Here, provocatively, is the scene that opens the show:
March 3, 1991: A white plumber on his balcony videotapes the beating of a black man named Rodney King by four police officers. King, a cab driver, had been pulled over after a high-speed car chase. The video went global, and King’s name because synonymous with the systemic racism, corruption, and brutality within law enforcement, especially in this case, the Los Angeles Police Department.
American Crime Story isn’t the first time a narrative has begun with the Rodney King footage. Spike Lee used clips of it in the opening credits of his 1992 movie Malcolm X. The tragic irony of watching the King video now, 25 years later, is how amateur recordings of such incidents have grown so great in number — and in grotesquerie — that many police departments are outfitting their own officers with body cameras, or debating whether to do so.
In April 1992, the jury’s acquittal of three of the four officers (they deadlocked on the fourth) triggered the L.A. riots, which cost the city 53 lives and $2 billion dollars. Particular attention was paid to the fact that the jury was impaneled from the predominantly white L.A. suburb of Simi Valley. (Don’t forget the name of that town — it plays a little supporting role later on in the series.)
Enter into the picture O.J. Simpson. As this episode begins in proper, the Juice is strolling out from his mansion in the wealthy neighborhood of Brentwood on a warm night in June 1994. Handsome, smiling, and dressed in a stylish turtleneck and blazer combo, Simpson looks just like the celebrity he is (NFL superstar, Heisman Trophy winner, actor in the Naked Gun comedies, pitchman for Hertz), as he hops into the back of a limo for a ride to the airport. A celebrity golf tournament beckons in Chicago.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away, a man named Steven Schwab is walking his dog when he comes upon another canine, all four of its paws red with blood. That dog crosses the street and alerts Schwab to Nicole Brown’s blood-soaked body on the front pathway of her house. In reality this timeline was stretched out: Schwab took the lost dog (an Akita named Kato, owned by Nicole), back to his house for about an hour before letting the Akita lead him to the body.
Or, as it turns out, bodies. Over the next six minutes in the show, we explore the crime scene and inspect evidence along with a trio of white male detectives: Philip Vannatter (Michael McGrady), Tom Lange (Chris Bauer), and Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale). We see the bloody bodies of Nicole and Ron Goldman in the front of her house, a bloody glove, bloody footprints, but an undisturbed home. No signs of forced entry or a robbery.
The three men then head to Simpson’s house. Fuhrman, who had been sent to O.J. once before on a domestic violence call, knows where he lives. Pay attention to the evidence discovered, but most importantly to the person discovering it. Mark Fuhrman, more than any other person in the whole world, is most responsible for the eventual not guilty verdict in Simpson’s trial. (I’m jumping way ahead here, but the ’90s song used on the soundtrack five episodes from now, as Fuhrman enters the courtroom to testify, makes for one of the most chilling musical cues for a character in recent memory.)
But on this first night Fuhrman finds bloody spots on the outside door and interior of O.J.’s Ford Bronco and another bloody glove in a pathway behind the guesthouse of a bloody idiot named Kato Kaelin (Billy Magnussen). Inside the main house, Lange calls O.J. in Chicago to inform him of his ex-wife’s death. After telling Simpson that Nicole has been killed, Lange turns to Vannatter and says, “He never asked how she died.” That’s true according to the record — except for the fact that another detective named Ron Phillips actually notified Simpson. Lange, in reality, informed Nicole’s family and was alarmed by the reaction of Nicole’s sister Denise, who screamed into the phone, “He killed her! He finally killed her!”
NEXT: Let’s get a prosecutor’s opinion – and learn some basic defense