SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story finale
While everyone watched the verdict 21 years ago, what made this finale (titled, of course, “The Verdict”) and series a fun ride was all the backroom agita we never got to witness on TV. Not to mention, there were some great creative liberties the creators took which were mixed in as well (i.e. Christopher Darden and Marcia Clark’s little office fling).
What stood out in tonight’s episode were several epilogues, most of them heart-wrenching considering there were a number of casualties in this prolific case. Nothing says it more than Sarah Paulson’s Marcia Clark breaking down before Los Angeles D.A. Gil Garcetti and crying “I’m so ashamed!” or David Schwimmer’s holy roller Robert Kardashian vomiting in the bathroom over the verdict; disgusted that his best friend was just cleared for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Or the rear camera shot of the defeated Goldmans walking to their car, punctuated by Kim Goldman’s near-cry, “What are we going to do now?”
Given the gravitas of this finale, the writers even took time for some smart, subversive humor: At last night’s screening, audiences were in stitches during Clark’s closing argument where she admits that detective Mark Fuhrman is a despicable guy: “Is he a racist? Yes. Is he the worst that LAPD has to offer? Yes. Should LAPD ever have hired him? No. Should such a person be a police officer? No.”
But, the most prominent wrap-up in “The Verdict” which was directed by Ryan Murphy and written by Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, was Simpson realizing that he can never go home again. He has a series of wake-up calls: He’s hit by the news that the Riveria country club won’t take his last minute dinner reservation (“They don’t have room for YOU” Simpson’s son tells him). Simpson looks around his own victory party to realize his close friends have abandoned him, and is shocked by the muted silence following his speech when he tells he’ll find Nicole and Ronald’s killer. Kardashian properly leaves a Bible behind for Simpson: He’s going to need it more than he ever knows. In one of the final shots, Simpson looks up at the statue of himself in his backyard, knowing that was a different man altogether.
And yet, even though, it’s over, and even though American Crime Story season 2 will center around Hurricane Katrina, the creators behind The People v. O.J. Simpson leave us hungering for the second half of the former running back’s morality tale: His dealings with publisher Judith Regan in writing the controversial confessional tome If I Did It, and how he landed a 33-year stint in prison for kidnapping and armed robbery. If there was ever a tease in terms of Simpson’s unwritten story, the end credits card in tonight’s episode reads that he’s up for parole next year.
At last night’s FX panel for the series finale at the Ace Hotel Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, John Travolta praised Karaszewski and Alexander for making each and every character distinguished, and pivotal to the story. The Oscar-nominated actor couldn’t be more correct: Not one characters gets blurred into the other, or even diminished, in this limited series’ retelling of a pop culture court case even down to Malcom-Jamal Warner’s portrayal of Simpson football buddy and Bronco driver Al Cowlings.
“We talked a lot about Robert Altman and how there’s no supporting characters in his movies,” Karaszewski told Travolta onstage about the writers’ inspiration. For them it only made sense to paint each character vividly, since every person connected to the trial, including some of the jurors who were kicked off, went on to write their own memoirs. “Every person involved in this trial was starring in their own show,” quipped Karaszewski.
“We’re just a bunch of frustrated bad actors and we play all the parts (when we read the script aloud) in the room. Giving Bob Shapiro a voice, is the most fun,” Alexander responded to Travolta’s insight.
“We looked at this story as a tragedy for all characters except Johnnie Cochran. He’s the only character who comes out with a victory,” said Karaszewski. But was it? True, Cochrane’s win triggered the Justice Department to launch a standards and practices of the LAPD, and also caught the attention of President Bill Clinton. Hearing this on TV, during the episode, Courtney B. Vance’s Cochran responds, “Our story is now out of the shadows.” Even though the writers have staged the O.J. Simpson trial as a reaction to the Rodney King verdict, they also showed that we haven’t evolved for the better as a society, particularly in the wake of the events of Ferguson. As Christopher Darden pointedly tells Cochran following the verdict: “This isn’t some civil rights milestone: Police in this country will keep arresting us, keep beating us, keep killing us. You haven’t changed anytthing for black here unless you’re a famous rich one in Brentwood.”
When it came to bringing a dramatization of the O.J. Simpson trial for TV, there any number of source materials that FX and the creatives could have tapped. But as EP Brad Simpson pointed out last night, Jeffrey Toobin’s bestseller The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson was the best one to adapt from, and just because it was a page-turner.
“When it came to the trial, the book wasn’t just about O.J. It was about the lawyers who tried this case and what happened to them and what happened to America during that year. It sees O.J. not just through the prism of the beginning of the celebrity culture, but also through race. And race was a part of the trial from the very beginning, even though for some white people, it snuck up on them. Some of them didn’t’ realize it was about race until the verdict.”