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The People vs. O.J. Simpson: Episode 5 Recap
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Poster courtesy of FX.

Summary: Episode 5 of The People vs. O.J. Simpson gave viewers a fascinating glimpse into the strategy of lead defense attorney Johnny Cochran. But how much of the episode was accurate?

With its titillating storytelling, the FX Network has trained me to anticipate Tuesdays when The People vs. O.J. Simpson airs. Not only does the miniseries bring back nostalgia, but it gives me and all its viewers an inside look at the power players’ motivations and how the trial ended up the circus that it did.

  
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RECAP: EPISODE 5: “THE RACE CARD”

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Episode 5 begins with Johnny Cochran (played by Courtney B. Vance) being racially profiled by the LAPD. Photo courtesy of FX.

This week on episode 5 “The Race Card,” the show began with a flashback scene of young Johnny Cochran driving his two girls through a ritzy neighborhood to grab lunch. The girls try to negotiate with him on who gets to sit up front, a telling sign that this is a father who has taught his daughters to use their words to get whatever they want in the world. But things turn ugly when a white cop on a motorcycle stops him for the crime of driving while black. While Johnny remains as calm as he can be and his daughters watch on in horror, the cop escalates the situation by handcuffing the attorney, until Cochran pleads with him to look up who he is before it’s too late. Once the cop realizes Cochran is a somebody, he lets him go, but the scene sets up the tone for the rest of the episode—race and one’s life experiences because of race will effect everyone’s perceptions.

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Later, black prosecutor Chris Darden, a former friend of Johnny Cochran, is asked to interview detective Mark Fuhrman, who had a reputation for being a racist. While the opener with Cochran seems to suggest this will be an episode focusing on Cochran’s problems with racism and the LAPD, the episode seems to be more about Darden’s inner conflict. As he interviews Fuhrman, he can tell that beneath his eerily polite exterior, there is a man filled with bile and hatred towards African-Americans. As Darden watches his critics blast him on the television, he realizes he is being used as a token black attorney for the case. When Johnny Cochran gives him any type of advice, he wonders if he is on the wrong side.

During the opening statement, Darden makes a lame plea to the jury to not allow the N-Word to be used, as it clouds people’s perceptions with emotion. His delivery is weak and uninspired, and Cochran uses it to light a fire in the opposite direction, saying to deny the use of the word because he thinks people can’t handle it is patronizing. Essentially, Cochran set the stage for the trial—that he understood his community and that Darden was out of touch.



Cochran’s masterful tactics were further showcased in the episode when he set up a meeting for the mostly-black jury to tour O.J.’s house. Before they were allowed to visit, Cochran removed the photographs of O.J. with his mostly rich white friends and his sexy pictures of his white girlfriend; and he replaced all of those images with pictures of his mother or of black strangers. Cochran was unabashed with his agenda. If he was going to win the case, he had to make O.J. appeal to a community he had previously distanced himself from.

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O.J. Simpson (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) confronts prosecutor Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown) during an open house for the jury to visit. Photo courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

After the staging, the trial resumes, and Cochran pulls a fast one over the prosecutors by bringing up witnesses that were not turned over to the other side. So upset by the defense’s underhanded tactics, white prosecutor Bill Hodgman has a heart attack in court. The episode then culminates with super polite but creepy Mark Fuhrman admiring his display case at home of Nazi memorabilia.

SO HOW MUCH OF THE EPISODE WAS ACCURATE?

Amazingly the majority of the episode was spot on, according to media sources that say the scenes stayed true to its source material, Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run of His Life.

The only factual changes included the following:

  • Vanity Fair reports that Johnny Cochran did face racial profiling from the LAPD, but the details were slightly changed from what was in the show. For instance, he was in the car with his daughter and son, and they were headed toy shopping, not to lunch.
  • Prosecutor Bill Hodgman did not have a heart attack during the trial, like the episode suggested. In reality, he complained about chest pains that afternoon and was hospitalized at night, according to Entertainment Weekly. However, the creative liberty was taken to highlight the physical toll the stress had taken on the attorneys involved in the case.
  • In one scene, Judge Lance Ito shows off a signed photograph of Arsenio Hall to a reporter, Dominick Dunne. In real life, Ito showed the photo to writer, Jeffrey Toobin, according to Entertainment Weekly.

So out of all the other details of the episode–the tension between Darden and Cochran, O.J.’s house staging, Fuhrman’s Nazi memorabilia—that was all true, which makes this crime story even more shocking.

Source: Entertainment Weekly 

Source: Vanity Fair



 

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