Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched Season 1, Episode 8 of “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” titled “A Jury in Jail.”
Until now, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” has been a near-faithful retelling of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, with dramatic reenactments of those iconic moments: the Bronco chase, the gloves.
But this week, the producers have served us a compelling change-up. The one place cameras couldn’t go during the trial was the jury room — and this hour, ably directed once again by Anthony Hemingway, imagines what was going on behind those doors. And in their increasingly outraged, frustrated minds.
“A Jury in Jail” certainly delivers on the title. We know, of course, the verdict they’re going to reach, but it’s certainly fascinating to explore the behind-the-scenes (melo)drama that may have led up to it
They’ve been sequestered for eight months, after being told it would only be two. No TV. No phone. No unapproved reading materials (their newspapers look like they’ve been attacked by scissors-wielding toddlers). Any sense of self-importance they had — “This is the Super Bowl and we get to pick the winner,” says one — has been diminished by the months of mind-numbing testimony. And the racial tensions that are driving the case can’t help but infiltrate them. TV night devolves into a debate over whether to watch “Martin” or “Seinfeld” (naturally they split across racial lines). When one juror kicks off her heels and runs screaming from the dining room, it’s not hard to understand why.
Tensions are so fraught that a change in the deputies assigned to them triggers a revolt among the jury — could there be a more classic case of Stockholm Syndrome? More than half of them show up in court dressed in all black, and Ito is forced to dismiss court for the day. (Yes, that really happened.) Cue “Fight the Power.”
To make matters worse, they start getting kicked off the case, one by one for assorted violations: failing to disclose a history of domestic violence, taking notes for a potential book. “People v. O.J.” presents it as a game of chess between Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) and Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), who are manipulating behind the scenes to dig up dirt on the alternates. What might not have gone their way when the jury first got seated they now see as an opportunity. Time to finally get rid of “The Demon,” perhaps, as they’ve dubbed a potential juror from hell. Or see “The Holy Grail” land a seat on the panel.
And indeed, it’s gleeful fun watching Clark vs. Cochran play puppeteer with the jurors. One took a photo with O.J.? Gone! Another sees the same arthritis doctor as O.J.? See ya! (All to the tune of “Another One Bites the Dust.”) “Toughen up, Cochran,” cracks Clark. “This is the smokers’ lounge. Day care is on the first floor.”
They’re down to just a few alternates — and teetering on the precipice 0f a mistrial — when Cochran finally declares a ceasefire. He saunters out to the smokers’ balcony, with a peace offering of a cup of coffee, just the way she likes it. (In all, the original 24-member panel was down to just two alternates by the time deliberations began.)
Meanwhile, Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) is still reeling from his crisis of conscience. He’d been buoyed by the glove stunt, as had O.J.’s golf buddies, who’d been visiting him in jail for poker night (a.k.a. “consulting with material witnesses”). But he’s been paying attention during the DNA testimony, even if no one else has. And that “1 in 170 million” statistic has him sitting up and taking notice.
But Scheck (Rob Morrow) is able to dismantle the prosecution’s DNA expert, Dennis Fung, on the stand — so much so that Marcia Clark can barely look at him when he steps down. Even more unthinkable, Fung saunters over to the defense table, where he’s greeted with hugs and handshakes by the team, including Simpson. (Yes, that really happened, too.)
Kardashian, though, still has questions — and in a visit to Kris Jenner (Selma Blair) to pick up his kids, he breaks down and cries. “He was my friend for 20 years, and I can barely look at him anymore,” he admits. She encourages him to quit the case, but he tells her he can’t. To do so would convict him. “I just have to sit there until it’s over, and then he’s out of our lives forever.”
The episode ends with a call to the “O.J. tip line”: The infamous Mark Fuhrman tapes have been discovered. Wonder how that’s gonna play in court? Tune in next week!
A final note:
• The one-liner of the week goes to Marcia Clark for her retort to F. Lee Bailey’s unthinkable defense of a soon-to-be-axed juror, saying it wasn’t “legally rape” between a husband and wife in 1988. After a deafening pause, Clark says, “You just said that. Out loud.” Score one for Marcia.