American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson Recap: ‘From the Ashes of Tragedy’

In the first recap for American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson, we witness the discovery of a grisly double murder and the high profile former football star who comes unhinged while his eventual arrest looms overhead….

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

Long before Kardashians were flooding the airwaves with all manner of mindless reality TV, there was never a public event televised as huge as the trial of OJ Simpson in 1995.

The nearly 10 month long trial involving former football star OJ Simpson, who was accused of a brutal double murder involving his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, remains one of the most publicized and scrutinized moments of the last 100 years.

The trial came just years after another brutal crime went unpunished as four LA police officers were found not guilty after being captured on tape beating an unarmed motorist named Rodney King that sparked the riots that eventually cost the city $2 billion and left the entire country teetering on the brink of a racial war.

While previous courtroom battles had been showcased on television, no previous case had ever received the amount of attention that the OJ Simpson trial did and this was at a time long before Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Everybody — and I do mean everybody — had some kind of vested interest in watching this trial play out.

Now the entire ordeal from start to finish is being dramatized in the new series American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson from American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy.

The show features an all-star cast — John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Schwimmer, Nathan Lane, Sarah Paulson — and it’s based on a book by Jeffrey Toobin, that covered the case from start to finish while adding context to many parts of the case viewers at home would have never seen.

The show will receive a mountain of attention because everybody old enough to remember the trial is reliving this all over again — I still remember hearing the verdict being read while I was in my dorm room during my freshman year at the University of Cincinnati — or those from a younger generation that heard tales about OJ Simpson’s trial but never turned on their TV each day while endlessly pining over testimony and a slew of cross examination.

Through the first episode, it’s easy to see that this show is going to receive a ton of attention, especially for some of the performances — Sarah Paulson should just go ahead and start practicing her Emmy award speech right now — as well as the dramatizations taken at liberty that separate fact from fiction.

Ultimately, our recaps will do the best we can to just tell the story as it’s being told on the show — placing no exception judgments on the material or attempting to correct each and every difference between real life and what’s happening on screen. Instead, we will present as much information as possible to help follow the trial through the eyes of this particular season of American Crime Story as we all relive The People vs. OJ Simpson.

Setting the Scene

The show opens with cutaway shots of the Rodney King incident, the outcome of the trial and the subsequent LA riots. It’s important to note these scenes because the city of Los Angeles was mired in serious racial tension during the early 90’s, right when two bodies were found by a man walking his dog and the people who were stabbed to death — the point of near decapitation — were later identified as Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

At the same time the bodies were being discovered, a limo driver frantically paces around his car as he waits for OJ Simpson to finally emerge from his house. It seems the former football star is running late for a flight to Chicago and the driver had never picked up a celebrity before so he was panicked that he wouldn’t be able to get him to the airport on time. Finally when Simpson gets into the car, he seems calm, cool and collected without a worry in the world that he’ll make it to Chicago.

Not far away, police detectives arrive at the home of Nicole Brown Simpson and find that a warm bath drawn with candles all around as gone cold and a bowl of ice cream has melted. A trail of blood with footprints leads down the path behind the house where the bodies were left and a single black glove was found on the ground near the bodies. When the Nicole is identified, the police decide that they need to inform Simpson that his ex-wife has been murdered before he reads about it in the morning newspapers.

Thankfully, a detective you’ll get to know quite well in this series named Mark Fuhrman knows exactly where Simpson lives thanks to a prior visit there during a domestic dispute with his wife a few years ago.

Furhman leads the other police detectives to Simpson’s house where they don’t find him at home but instead run into a hapless idiot guest named Kato Kaelin, who looks like he’s just started training for the next cover of “High Times” magazine and can’t seem to help the police locate the front door much less Simpson’s current whearabouts. He does manage to mention some loud thumps he heard against his guest house, which is exactly where Fuhrman then finds another bloody glove — just like the one at his ex-wife’s place.

The police also find what they believe are drops of blood inside and outside of Simpson’s white Ford Bronco parked outside and this attempt to notify the former Heisman trophy winner about the death of his ex-wife has now turned into an investigation that could lead to the discovery of her murderer.

Finally, thanks to Simpson’s daughter, the police are finally let into the house where they make the fateful call to inform him that Nicole has been brutally murdered. When they reach him in Chicago, Simpson is seemingly shocked to hear about her murder but once they hang up the police are all vexed about one detail involving the call — he never bothered to ask what happened.

Cast of Characters

CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX

CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX

 

Decorated throughout these opening scenes we begin to meet the people who will either attempt to stop OJ Simpson’s conviction or those who want to put him behind bars.

Marcia Clark is a dedicated prosecutor, who gets a call from the police asking her opinion about the case and whether or not the evidence already discovered is enough to pursue an arrest warrant. Clark doesn’t even known who Simpson is (that part is absolutely true) but says based solely on what she’s been told that everything appears to be a slam dunk — go get him she says.

Johnnie Cochrane is a defense attorney, who is currently mired in a case involving the alleged wrongful death of a woman shot down by LAPD officers. Cochrane visits his pal in the District Attorney’s office — a man named Christopher Darden — who breaks the bad news that they will not be seeking charges against the offending police. Cochrane is clearly perturbed by the news, but plans a second course of action — a civil suit that will hurt the city where it means the most — in the wallet. When Cochrane hears about the Simpson case, he nearly laughs it off and says he wants no part of it because this one is clearly a loser.

