This episode begins with a reminder that O. J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) used to live quite the life. He danced to "Everybody Dance Now," which will be in my head for the next week. He snorted cocaine off of women's chests while doing so. Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) partied with him. Obvious smash cut to...Simpson in jail. He's clearly not happy with the drastic turn of events in his life.
We then see the legal dream team tasked with getting Simpson back to his old way of life. Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) brings in his associates to meet Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane), Kardashian, Barry Scheck (Rob Morrow), and Alan Dershowitz (Evan Handler). It's a bit of a white versus Black perspective problem — and it's uncomfortable to witness. They don't seem to realize they're on the same side.
Johnnie Cochran is out in full force for the first time during the preliminary hearing on the hair sample the prosecution wants to try. The defense will only allow the state the minimum number of hairs required to run the test. Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) asks for 100. Cochran counters with one hair. "They seem to be on some kind of fishing expedition at my client's expense," Cochran opines. He manages to get a special hearing requested solely on the topic of the hair collection. That's Cochran's style.
Also Cochran's style: Going to the prison and giving Simpson the pep talk to end all pep talks. I'm talking something straight out of Hoosiers, Varsity Blues, Miracle, or Friday Night Lights...but with the added emphasis of the fact that Simpson is on trial for murder, not merely trying to win a big game. It seems to work, because Simpson looks a lot more motivated to go to trial than he has the past few times we've seen him when Cochran leaves.
We meet Judge Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi) right before the plea hearing. It's another moment when Detective Mark Furhman's (Steven Pasquale) name could have been be flagged. Ito's wife, Margaret York (Carolyn Crotty), who at the time is a captain in the LAPD, appears in his office. He tells her he's been selected as the judge on the Simpson trial. She congratulates him and he gives her a form to sign saying that it won't be a conflict of interest, because of her role in the LAPD and the fact that they're married. She pauses over Fuhrman's name because the two had worked together before — York had been his supervising commander. If things had gone differently, York might have had to testify in the case. Nevertheless, this never came to fruition.
Then, it's time for the plea hearing. Simpson enters a plea of "Absolutely 100% not guilty." He gives a thumbs up to his team. Shapiro pats him on the back. This actually happened.
And let's all give a "Brentwood hello" to Faye Resnick (Connie Britton). Well, maybe not a Brentwood hello, because that involves waking a man up by going down on him. Apparently, Nicole Brown Simpson loved to. Resnick lets this detail slip in the tell-all book she's writing about her dearly departed friend. She also includes fun facts, like the two of them used to go on cocaine binges and have lesbian sex. Oh, but she also wants to include the fact that Nicole was a great mother.
Clark is in for a rude awakening during mock jury testing. Most Black jurors sampled think Simpson is innocent. African-American women on the mock jury don't seem to like Marcia Clark. This goes against everything Clark thought from years of trying cases where she defended Black women. She also assumed women would see Simpson as a wife-beater and Nicole as a battered woman. The defense finds during its mock jury testing that they see Simpson as charming and handsome. They see Nicole as a gold-digger.
Voir dire begins and it's the most intense jury selection process both the prosecution and defense have ever gone through. When Shapiro wants to hold a press conference implying that the prosecution is throwing out certain types of jurors (read: African-Americans), Cochran thinks he should be the one speaking on the defense's behalf. Shapiro holds the conference, so Cochran pulls the sneaky move of getting a shoe shine and speaking to the press at the same time.
Resnick's book comes out and Shapiro argues that, "This unwarranted publicity could make it unfair for Mr. Simpson to get a fair trial." Judge Ito suspends jury selection so everyone can read the book.
"I told Nicole's story so that women could break the chain of violence. If this book can inspire one wife or one girlfriend to escape an abusive relationship, then any embarrassment I've endured is a small price to pay," Resnick says when she goes on Larry King Live to explain why she wrote such a salacious book.
Once both teams have read Resnick's tome, Judge Ito calls them to his chambers. They get into a huge argument about what a media circus the trial has become, but it leads to a bigger fight about whether or not the trial is about race. Shapiro says that no one has played the race card or made anything about race.
Finally, Cochran can stay quiet no more. He silences the lead attorney. "I know I don't have to give anyone here a civics lesson about the historic injustices visited upon Black men for no other reasons than the fact that they're Black...We would not be doing our job if we did not at least talk about how race plays a part in this trial. Now if that is playing the race card, so be it."
Shapiro confronts Cochran outside the judge's chambers after that outburst, and the press catches wind of it. Larry King asks Bailey about the defense team infighting. "Who the hell is in charge?" King inquires. "Bob Shapiro is the lead attorney, make no mistake. All that sniping in the media that says, 'Bob Shapiro is in over his head. Bob Shapiro is an empty suit. Bob Shapiro can't handle a case of this magnitude.' Well, that twaddle is truly unfortunate," Bailey responds in the most passive-aggressive, underhanded way possible. "Well then don't say it, asshole. Fuck!" Shapiro screams at his TV from home.
Back at the prison after jury selection, the dream team — minus Shapiro — is meeting with Simpson. They're excitedly telling Simpson that one of his neighbors has a maid who saw the Bronco parked outside Simpson's house at 10:15 p.m., which messes up the prosecution's timeline. Suddenly, Shapiro barges in. He thinks they should offer a plea bargain of manslaughter. Simpson should say he was angry Nicole didn't invite him to dinner that night; so angry that he took a knife to her place to slash her tires. She caught him there, though, and his emotions escalated. He killed Nicole and Ron Goldman out of jealousy. Cochran ignores what Shapiro just said and continues talking about the maid. He knows it's time to oust Shapiro.
Shapiro is packing for a Hawaiian vacation with his wife (Cheryl Ladd), who's telling him that most of her friends are no longer calling her back. She wants him to step away from the case. He refuses, saying that if he backs off, Cochran will just grow more powerful. "You're afraid there are going to be more riots," Shapiro's wife, Linell, concludes.
When Shapiro returns from vacation, there've been some changes. During a very uncomfortable conference call with Simpson, the dream team manages to convey that Cochran should deliver the opening statements, not Shapiro. The next time the defense strolls into the courtroom, Cochran's in the lead. They're shocked to see that the prosecution looks a little different, too. Chris Darden is sitting in the first chair. "When did they get a Black guy?" Simpson asks.
It's time for the trial to start.