The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story Episode 1 Recap: "The System Failed Her"

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) & Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown)
My memories of O. J. Simpson's 1995 trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman are vague, mostly because I was only 10 years old at the time. I remember my father watching the Bronco chase with rapt interest (we rushed home from my dance recital that night in June of 1994 to watch it). I remember my mother telling me details about what happened in the trial each day when she picked me up from school. They read the verdict over the loudspeaker at my elementary school and I recall our teachers being shocked that Simpson had been found innocent. As for the students, we were so young that I think our parents had tried to protect us from most of the gorier details of the trial, considering the fact that it did involve two bloody murders.
Advertisement
I'm also shocked that I was able to remain in the dark about the extent to which the trial became about race. This sounds ridiculously naive, but it's true. I grew up in northern New Jersey, perhaps the farthest place in the world from horrible incidents of police brutality, like the one involving Rodney King in 1991 and the riots that followed in Los Angeles after the four LAPD officers who were videotaped beating King were acquitted by a trial jury in 1992. I know educators walk a fine line when figuring out just how much to expose children to, but I wish my teachers had found a thoughtful way to discuss racial tension during topical moments like O. J. Simpson's trial.
My point is that despite having been alive and cognizant of O. J. Simpson's trial capturing the nation's attention in 1995, I'm much more prepared to understand the context behind what went into getting Simpson acquitted of a double homicide during the retelling of the story on FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Simpson would later be found liable for the wrongful death of Ron Goldman and battery against Nicole Brown Simpson in a civil suit filed by Goldman's family, but O. J. Simpson was not found guilty in the criminal trial for Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman's murders.
It's kind of shocking to believe, but as Making a Murderer showed us, unbelievable things can happen during the course of a trial — and even beforehand if the police go about collecting evidence or entering a crime scene incorrectly. There are already so many factors at play in a murder case. On top of that, the Simpson trial had the added components of him being a Black celebrity in a city just two years off of the riots following Rodney King's beating. The show even starts with footage from the riots to remind viewers how much the LAPD's attitude towards Black citizens would be used during the trial.
Photo: Courtesy of FX.
Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), & O. J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.)
From there, it cuts to 1994. A limo driver is waiting for O. J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) outside his house. Simpson apologizes for being late. "I overslept. I had to take a shower. I hope we can still make the flight," he says.
Advertisement
Cut to the sidewalk in front of Nicole Brown Simpson's condo. A man is walking his dog. There's another dog barking on the sidewalk. The man stops to examine the dog's paws, which are bloody. The dog runs to Nicole's condo gate and the man follows. When he shines his flashlight through the grate, he sees the bodies.
The police arrive and start sweeping the house. The Simpson kids are sleeping upstairs. The bathtub is still full. There's a melted bowl of ice cream in the living room. It doesn't appear to have been a robbery. The police also find a glove, hat, and a set of shoe prints. We all remember that glove.
Detective Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale) says he'll notify O. J. Simpson about the murders. Fuhrman knows where Simpson lives, because he was involved with some of the Simpsons' domestic battery cases a few years ago. When they go to O. J.'s house, they find the white Bronco. It has several bloody fingerprints. The house is empty, though, because as we saw earlier, O. J. just left to catch a plane.
Kato Kaelin (Billy Magnussen) is in the guesthouse, though, and he's able to tell the police that O. J. just went to Chicago. They call him and he cries. But is it the crying of a shocked ex-husband or a remorseful killer? When they hang up, the detective notes, "He didn't ask how she died." Plus, Kaelin tells the authorities that there was a lot of loud banging outside earlier in the night. When he shows them where, they find the other glove that matches the one at the crime scene.
Enter District Attorney Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson). She doesn't even know who O. J. Simpson is until she gets a lot of details: football player, movie star, that guy in rental car commercials. When she hears the details of what's happened so far, though, she doesn't just think there's enough evidence for a search warrant, she thinks they've got enough to arrest Simpson.
Advertisement
"She's practically decapitated," Clark says when she sees the crime scene photos when she arrives at work. Her coworkers are debating whether or not O. J. is a nice guy. One of them says he met him at a charity event once and Simpson was lovely. Bill Hodgman (Christian Clemenson) points out that Simpson never did the community service he was supposed to after being convicted of battery.
By now, the press has found out about Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman's deaths. They've also heard about the trail of blood leading back to O. J. Simpson's Brentwood, CA, home. It's right in time for them to see two officers try to handcuff O. J. in his backyard. He agrees to cooperate with the police and go down to the station for questioning, but the press also get what they want. They know that O. J.'s a suspect in his ex-wife's murder. We've also gotten our first glimpse of Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), who's desperately trying to get to his friend Juice — saying Simpson's nickname on this show is kind of Schwimmer's specialty — to provide support and counsel.
