Players on both sides of the O.J. Simpson case came to unsettling realizations on Tuesday's episode of FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
On the prosecution team, Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) discovers that she may actually be more unpopular than Simpson himself, and lead defense attorney Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) also learns that he's becoming increasingly disliked among the members of his own team.
The episode opens with an amazing flashback scene of Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) having a night out at the club — (Good luck getting C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat" out of your head)! We quickly cut to O.J.'s far less glamorous life in prison, where the food is giving him gastrointestinal issues and his toilet is clogged.
After Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) joined Simpson's defense team in last week's episode, the Dream Team now holds an icebreaker meeting of sorts - which quickly goes south after Shapiro gets a little too comfortable talking candidly about race in front of Cochran on his crew. Trying to keep things on track, Cochran tells the rest of the lawyers that they need to put black women on the jury, who will resent Nicole Brown Simpson as a white woman who got her claws into a wealthy, idolized black man. Later, we'll learn that Marcia Clark incorrectly assumes that any woman on the jury, regardless of race, will sympathize with Nicole Brown Simpson as a victim of documented domestic abuse.
Among the pieces falling into place ahead of the trial, we also meet the judge: Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi), who literally rubs his hands with glee after being chosen to preside over Simpson's case. As is standard procedure, his wife - a captain with the L.A.P.D.(!) - is required to sign a spousal conflict form. She lingers over the name "Mark Fuhrman," but puts her John Hancock on the document anyway. As would emerge later, Ito's wife was once Fuhrman's commander in the West Los Angeles division, and Fuhrman was recorded on tape as saying she had "sucked and f---ed her way to the top" of the department.
Simpson confidently enters his plea ("Absolutely, 100 percent not guilty"), and we're off to the races: jury selection. But that quickly hits a snag when it becomes public knowledge that Nicole Brown Simpson's best friend, Faye Resnick (a sublime Connie Britton) is readying a tell-all about their relationship. In it, Nicole is depicted as a cocaine-loving nymphomaniac who loved her breast implants and reveled in the fact that her ex-husband used to lurk outside her house watching her have sex with other men. "They were the most un-divorced divorced couple I've ever known," Resnick tells her publisher.
Remarkably, Ito halts the proceedings so that all concerned parties can read the juicy manuscript. Everyone, including O.J., is outraged at the revelations and their potential impact on the impending trial. ("Lesbian sex, page 197," Shapiro informs his colleagues, with characteristic crassness.)
Meanwhile, Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) learns that the work he's been doing investigating Simpson's infamous Bronco chase won't be needed - although he is added as the third prosecuting lawyer for the trial. The prosecutors believe they have a strong enough case even without trying to prove that Simpson was trying to flee the country (even though there is strong evidence to suggest that he was). Plus, one of the key participants in that day, Robert Kardashian, is protected from testifying now that he's one of Simpson's lawyers. They also, at Gil Garcetti's (Bruce Greenwood) urging and against Marcia Clark's wishes, decide to not seek the death penalty against Simpson.
But that's not the only blow Clark is dealt in this episode. In a heartbreaking scene, she meets with the parents of Ronald Goldman, who are disgusted with the tongue-wagging coverage that has been given to the case by media outlets, who seem to only be focusing on Nicole Simpson and her ex-husband. "It's like Ron is a footnote to his own murder," Fred Goldman (Joseph Siravo) says bitterly. He's sadly not wrong.
And it gets worse: after expert jury researcher Donald Vinson (Albert Malafronte) offers his services to the district attorney's office free of charge, they set to work conducting focus groups to gauge public - i.e., prospective jurors' - opinion ahead of the trial. The results (at least to Clark) are astonishing: All of the black people in their focus group think Simpson is innocent; all of the white people think he's guilty. Furthermore, the public has a more negative opinion of Clark than they do of Simpson himself. "A b---h," they say. "A real know-it-all." "I wouldn't want to be her boyfriend." Her hairstyle is compared to a Brillo pad. The defense team, conducting its own research, discovers similar results, with the additional notation that Nicole is seen as an unsympathetic gold digger by most of the black women who were polled.
Vinson suggests that Clark start wearing skirts rather than pantsuits. Maybe change up her hairstyle. Smile more. But Clark's having none of it, especially the fact that she's apparently polling lower than Johnnie Cochran. She's tried several cases in front of black juries, she insists, and black people (women in particular) love her. At the same time, she notes, while the general populace usually likes to avoid jury duty at all costs, by contrast, people are practically fighting to get picked to serve on this case.
When it comes time for jury selection, hubris and an overreaching tendency towards political correctness comes back to bite the prosecution. With Clark and Bill Hodgman (Christian Clemenson) using hardly any of the challenges they're allowed, the defense stacks the jury with what they consider to be their most sympathetic demographic: middle-aged black women. Unfortunately for Clark, she still considers this to be her prime demographic as well.
While the prosecutors are feeling like they're on steady ground, the "pileup of egos" on the Dream Team, as Clark refers to them, are in disarray. Shapiro becomes more and more isolated from the rest of the group. Cochran wants Shapiro to stop holding impromptu press conferences and talking about race, while F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane) - perhaps still sore from being informed that his services on the Simpson case will be on a pro bono basis - goes on Larry King Live to imply (through doublespeak) that Shapiro is in over his head with this case. Unbelievably, Shapiro is still insistent upon settling, even going so far as to concoct a preposterous story in which Simpson would plead guilty to manslaughter, saying he went over to Nicole's house with a knife intending to slash her tires and then basically ended up accidentally killing her and Goldman.
That's the last straw for Cochran. While Shapiro is vacationing with his family in Hawaii, Cochran & Co. sneak into his office and steal all the boxes of files from the O.J. case. At Robert Kardashian's urging, O.J. promotes Cochran to lead attorney on the case and tells the rest of the team that Cochran will give the defense's opening statement at trial. Even Shapiro's Hawaiian shirt can't brighten up the dark cloud that is his face.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.
VIDEO: The People v. O.J. Simpson's Sarah Paulson discusses how Marcia Clark was "vilified" during the trial