Thursday, February 11, 2016

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story 1x02 “The Run of His Life” (Slow-Motion Horror) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

“The Run of His Life” 
Original Airdate: February 9, 2016 

The episode picks up almost right where it left off last week: with O.J. missing in action after he and A.C. Cowlings took off in a white Bronco. Even though I knew exactly how this car chase was going to end, I still screamed when O.J. put the gun in his mouth. I still sat on the edge of my couch watching a white Bronco slowly make its way down the highway, just as so many people did more than 20 years ago when they watched it in real time.

It’s impressive that American Crime Story can make such a familiar story so tense. The very first frame of the episode indicated how dramatic it was going to be — the screen was black and we heard the voice of Robert Kardashian praying for his friend.

It played out almost like a horror story, with a slow build. At first, no one knows where O.J. is, and the police give a press conference saying he is a fugitive and should be turned in. (It’s sort of amazing they had a press conference, when they had so few answers themselves.) After the hysteria begins, but before the Bronco hit the highway, the camera shows the audience that O.J. and A.C. are driving slowly by Nicole’s grave as a crowd of people gather by her tombstone. It’s as if the car is a ghost that only we can see. This sense of unease continues throughout the episode first as misinformation, and then the actual footage of what’s happening, spreads through the country.

The first of many slow-mo scenes you can’t look away from is when Robert Kardashian enters the house where O.J.’s family is waiting for news. He prepares himself to deliver a bomb that the audience knows isn’t true, but no amount of screaming at the TV screen will change what happens next — sort of like when a person in a horror movie runs upstairs where you know the killer is waiting. Robert tells the Simpson family that they have reason to believe O.J. has committed suicide. I cannot imagine what would persuade a man to tell a room full of people someone they love is dead before there is confirmation, but he thought it was best they heard it from him instead of the news. (You know what isn’t best? Hearing someone is dead when they aren’t.)

Only, because it’s not true, the news wouldn’t have told them. What the news does tell them is that O.J. is alive, and that has started his long drive down the freeways of L.A.

The show expertly shows how this news spread from TV to TV, picking up pace with every mile the Bronco went down the road. Work stops in offices as people crowd around the television, families huddle together to watch their screens, news stations preempt whatever they are airing with live footage of the chase. My favorite scene was a crowded bar cheering on a championship basketball game. First there were yells of confusion as the station kicked it to the car chase, but then the bar quieted down as they, too, became engrossed in what was happening. (I’m guessing the U.S. lost a portion of its GDP that day, for how much work wasn’t happening across the country.)

American Crime Story hasn't been shy about its connection with the Kardashians, and it shows the now-famous women as children whenever it gets a chance. To me, this makes perfect sense. The car chase was a moment when the entire country was tuned in to watch a famous personality live their real life on TV. The Kardashian sisters are so connected to our current reality TV scene, so why not show where they were first exposed to the media on such a large scale? It feels like they've been around forever, but Kim K started learning about her preferred medium long before we started paying attention to her. American Crime Story plays with the idea that it started with this trial, when she saw her dad go on TV and spell out the Kardashian name.

Is it a gimmicky play for ratings to include young Kim any chance the show gets? Maybe. But is it also a commentary on how people’s stories get told in America? Absolutely. Kim is in charge of her image in a way that O.J. never was, and she started learning the game here, when she was a kid watching all this go down.

By the time O.J. finally gets to his house in Brentwood and asks for some orange juice (yes, really, and, yes, this happened in real life), both he and I are emotionally exhausted. But unlike him, I can't wait to experience what happens next.

Notes from the case file:
  • “Who the hell signs a suicide note with a smiley face?” O.J., apparently. 
  • Fun fact: This car chase happened on my seventh birthday. I do not remember watching it. (My mom told me I was at gymnastics.) 
  • When O.J. said in his note that he feels like a battered husband, I gasped so loud I think the neighbors heard it. 
  • Marcia is fed up, and her facial expressions are perfect. When the camera zoomed in quickly on her face, for a second I felt like I was watching her on American Horror Story instead of American Crime Story
  • I loved the scenes of the newsroom preparing a tribute to O.J. I've worked in a few newsrooms, and it's definitely true that they have famous people’s obits saved and ready to go, just in case. 
  • Hit me up in the comments with where you were when the real car chase happened, if you remember it.


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