Then, it's time for a summit between Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) and Assistant District Attorney Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown). Actually, this is the last time we'll be seeing them agree on something for a long time. Darden confesses to Cochran that he hates working in the Special Investigations Division and that he sees Cochran as something of a mentor. Cochran loves hearing this, but he really just needs Darden to help him with the current case he's working on. Darden says he can't help much in the way of the police report, so Cochran figures out a workaround: He'll have the family sue the city for police brutality and wrongful death. It's viewers' first exposure to just how quick on his feet Johnny Cochran is.
Marcia Clark's been reading police reports about Nicole Brown Simpson's repeated 911 calls accusing O. J. of beating her. She comes to the conclusion that "the system failed her." Clark then listens to O. J.'s interview with detectives about his whereabouts on the day and night of the murders. The interviews are a hot mess, because the police officers are starstruck. "This is a fiasco...He got away with beating her. He is not going to get away with killing her," Clark asserts.
Back at O. J's house, he's breaking down. "Juice ain't got nothing to hide!" he's screaming. He tells Kaelin to make sure he lets the police know they went out for burgers the night of the murders. Robert Kardashian advises O. J. to ditch his current lawyer, who should never have let him talk to the police.
Advertisement
O. J. calls Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), who immediately lets it drop that he's represented people like Johnny Carson. They also come up with the idea of having Kardashian reactivate his license so he can join O. J.'s legal team. Finally, Shapiro asks Simpson point-blank if he killed Nicole. He says it's something he asks his clients every time he takes on a new criminal case. "No. I loved her," O. J. responds.
On a Black radio station, two men discuss the LAPD's "war against African-Americans." They mention how O. J. Simpson wasn't even convicted of a crime, yet he was "put in chains." Jeffrey Dahmer, a known serial murderer, wasn't treated that way. Cochran overhears the broadcast on his way to do a report on CNN. While he's getting his makeup done, he tells the crew that he'd never taken on Simpson's case because,"It's a loser, and I like to win." Oh, how things will soon change.
Clark and Hodgman draft what they believe is an air-tight timeline for the night of the murders. Meanwhile, Kardashian and Shapiro have someone administer a polygraph test to O. J, which he completely fails. "There's no way he could have done it," Kardashian says softly, in shock.
Photo: Courtesy of FX.
When O. J. hears how he did on the polygraph test, he responds a little differently. He explodes. He blames his performance on the fact that he's in shock over the death of the mother of his children.
Advertisement
Then, of course, we get our first glimpse of Kris Jenner (Selma Blair) and the wee Kardashians — Kim (Veronica Galvez), Kourtney (Isabella Balbi), and Khloé (Morgan E. Bastin) — at Nicole Brown Simpson's funeral. Jenner is talking to Faye Resnick (Connie Britton), and even though it's their dear friend's funeral, they're gossiping about how Nicole's face used to look after O. J. "laid into her."
Everyone is silent, though, as O. J. walks straight up to Nicole's open casket and plants a kiss on her forehead. "He came. He has no shame," someone in the crowd points out.
Back in Clark's office, we learn that the DNA evidence came back. The blood found at both scenes matches O. J.'s type, and the blood found at the crime scene matches both O. J.'s and the victims'. They issue a warrant for Simpson's arrest.
It's up to Shapiro and Kardashian to tell O. J. about this. He's been hiding out at Kardashian's house. He's sleeping in Kim Kardashian's room with his girlfriend when they come to tell him the news. Shapiro has Simpson examined by a medical team just in case they need to prove he was acting in a "diminished capacity" should they need to plead guilty. What O. J. isn't doing, though, is turning himself into authorities like he's supposed to be.
Kardashian walks in on O. J. writing his last will and testament in what appears to be Kardashian's study. He's got a gun. O. J. holds it up to his head. Kardashian pleads with him not to take his own life. He follows O. J. to "Kimmy's bedroom" and continues pleading. Downstairs, Shapiro is on the phone with Clark, who's irate over the fact that O. J. hasn't yet turned himself into the police.
Advertisement
A. C. Cowlings (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) shows up at Kardashian's house with the infamous white Bronco during the chaos. When Kardashian and Shapiro go to the door to deal with the two police officers who have arrived to arrest Simpson, he sneaks out the back with A. C. The chase is officially on.
Advertisement