Robert Kardashian is a close, personal friend of OJ’s who only calls him ‘Juice’ and stands by his side through thick and thin because he was there for him during a messy divorce with his own ex-wife Kris (Kardashian aka Kris Jenner). When OJ returns home from Chicago, he’s there to greet his friend and console him over the loss of his ex-wife and the mother of his children. Robert doesn’t see anyway OJ could have actually murdered Nicole although his faith is shaken by the end of this episode.

When OJ returns home, he’s briefly handcuffed before being questioned by the police. His attorney doesn’t bother to advise him otherwise and so he sits in an interrogation room and gives answers to the police questions without benefit of counsel. This angers Robert Kardashian to no end so he’s got a new plan in mind — they need to hire celebrity attorney Robert Shapiro to lead Simpson’s legal team. Shapiro is introduced via a story he tells about defending Marlon Brando in a case and according to Cochrane, he’s no real litigator — just a master of landing the perfect plea bargain. He’s Tom Cruise at the start of A Few Good Men.

A few days later at Nicole’s funeral, we meet her close friends Kris and Faye Resnick, who talk at great length about OJ’s abusive history towards his ex-wife. When OJ arrives, Nicole’s sister sits in disgust that he actually had the balls to show up to the funeral because she’s already convinced and has been convinced that he’s the murderer.

Even the smallest detail about OJ’s arrival seems perplexing because he shows up in a limo with Robert Kardashian by his side but also with Shapiro right nearby. Even the photographers who are in attendance are all curious — why would he need his lawyer at the funeral?

A Case Gets Built

CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX

CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX

 

As soon as Marcia Clark is assigned to the case, she begins building the evidence against Simpson to put him behind bars. She digs into his past arrests for domestic abuse and how he’s never really faced any punishment for the crimes — instead he got ‘the celebrity treatment’. She’s all over this case and she wants nothing more than to convince Simpson with the harshest penalty possible. As ferocious as Clark seems to be going after Simpson, her colleagues all seem somewhat enamored with the former football star and look reluctant to pull the trigger on filing charges against him.

Clark’s hands are tied from the very beginning, however, thanks to the afore mentioned police interview with Simpson where he’s jumping around timelines and giving half-hearted explanations about a cut he suffered on his finger while the cops refuse to pin him down to anything specific. That interview alone could have buried Simpson in court — if the cops would have pressed him for specifics but they were afraid of offending a celebrity. Clark is seething with anger at this point.

Eventually, Clark is saddled with a partner on the case to help her carry the load because she’s a bit hot tempered and her new co-prosecutor is a little more level headed.

Meanwhile, Shapiro is trying to build a defense before OJ is even convicted but before anything else can happen he needs to know whether or not his client did it — so he asks point blank without any judgment and no chance the conversation goes beyond the four walls of the room they are sitting in. OJ answers emphatically — no, he did not kill his ex-wife.

Shapiro doesn’t seem convinced and when he has Simpson strapped to a lie detector while answering the same series of questions, he fails miserably and while OJ makes every excuse in the book as to why, his friends and even his attorneys begin to think that this whole thing might go south in a hurry.

While this is happening, the evidence gathered is more than enough for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office to file charges against OJ Simpson — and when Shapiro is notified he begs for a little bit more time to prepare his client to turn himself into police. Thanks to an addition charge of ‘special circumstances’ due to the brutal nature of the crime, Simpson would be arrested and held without bail until the trial and Shapiro knows that “The Juice” isn’t going to handle this news very well.

Shapiro orders a team of doctors to examine Simpson before he surrenders. When Kardashian wonders why he’s going through all this, Shapiro tells him that he’s preparing just in case they go for a diminished psyche defense — meaning maybe Simpson was insane at the time of the murders and this could be their best chance to keep him from spending the rest of his life in jail. Simpson is agitated and not thinking straight until he finally retires to an upstairs office at the secluded Kardashian compound where he writes a series of letters.

Simpson pens a will, a letter to his mother, a letter to his kids and another to his fans. When Kardashian finally finds him and asks about the letters — which suspiciously read like suicide notes — Simpson pulls out a gun and places it to his temple and says this would just be an easier way out than going through the arrest and subsequent trial. Karshashian tries to talk him down — while also noting that OJ eventually walks into his daughter “Kimmy’s” room.

Finally, Kardashian is able to get OJ to put down the gun but it seems that the confidence he once had that his friend couldn’t have possibly murdered his ex-wife and her friend was starting to wane just a bit. As time ticks away, Simpson still hasn’t surrendered and the cops are getting fed up. Clark is furious — especially after trying to interview nitwit Kato Kaelin — and she knows if the cops fumble even the simplest of tasks like arresting Simpson then they will all “look like morons”. Finally, the arrest warrant is issued and the cops arrive at Kardashian’s house to take OJ away.

Shapiro tries to smooth talk the police because the entire point of his deal was that OJ would be able to turn himself into the cops without being trotted out of his house, arms behind his back, dressed in handcuffs. But the police have arrived and there’s no way out of this now — so Shapiro and Kardashian begin to look around the house but there’s no sign of Simpson.

A moment later, Kardashian realizes that a white Ford Bronco belonging to Simpson’s good friend and former teammate Al Cowling has disappeared — and they have to assume OJ went with him.

An all-points bulletin alert goes out while the final scene shows a white Bronco zipping through the streets of Los Angeles with Cowling at the wheel and Simpson hunkered down in the back, gun in hand, tears streaming down his face.

Let the chase begin.

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