Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched Season 1, Episode 6 of “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” titled “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”
Last week’s episode delved into the racism confronted in the O.J. Simpson murder trial; this week tackles the sexism. It’s a devastating indictment, powerfully directed by Ryan Murphy.
Prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) faces it from all sides: the defense; Judge Ito; her ex-husband; the press; her boss. Her only ally is her co-counsel, Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown). And even as they argue yet again about whether to put detective Mark Fuhrman on the stand, he provides a much-needed shoulder to cry on when it all comes crushing down. (Well, she does have her cigarettes.)
We’re now at the height of the prosecution’s case — they’re on a roll with their strongest evidence, but it’s Marcia Clark who’s truly on trial. Her wardrobe, her appearance, her hairstyle are all being critiqued on national TV. Radio hosts are asking: “Marcia Clark: Is she a b—h or a babe?”
To make matters worse, her personal life is unravelling. Her ex-husband is petitioning for primary custody, using her work schedule for the “trial of the century” as an excuse to take her sons away. The episode opens with Clark in court, as we’ve gotten used to seeing her — but this time she’s in family court. “Please remember your place,” chastises the family court judge. “I am not Lance Ito.”
So when Judge Ito suggests the court might have to run late to debate whether the defense can introduce a witness, Clark is forced to say she can’t, because she has childcare issues. Yet this personal revelation only gets her mocked by Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), (“Are we really going to risk losing this witness because of a babysitter problem?”) and even her boss, Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood), who questions whether she can prep from home. So she begs her ex to take the kids, only to see him then go on TV and refute that there was even a childcare issue in the first place. Everyone wants their 15 minutes during this media circus.
Stung by Garcetti’s not-so-subtle recommendation of “terrific media consultants,” she decides to go for a makeover, convinced by her hairstylist that he’ll turn her into Farrah. But the perm quickly goes poof. It’s heartbreaking to watch her confident swagger melt as the courtroom snickers over her new look, and Ito cracks, “Good morning, Miss Clark… I think.” And of course the tabloids have to extract their pound of flesh with the cruel headlines: “Curls of Horror.”
But they have yet one more blow to deliver: Naked photos, courtesy of her first ex-husband. That’s what finally breaks her. “I’m not a public personality,” she confides to Darden, with whom she’s been growing closer. “This isn’t what I do. I don’t know how to do this. Those other guys, they’re flashy hot shots. They’re used to it.”
Darden comforts her with a flirtatious compliment: “If it helps, you do look mighty good in that picture.”
Was there more going on between Darden and Clark? The episode certainly hints at it, with the scene of them dancing together in her office to “Who’s That Lady.” Rumors abounded during the trial, which Clark denied, while Darden wrote in his book, “She and I were two passionate people thrown together in a trial that left us exhausted and lonely…. We danced a few times and drank a few bottles of wine. In my mind, that is a relationship.” Whatever the truth, Clark certainly deserved an ally.
Turns out Johnnie Cochran has to face some image problems of his own in this episode, as a reporter starts digging into allegations of domestic abuse in his past. His less-than-savory solution: He calls his ex-wife and dangles a financial offer to make her “quite, you know, comfortable.” Tune in next week to see how that works out.
This hour also lays the groundwork for the bombshell yet to come with Fuhrman, as we hear him swear on the stand that he’s never used the “N” word. (Kudos for that dramatic entrance into the courtroom, where we only see the back of his head, along with his accompanying police escorts.) Lee Bailey sets out his strategy with relish, pointing out that if Fuhrman denies it, the jury won’t trust him — and if he admits it, it’s “check and mate.” The trap has been laid.
As compelling as those courtroom moments are, Murphy reminds us we’re watching a TV show, not a documentary, by deftly intercutting that footage with reaction shots of people watching the trial. “They should bring Kato back on the show, he was so great,” says one viewer at Pep Boys, as if it’s a daytime soap.
Then again, it pretty much is. “This is a better daytime soap that anything we’ve got,” says an NBC programming exec, as he tells his team to clear the airwaves. The only problem: These were real people, not characters.
A few extra notes:
• Fact-checking of the week: Yes, Rosa Lopez, the neighbor’s housekeeper, did testify out of order, and yes, her testimony was largely contradictory. No official word, though, on whether she called Cochran “Mister Johnnie.”
• Shapiro’s hilarious name-dropping of the week: “Sorry I’m late. Ran into Geffen.”