On Oct. 2, 1995, only 13 percent of Americans owned a cell phone. About the same percentage were connected to the internet — dial-up, to be sure — while a full half of Americans had never even heard of this thing called the World Wide Web. This was the situation in the country on that afternoon, when Americans heard that the jury in the O.J. Simpson trial had reached a verdict after four hours of deliberation. The brevity with which they came to a decision was historically significant. Before and during the civil rights era, all-white juries routinely acquitted obviously guilty white defendants in a fraction of that deliberation time. And it also gave everyone in America, still foaming with O.J. fever, adequate time to get in front of a TV for the next day’s festivities.
In the remarkable conclusion to FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson (scripted by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and superbly directed by Ryan Murphy), the verdict occurs right at the halfway point. And that fact is near the top of the episode’s many smart decisions. Like the ship sinking in Titanic, we know that Simpson is going to be found not guilty. Even millennials who weren’t born or, if they were, wearing diapers in 1995 know that (I think). And so the verdict itself, though magnificently staged, is in some ways the least interesting part of the finale. The 35 minutes of tears and cheers and postmortem analysis that follows is where the show soars with carefully deliberated gestures that offer an appropriate send-off to each of the main characters.
But to begin at the episode’s beginning, there is the matter of Simpson’s statement before the court, in lieu of testifying, on Sept. 22, almost exactly one year to the day since the start of jury selection. Said jury was not present when he made his remarks — and while Johnnie Cochran insisted to the press that O.J.’s words were “unscripted,” the Los Angeles Times reported that he had been rehearsing them for two weeks, per a defense source. Plus, though no video appears to exist online, O.J.’s mini-monologue was televised, which is why Marcia Clark pleaded — literally saying “I beg you” twice to Judge Ito — that Simpson not be allowed to speak up.
But as with Republican primary debates, once one’s name is mentioned, they are given a chance to reply. Simpson explicitly dropped Clark’s name in his comments (“I have confidence, a lot more than Ms. Clark it seems, in [the jury’s] integrity”), and so she jumped from her chair to address Simpson via Judge Ito. “May he take a seat in the blue chair, and we’ll have a discussion?” she asked. Ito muttered a sheepish “thank you” to Clark. Simpson reportedly did not flinch. No doubt, as implied earlier in the series during a practice session with a female attorney, Simpson had been coached on how to react — or rather how not to react — to his (woman) adversary across the room.
The prosecution’s summation was many hours long and wide-ranging but focused largely on the history of real and verified domestic violence against Nicole Simpson in O.J.’s past. In this real-life clip, Clark approached the jury with an outpouring of gratitude that was a spot condescending. At 52 minutes in this video, she says, “Your selflessness and your devotion will long be remembered by many.”
Though Darden (who Clark had originally barred from taking part after the glove demonstration but later relented) manifested a theatrical moment — portrayed here in the show — when he pointed at the defendant and asserted his conviction hat he was a murderer. Darden later recounted in his book In Contempt:
Cochran, of course, delivered more of a sermon than a summation. Fun is had with a scene of the charismatic lawyer sitting at his office desk and brainstorming the one-liner that would soon become immortal. “If the glove’s too small, easy call,” he says to himself, quizzically. “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” (The man busted rhymes: In a 1998 mock trial, Cochran defended a woman who’s husband died on the aforementioned Titanic, and quipped, “If you design or build a boat, it must be able to stay afloat.”) The famous “glove” line, which Cochran predicted would be his epitaph, was in fact ghost-written by Dream Team member Gerald Uelmen, as Cochran described in his book:
NEXT: The jury rapidly deliberates, and time slows down as the verdict is read.