A common refrain I’ve been hearing since American Crime Story premiered (and since we’ve all been obsessively revisiting the trial and re-examining the evidence through a pop culture lens) is “How the hell did O.J. Simpson get off?” The evidence is damning, there has never been any other official suspect, and the defense was plagued with lots of internal squabbling. I mean, just the blood/DNA evidence alone is almost too much. Yet, Simpson was famously acquitted and “Conspiracy Theories” begins to really, really show us why.
The use of “razzle dazzle” conspiracy theories was important throughout the trial, particularly for the defense. They knew that the evidence worked against Simpson and they knew that they didn’t have another single person to pin the murders on so the defense’s best bet was to change the narrative and place reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds by providing lots of alternative theories ranging from the large conspiracy theory involving racist Mark Fuhrman and the LAPD to the “Columbian Necktie” drug story faxed (faxed!!!) in from a professor at Harvard University. For Cochran and the rest of the defense, their ultimate goal was not to prove Simpson didn’t do it but to instead prove that there are other people who could have done it.
The prosecution is aware of these tricks and theories and, as Darden says, they “need to make our own big moments.” It’s likely that the jury won’t pay attention to every single small detail (nor will they stop playing tic-tac-toe during testimonies) but the jury will be attentive when it comes to larger stories, sweeping narratives, and, of course, the “razzle dazzle” — which is something that Cochran is very good at. So the prosecution is tasked with finding something to present to the jurors with a flourish and, while digging through Nicole Brown’s possessions, it looks like they have a smoking gun: A receipt from Bloomingdales proving that Nicole Brown bought the same size/model of gloves that was found at the crime scene and at the Simpson residence, presumed to be the gloves Simpson wore while he (sigh, allegedly) murdered Nicole and Ron Goldman.
While this is happening, Cochran is getting a taste of last week’s media treatment of Marcia Clark (whose hair looks great this episode!). His ex-wife, Barbara, makes an appearance on A Current Affair to talk about her time together with Cochran and how he was essentially living a double life — two women, two houses, two lives — as well as her claims of domestic abuse (claims she reiterated in her book). When she’s asked if he assaulted her, Cochran leaps up and practically attacks the television to shut it off (certainly not making any case against anger issues, huh?). It’s a moment that you’d think would put him and Clark on similar playing field but, not to bring this back to sexism (OK, I am always bringing something back to sexism), it’s so predictable and telling that far more people are aware of the media sensation surrounding Maria Clark’s goddamn hairstyle than they are about Johnnie Cochran physically assaulting his ex-wife.
This development is also used to emphasize how great (but slimey) Cochran is at his job and at spin. Clark hides in the hallway, eagerly awaiting Cochran’s arrival to the courthouse so she can witness him being swarmed and attacked by the media. However, the second he brings it up, Cochran manages to deflect and spin it back to the media. Cochran emphasizes that there are “two dead people” and an “innocent man being framed” before delivering the kicker: “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
The intense drama of “Conspiracy Theories” is broken up by the intense shipping of Clark and Darden. At this point, American Crime Story is just fucking with us, right? Darden and Clark exchanging glances, standing too close to each other, going on vacation where they get smashed at a bar (and Clark drunkenly provides masterful testimony using shot glasses to prove why the Fuhrman/LAPD conspiracy makes no sense), and Darden being grilled by his friends about hooking up with Clark. All of that followed by that infuriating scene where they are staring at each other and saying “good night” for approximately three straight hours. You could cut the sexual tension with O.J.’s knife. I mean, did you ever think that in a true crime series about the trial of O.J. Simpson you would find yourself screaming “Kiss! Kiss!” at the screen? Because I couldn’t shut up.
However, there will be no Clarkden happening in “Conspiracy Theories” because Darden and Clark are immediately at odds once they’re back working on the case together, largely because of Darden’s insistence that they have Simpson try on the gloves. If you remember only one thing from the O.J. Simpson trial, it’s that pair of gloves — and probably also how the prosecution screwed up their case by insisting Simpson try them on, resulting in Cochran’s catchy refrain during closing statements. What’s interesting in “Conspiracy Theories” is how it shows the opposite sides tackling the same issue about the gloves. Darden wanted to go ahead with it, thinking it’s an “ace” but Clark didn’t, worried about the irreparable damage that would be done if it backfired (it’s worth noting the time that passed between the murders and that day on trial; the fact that the gloves were covered in blood, frozen and unfrozen (several times) which may have caused the gloves to shrink; and Darden’s suspicion that, because Simpson hadn’t taken his anti-inflammatory arthritis medication for several days, it caused the joints in Simpson’s hand to swell). On the other side, Shapiro (who tested the gloves earlier which, uh, can we fact check that?) is 100% for trying on the gloves and Simpson is game (“Put me in, coach!”) but F. Lee Bailey has a brilliant strategy: Get the prosecution to present the gloves and the demonstration, not the defense.
It all goes according to the defense’s plan. Darden, much to Clark’s visible disbelief and annoyance, takes it upon himself to have Simpson try on the glove. Simpson obliges, digging deep for those Naked Gun acting chops and making a big show out of struggling to get them on before presenting the ill-fitting gloves to the jury. The final scene, of Darden apologizing to Goldman’s family is almost too heartbreaking to watch. “We’ll come back from this,” Darden says, but we all know what happens.
- From Barbara Berry’s book, on one of the (at least) three times she was assaulted by Johnnie Cochran: “He grabbed me, holding me by one hand tightly—it hurt the way he was holding me—and started hitting me on the side of my head with his fists, where my hair would cover any marks. He hit me three or four times, yelling, ‘I‘m going to hit you where there won’t be any bruises.’ I cried out for him to stop.”
- Wow Darden, way to blow your chances with Clark.
- “This is my case. You work for me here.”
- New drinking game rule: Whenever O.J. Simpson makes a football reference.
- Oh yeah: Kardashian is starting to waver a bit on his belief that Simpson is innocent (and dealing with Shapiro’s scare tactics to help convince everyone else to go for a plea deal), eventually leading him to open up Simpson’s bag with Cowlings. Kardashian reiterates that there’s no other suspect, and that he can’t think of any other person who could do this. Welp.