The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story recap: Conspiracy Theories
What really happened?
Even more than 20 years later, everyone still wants to know the truth of what really went on during the O.J. Simpson case. That is, between lead prosecutors Marcia Clark and Chris Darden. Episode 6 ended with the two lawyers — trench mates, as Clark has described them for years, even recently, when asked if they had a romantic relationship — sitting on the floor of her office, while Darden holds her hand and touches her leg, comforting her pain from the embarrassment of nude photos in the National Enquirer.
Episode 7 is cleverly titled “Conspiracy Theories,” an apt name for the show’s most interestingly fictionalized chapter so far. Clark and Darden in this chapter take a weekend trip up to Oakland (a six-hour car ride each way), which is a total invention of the show’s writers (this episode was scripted by D.V. DeVincentis and directed by Anthony Hemingway), though not invented out of thin air. It was reported that the pair took a weekend trip to San Francisco after the trial had ended. As Clark has expressed, regarding the treatment of Darden and her relationship, “They’re delivering the essence of our relationship, and that’s nice. It’s an essential truth even if it’s not a literal truth.”
She will likely still say that after this episode. The essential truth, as far as the record is concerned, remains intact. Both Darden and Clark, in numerous interviews and separate books, have never confirmed if their partnership ever crossed the line from very good friends to lovers. A People magazine story, published about a month after the verdict in the O.J. trial, reported that the two were spending most weekends together: “Several late-night outings to bars, including the DNA Lounge in San Francisco, where Darden reportedly checked the scene while Clark waited in the car, have been the source of unfounded speculation about their relationship.”
In a 1996 interview with Howard Stern, a staunch supporter of the prosecution team during the Simpson trial, Darden said, “I always thought Marcia was attractive” and, coyly, “If Marcia doesn’t write passionate things about me in her book, it won’t be worth squat.” When Stern asked whether Darden knew if Clark had gotten breast implants, the lawyer said, “How would I know?” Clark, in an interview with Stern about a year later, offered a non-denial denial when asked about a romance with Darden, though she repeated the diplomatic, “We were more than lovers, we were trench mates” verbiage.
And then there was that rite of passage which transforms any rumor into a thing of much more valuable cultural currency — the Saturday Night Live parody, which in this skit speculated wildly about Darden and Clark’s relationship:
And of course, even two decades after the trial, the alleged fling between Clark and Darden was even parodied on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. That Netflix comedy was pitched to younger viewers who had never heard of Clark or Darden or audiences who might have forgotten about them. Funnily, Tina Fey made as uncanny a vision of Marcia Clark as she had Sarah Palin on SNL — though Julianne Moore eventually scored the role of Palin in the HBO movie Game Change, which costarred FX’s own Marcia, Sarah Paulson. (Meanwhile, an unearthed, scratchy old video of the end credits of Roseanne reveal Laurie Metcalf as maybe the most fantastic doppelgänger for Clark of them all.)
NEXT: The narrative might be a little loose, but the gloves are super tight.
Whether Clark and Darden hooked up behind closed doors, we’ll never know. What’s important to realize is that we wanted it to be true. Imagine if fan fiction were as popular in 1995 as it is now. And that’s where The People v. O.J. Simpson has been so judicious. In slow-burning it’s way towards an engorged plump pause in a hotel corridor between Clark and Darden, both tipsy (and other things) after a night or bar carousing, the show exploits the romantic tension of the moment. Amid the circus fiasco that was the O.J. trial, perhaps we wish-desired that something tender and human could come from it. Or maybe, on a very basic level, we just think that Clark and Darden would make a cool couple. (Credit for that, and this can’t be underlined enough, goes to Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown for the magnetism of their performances.)
Intriguingly, the almost-intimacy portrayed between Clark and Darden serves parallel narrative purposes. First, the trip to Oakland gives Clark a theatrical opportunity to narrate a dramatic telling of what impossible odds the detectives would have faced in their effort to frame O.J. for the murders. Clark uses turned-over shot glasses to represent the houses on Bundy and Rockingham and the show dips into faux flashback as she explains the supposed scenario. And in a nice twist, her audience along with Darden at the Oakland bar they’re visiting is made up of all black men. One is still skeptical after the demonstration.
But secondly, the co-lead prosecutors’ meet-cute behavior also provides the show with an air of motive for Darden’s defiant behavior with the glove demonstration, which certainly in the world of the series put the kibosh on any romance potential. Whether Darden was emboldened to defy Clark’s wishes and make Simpson try on the gloves in court out of some subliminal feelings of frustration or rejection toward her — that’s an invention of the show that if nothing else exhibits some moxie.
Other places where this episode shows chutzpah include in the warts-and-all depiction of Johnnie Cochran’s previous double life, in which he was effectively married to two women at the same time, and in Robert Kardashian’s ever-increasing doubts about his best friend’s innocence. The scene depicting Kardashian and A.C. Cowlings opening O.J.’s garment bag is pure fiction, so far as I can find, though it is tightening a narrative thread that the show will pull over the next few episodes. As Kardashian told Barbara Walters in 1996, he no longer believed that Simpson was not guilty. And yet, what was he doing with that bag?
There’s also no background that I can find for suggesting the opening scene here ever occurred. (This is the episode that most departs from the content of Jeffery Toobin’s big doorstop of a book, The Run of His Life — though I welcome commenters below to point me to evidence I might have missed.) We see Alan Dershowitz watching Cochran on TV along with a small group of Harvard students. And then the distinguished professor writes the words “Colombian Necktie” on a piece of paper and then faxes it directly to the courtroom. One of Dershowitz’s students, years before the O.J. trial, was Jeffrey Toobin. Although the men obviously differed on Simpson, Toobin might have picked up this true or false detail from his old professor, though he didn’t include it his book. (Nor the apparently invented detail about Robert Shapiro flagrantly trying on the gloves himself during a lull in the courtroom, perhaps a plot concoction included to give John Travolta a meaty scene.)
Dershowitz, however, was present at the defense table on the day of the gloves demonstration. He covered his mouth, as a matter or fact, to stifle his laughter as the nightmare for the prosecution was unfolding.
There is any number of explanations as to why the gloves did not fit Simpson — chief among them, as speculated by Darden, that O.J. was intentionally bending his thumb in such a way as to make them impossible to easily slip onto his hands. Or the testing and analysis of the gloves had caused them to shrink. Or the latex gloves that Simpson was wearing underneath created an extra layer. Darden attempted to rescue himself by asking witness Richard Rubin, the glove-company executive, if they should have fit O.J. hands. “At one point in time, the gloves would be actually too, I think, too large on Mr. Simpson’s hands.”
But the damage had been done. The jurors knew it and so did Marcia Clark. According to Toobin’s book, she left the courthouse that evening without speaking to Darden. Something, it seems, was broken that day and could not be put back together again. And on her ride home, she called a friend on her car phone and asked, “Do you think it’s over now?”