SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story finale
Of course everyone watched the verdict 21 years ago, or has read about it since, but what made tonight’s season finale (titled, of course, “The Verdict”) and this entire series such a fun ride was all the backroom agita we never witnessed on the news. And there were some great creative liberties along the way, like Christopher Darden and Marcia Clark’s little office flirtation.
What stood out in tonight’s episode were several epilogues, most of them heart-wrenching considering the number of casualties in this historic case. Nothing said it better than Sarah Paulson’s Clark breaking down before Los Angeles D.A. Gil Garcetti and crying, “I’m so ashamed!” Or David Schwimmer’s holier-than-thou Robert Kardashian vomiting in the bathroom over the verdict, finally disgusted that his best friend has been cleared for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Or the rear camera shot of the defeated Goldmans walking to their car, punctuated by Kim Goldman’s near-cry, “What are we going to do now?”
Even with the finale’s gravitas, the writers found ways for some smart, subversive humor. At an advance screening Monday, audiences howled when Clark, in closing arguments, admitted that Detective Mark Fuhrman is a despicable guy: “Is he a racist? Yes. Is he the worst that LAPD has to offer? Yes. Should LAPD ever have hired him? No. Should such a person be a police officer? No.”
But, the most effective wrap-up in “The Verdict” (which was directed by Ryan Murphy and written by Karaszewski and Scott Alexander) was Simpson realizing that he can never go home again. He’s hit by the news that the Riveria Country Club won’t take his last-minute dinner reservation (“They don’t have room for you!” Simpson’s son tells him). Simpson looks around his own victory party to realize his closest friends have abandoned him, and he’s shocked by the silence following his vow to find the real killer.
Kardashian pointedly leaves a Bible behind for his client: He’s going to need it. In one of the final shots, Simpson looks up at the statue of himself in his backyard, knowing that hero was a different man altogether.
Even with the trial over — the next season of American Crime Story will turn to Hurricane Katrina — The People V. O.J. Simpson had us hooked for the coda: Simpson’s dealings with publisher Judith Regan in writing the bizarre confessional tome If I Did It, and how he landed a 33-year stint in prison for kidnapping and armed robbery. In what played like a tease for a sequel, an end credits card reminded us that Simpson is up for parole next year.
At Monday’s FX finale panel at the Ace Hotel Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, John Travolta praised Karaszewski and Alexander for making each and every character pivotal to the story. The Oscar-nominated actor was spot-on: Each character was well-drawn, even down to Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s portrayal of Simpson’s Bronco buddy Al Cowlings.
“We talked a lot about Robert Altman and how there’s no supporting characters in his movies,” Karaszewski said onstage. “Every person involved in this trial was starring in their own show.”
“We looked at this story as a tragedy for all characters except Johnnie Cochran,” Karaszewski added. “He’s the only character who comes out with a victory.” Cochran’s win triggered the Justice Department to investigate racism in the LAPD, with Courtney B. Vance’s Cochran noting, “Our story is now out of the shadows.” Yet in a foreshadowing of the Ferguson Era, Darden corrects Cochran: “Police in this country will keep arresting us, keep beating us, keep killing us. You haven’t changed anything for blacks here unless you’re a famous rich one in Brentwood.”
Executive producer Brad Simpson gave special kudos to the series’ source material: Jeffrey Toobin’s bestseller The Run Of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson. “The book wasn’t just about O.J.,” he said, but about America. “Race was a part of the trial from the very beginning, even though for some white people, it sneaked up on them. Some of them didn’t’ realize it was about race until the verdict.”