Part Three of director Ezra Edelman’s deconstruction of the Trial of the Century, O.J.: Made in America was somewhat of a disappointment. After over four hours of meticulously researched context, when it came to the actual crime and the build-up to the trial, the episode felt oddly cursory. Edelman was clearly saving a lot for the actual trial in Part 4 and maybe he was right to, because Part 4 is some of the best television we are likely to see in this or any year.
The episode begins as the trial did, with Simpson’s long history of domestic abuse against ex-wife Nicole Brown. Edelman covered the subject extensively in Part 2, so, rather than go through it again here, he shows how that history horrified both Simpson’s friends and the officers and dispatchers who responded to the incidents. And then he gets to the jurors. “They did not get it,” prosecutor Bill Hodgman says, though lead prosecutor Marcia Clark sees it differently. “They just didn’t care,” she claims and as if to prove her point, juror Carrie Bess says of Brown, “I lose respect for any woman that take an ass whooping when she don’t have to.” It only gets harder to watch from there.
The episode is in large part about how Simpson’s history of violence and the mountain of evidence against him were slowly obscured by the circus of the trial itself. In the same way, Edelman starts with the relevant information and then explores the things that eventually got all the attention. One of those things is former LAPD detective, Mark Fuhrman. Edelman does great work throughout the doc, but perhaps the most shocking thing he does is make you feel kind of sorry for Mark Fuhrman. Now, make no mistake, what he said to screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny on the infamous Fuhrman Tapes is appalling and damning. As defense lawyer Carl Douglas explains, “things that were said resonated with things that I had heard for 30 years or more about the way that cops think and act.” However, Fuhrman was not the one on trial. O.J. was. But the defense exploited how inflammatory those tapes were to distract from that central truth.
As Fred Goldman, the father of victim Ron Goldman, stated at the time, “this is now the Fuhrman trial.” And on some level, he’s right, but it was also much larger than that. Fuhrman was standing in for the of the whole LAPD, an organization that had a long, embarrassing history of racial discrimination. It was an organization that had protected its own a mere two years prior when the officers who mercilessly beat Rodney King were acquitted of all chargers. It is that history as much as the Fuhrman tapes and the sloppy evidence collection that allowed jurors allowed to ignore the mountain of evidence against Simpson. In fact, what Edelman seems to be saying, is that that history is the very reason the trial couldn’t have possibly ended any other way. Simpson’s acquittal was about making up for decades if not centuries of racism in America. Whether he committed the murders was incidental.
Given that, Part 5, which also covers the civil trial where Simpson was found “responsible” for Brown and Goldman’s deaths and the 2007 robbery/kidnapping that finally landed Simpson in jail, should provide some level of catharsis. And yet the episode leaves nothing but a bitter aftertaste. While the Goldmans saw Simpson’s conviction for the bizarre events in Las Vegas as justice finally being served, Simpson’s friend Joe Bell saw it differently. “That is white justice in America,” he says. And maybe that’s true, but maybe that’s also just what justice looks like in America. The Vegas trial was penance for the murder trial and the murder trial was penance for the Rodney King verdict. Perhaps the best we can hope for is for justice to be retroactive. Maybe the system just can’t work the way it’s supposed to. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and one Edelman doesn’t seem happy to feed us. Because at the end of the day, a man probably got away with murder for the good of the country. We have to live with that just as much as O.J.
Rating: Part 4: 10/10, Part 5: 8/10