The issues of race, which have nothing to do with the murders that The Juice is accused of, come to a forefront in this episode. American Crime Story establishes the tone of this as early as the first minute of Episode 1. Simpson’s white lawyers introduced the race card with a scathing article, and recruited Cochran as a way to play into that. Cochran starts this episode with a flashback to 1982. The short scene helps us get into Cochran’s head, and understand his passions/prejudices when it comes to white police officers dealing with black men and women.
The other star of this episode is Christopher Darden. Marcia Clark treats Darden as equals, but Darden knows he’s on the case because of his race. Darden deserves his seat on the case, and even moreso when he rises up to co-prosecutor. The man is intelligent, skilled, and upfront with his motives. Unlike Cochran, who’s quickly becoming his adversary, Darden doesn’t treat the trial like a talk show. These two experienced, African American lawyers quickly become the centerpiece as to how the O.J. Simpson trial is about race, and not about race.
One scene that perfectly exemplifies these counter viewpoints between Cochran and Darden is right before the opening statements. Darden looks to sidestep the potential disaster with one of their prime witnesses: Detective Mark Fuhrman. Fuhrman is the guy who found the glove, but he’s got a documented history of racist behavior. Fuhrman is also the crux the defense plans to rip apart on the stand. Darden knows Fuhrman will play right into the hands of the defense, probably because the man has internalized his racism.
Darden makes speech moving to block the defense from asking any questions about Fuhrman’s alleged bias. This monologue captures the problems with playing the race card, and all the complexities working within it. The racial politics is a distraction pandering to the men and women looking up to O.J. Simpson. Cochran even uses a Martin Luther King, Jr. in his opening statement to reel in the black juror’s. This is the defense’s game plan. Cochran’s response to Darden’s poignant speech is more of a reflection on him more than the issues at hand. Cochran might think he’s not, but he’s just as egocentric and privileged as his Dream Team white colleagues.
Simpson goes back to his limited screen time in this episode, but he once again doesn’t disappoint. In line with his Cochran’s manipulative tendencies, the lawyer takes the liberty to entirely redecorate Simpson’s house. Cochran erases Simpson’s white privilege and his obvious misogyny. Cochran creates the ideal black man, the man the black community hopes he is. Simpson’s temper and toxic pride manifest quickly in this setting. It’s only when everyone is outside on the lawn with The Juice statue that Simpson’s emotions boil over. The statue is what everyone sees when they look at O.J. Simpson.