Oh, how I’ve longed to just say “black women don’t like you” to people.
- Favorite line reading of the night: “I said COULD, Marcia.”
- Ross Kardashian is growing on me a bit, if only because of how well-meaning but ridiculous he can be.