Thursday, March 31, 2016

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story 1x09 Review: “Manna From Heaven" (Under Pressure) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

“Manna From Heaven"
Original Airdate: March 29, 2016

Well, I could use an ice cream cone and a hug after watching that episode. In an emotionally draining and tense hour, The People v. O.J. Simpson showed how the people involved with the trial — and the trial itself — began to break under the pressure.


Johnnie’s investigator finds that there are tapes from an interview with Mark Furhman where he says the N-word, along with tales of police corruption, sexism, and violence. And on top of all that, he insults Judge Ito’s wife.

The defense is thrilled. Johnnie wants to show the court and the public the racism that black people deal with every day, and F. Lee Bailey wants to nail Mark for perjury. (Remember, Bailey was the one who set this up when he asked Mark if he’d ever used the N word and Mark denied it under oath.) But to get the tapes, the team has to go to North Carolina and request that the subpoena be upheld.

Unfortunately, the judge is not impressed with Johnnie’s grandstanding. And, as Bailey puts it, Johnnie may not play as well in a Carolina court. So Bailey steps in, using words as sugary as a sweet iced tea, and the team gets access to the tapes.

These tapes act as a tipping point that shoves this trial from a circus to pandemonium. The focus has shifted entirely from accused murderer O.J. Simpson to accused corrupt cop Mark Furhman. Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman are hardly mentioned at all.

The Goldman family in the background of so many scenes serves as a literal reminder of the victims becoming lost details, rather than the main focus of this trial. Actually, much of what’s important get placed in the background of the frame during the episode. When Bailey is presenting to the court in North Carolina, the camera shows Johnnie’s face in the background, slightly incredulous while watching Bailey do his own version of grandstanding, which includes talking up the importance of the judges and the fairness of the South — the same court that seemed like it wasn’t giving Johnnie a fair chance because his skin was too dark. Just like what’s happening in the courtroom in L.A., truth and justice gets pushed to the back and a narrative that that furthers an agenda comes to the forefront.

Both the prosecution and the defense mine the tapes for information they can use in the trial, and once again the device of cutting back and forth between the two teams as they grapple with the same event is effective. The depth of violence on the tapes is harrowing to listen to in just the hour-long episode, much less listening to all 13 hours of the tapes as they did in reality. The show repeats the N-word over and over, and focuses on it in writing over and over, and it slowly wore me down each time. It’s brutal, but the repetition worked to make me feel exhausted and defeated, just like the people going through the trial.

Also effective was the way the show handled the protests outside the courtroom. Protesters chanted “no justice, no peace” — certainly a mantra for the way this trial was handled — over and over, just as the N-word is repeated over and over. And as the camera cut from the protestors to the courtroom, the chants of “no peace” echoed and lingered as court proceedings began.


Marcia has been walking around in a stupor for weeks, all of her bravado gone. With the admittance of the tapes to the trial, she and Chris start to truly lose it. Chris starts yelling at the judge, at Johnnie, at anyone who has been complicit in turning this case into the chaotic mess it is. And in a beautiful move of solidarity, when the judge threatens to hold Chris in contempt if he doesn’t get it together, Marcia joins in the fracas and almost gets herself held in contempt as well.

The frustration Chris is feeling comes out later in an excellent scene in an elevator with Marcia. Slamming his briefcase to the ground, he says that he told Marcia not to include Mark Furhman. “You put me on this trial because you wanted a black face,” he says. “But the truth is you never wanted a black voice.”

He is right to be angry, and he is right in what he says. Marcia didn’t listen to Chris when she should have, and now they are in a position they know they can’t recover from. They’ve lost control of the narrative, and therefore of the trial.

Later, when the two are alone in the office, they apologize. Marcia for not listening to Chris about Mark, and Chris for not listening to Marcia about the gloves. They shake hands, holding on for a little too long, and I start yelling “Kiss! Kiss!” at the TV yet again.


After all of this planning, grandstanding, and discussion, Mark Furhman finally takes the stand again. Chris is so frustrated he walks out of the courtroom. Johnnie questions him, but Mark answers every single question by pleading the Fifth Amendment. In a brilliant move, Johnnie then asks if Mark Furhman planted any evidence in the O.J. Simpson case, knowing that no matter how he answers this, Mark will give something away. And, once again, Mark pleads the Fifth.

This is great TV, y’all. It was intense, it investigates so many themes of racism, sexism, truth, fame, justice, all of which America is still grappling with in much of the same ways 20 years later. That it is also based on a true story makes it both better and worse to watch. Watching this reinterpretation of this real-life event has given me a greater understanding of America and has given me more context for issues we face today. (It sounds cheesy, but it’s true!) But knowing the pain and violence is very real makes it stomach churning to consume.

I’ll see you next week for the verdict.

Notes from the case file:
  • I can’t believe we are going to go this entire series without ever seeing Marcia and Chris kiss. This is so unfair.
  • When Judge Ito is saying that women in a male-dominated profession are tougher than most, Marcia’s face is heartbreaking. Emmys for everyone! 
  • In real life, I read that Judge Ito’s sexist behavior toward Marcia was so blatant that people intervened and showed him a tape of how he acted toward her versus how he acted toward men. After he saw the tape, his actions got better. For a few weeks.
  • I cannot overstate how great the acting is on this show. Every week it seems like it gets better and better.
  • Thank goodness Marcia got primary custody of her kids. She badly needed a win.
  • That last scene of Marcia standing in her office made it look like she was standing in a cage. Which, of course, she is.


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