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The People v. O.J. Simpson: The Fuhrman Tapes Are Even More Brutal Than You Remember

The trial is all but over

Liz Raftery

For anyone still wondering, Tuesday's episode of FX's American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson outlines exactly how the Dream Team managed to eek out a seemingly impossible victory.

The hour begins with another courtroom dustup between Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) and Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), this time over a witness' use of "black" as a descriptor to characterize one of the voices he heard arguing outside Nicole Brown Simpson's house the night of the murders. At the end of their argument, Judge Ito (Kenneth Choi) is fed up enough to call a recess and threaten to hold both lawyers in contempt, Darden is fuming, and Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) is livid that the witness' statement - essentially placing a middle-aged black man at the scene of the crime - is now lost on the jury thanks to another "racial stinkbomb" thrown by Cochran.

Outside the courtroom, the defense team is discussing the tapes that were called in at the end of last week's episode, gifted to the team by a failed screenwriter who alleges that she has recordings of Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale) using the N-word (in the context, no less, of efforts by the police to "get n-----s, frame n-----s"). Cochran believes the recordings are Simpson's ticket to freedom, while DNA expert Barry Scheck (Rob Morrow) urges caution. "Lucky breaks don't just fall from the sky," he warns. On the contrary, says Cochran, who hails the purported tapes as "Manna from heaven."

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When Clark and Darden get ahold of the defense's subpoena for 13 hours of audio recordings from a random woman in North Carolina, Marcia is convinced it must be nothing, but Darden - who has been wary of Fuhrman for the whole trial - is scared.

Cochran and F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane) head down to North Carolina to retrieve the tapes. In the evidentiary hearing that follows, Cochran argues that the tapes should be allowed into evidence because they represent "a revelation of truth" about racism within the LAPD. The Southern judge isn't convinced, however, and denies Cochran's request (while noting that there are no TV cameras allowed in his courtroom, so Johnnie can stop posturing). Bailey takes his turn, affecting a Southern accent and using Bible quotes in his argument, and wins the ruling.

Back in California, Ito orders that the tapes remain sealed until he's had a chance to review them. The legal teams listen to the tapes together and after about nine N-words in a row, Marcia Clark snaps the tape off.

Meanwhile, Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood) is worried that his reelection poll numbers are dropping. He's confident, though, sure that people won't still be talking about the Simpson trial in March - until he hears the Fuhrman tapes, in which Fuhrman also disparages Ito's wife Peggy, implying that she slept her way to the top of the LAPD. It quickly becomes clear that Peggy lied on her affidavit about knowing Fuhrman, whom she had previously disciplined for marking his territory with "KKK" graffiti. As a result, a mistrial is a very distinct possibility, and now Garcetti really is worried about his poll numbers, foreseeing a year's worth of work and $6 million of taxpayer money about to be flushed down the drain. "This screams gross incompetence!" he shouts. (He's not wrong.)

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Darden, on the other hand, is rooting for a mistrial, so that he and Marcia can start the case over and avoid all the mistakes they made the first time around. But Marcia doesn't want a mistrial, saying that as many do-overs as she'd like, they have to forge ahead. The defense doesn't want one either, as the team realizes the potential for the prosecution to erase all of their missteps.

Both sides bring the findings to Ito, who observes, "This whole situation is toxic." (He's also not wrong.) He decides to make the disparaging remarks about his wife public knowledge, and gives an eloquent speech in court, in which he rules that another judge should decide whether a mistrial should be declared. Cochran suggests that the tapes be given to Ito with the portion pertaining to his wife redacted.

In an elevator, Darden explodes at Marcia, reminding her that he warned her about Fuhrman from the start. Meanwhile, Cochran participates in a press conference with black leaders calling for the tapes to be released to the public.

Back in the courtroom, the lawyers make their final arguments about why the tapes should and shouldn't be played for the public. Marcia looks to be about at the end of her rope, literally begging that the tapes not be released and noting: "I don't want to be in the position of defending Mark Fuhrman. My job is defending Ron and Nicole, the victims."

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But Ito decides that he would hate the public to feel like the court is moving to suppress information. He rules that the tapes should be played in their entirety before the TV cameras as "a matter of national concern." Johnnie Cochran praises the judge for being an advocate for "the truth," at which point Darden loses it. "You've presented a defense that is based completely on lies and deception," he says. "This case is a circus." The defense team just laughs, furthering Darden's meltdown until he requests counsel (a.k.a. Marcia). After Ito threatens to hold her in contempt, she replies snidely, "Shall I take off my watch and jewelry?" Everyone takes a breath. Marcia and Darden share a moment, and Darden and Ito exchange apologies.

Darden's descriptor of the case being a "circus" couldn't be more apt. In the wake of the now-infamous Fuhrman tapes, protestors gather outside the courthouse, much to Cochran's delight. Everyone else is less jovial, however. The Goldmans, realizing that O.J.'s probably going to walk, give a tearful, enraged press conference. Marcia finally apologizes to Darden, who also feels like the case is over, for not listening to him about Fuhrman. He accepts her mea culpa graciously, and apologizes to her about the glove debacle.

But the defense team is dealt a small blow when Ito rules that he's only going to submit two of Fuhrman's (less inflammatory) statements into jury evidence - and those are only to prove that Fuhrman perjured himself by saying under oath that he had never used the N-word. The jury won't hear the juicier remarks about him planting evidence. (Shapiro, ever the outlier on the Dream Team, says he agrees with Ito's decision. Cochran calls Ito a racist.)

After all the hullabaloo, Fuhrman - who's by now the most hated man in L.A. - finally takes the stand again, called by the defense this time. Darden walks out of the courtroom. Fuhrman's second courtroom appearance is mostly anticlimactic, as he invokes the Fifth Amendment to all Cochran's questions - including whether he lied under oath and falsified police reports. But before Ito dismisses him, Cochran gets in a final question, about whether Fuhrman planted or manufactured any evidence in the Simpson case. He again pleads the Fifth. Everyone, O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) included, knows the defense is going to win an acquittal at this point.

At the end of the day, Marcia gets a bit of good news - she was awarded primary custody of her kids.

The People v. O.J. Simpson airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.