“I’m not a public personality. This isn’t what I do. I don’t know how to do this.”
Full spoilers for The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story continue below.
Oh Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.
American Crime Story focused on the People in the O.J. Simpson trial in this week’s episode, specifically Marcia Clark. By honing in on Sarah Paulson’s character, the series showcased how the trial became more about the personal lives of the people involved in it than the content of the case itself.
There’s a reason that The People v. O.J. Simpson made some not-so-subtle comments about the Kardashian kids earlier in the season: this case was the precursor to the rise of reality television, and it was treated as such in the mid-’90s. That’s why it’s so interesting that this episode took the time to show how TV networks were reacting to the “insane” nature of the O.J. trial — there just hadn’t been anything like it before. (For more insight, check out my interview with Paulson about tonight’s episode.)
“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” seemed to have two motives. The first was to use Marcia Clark’s situation as a way to explore how the O.J. trial became more about the story being told (as Johnnie Cochran would put it) than the verdict. The second, and the one that feels a bit “better late than never,” is rewriting the narrative about Clark.
If you ask someone who paid attention to the O.J. trial back in the ’90s what they remember of Marcia Clark, they’ll probably mention her perm, or her severe suits, or her curt attitude. Like The People v. O.J. Simpson chastised those in the audience who treat Ron Goldman as a footnote to his own murder, here it is shaming people who didn’t treat Marcia with the sort of empathy the series argues that she deserves.
I watched this episode the first time over the holidays at the end of a six-episode binge, and by the end I was so enamored with Clark and Paulson’s portrayal of her that it felt necessary to defend her when a family member laughingly reminisced about her terrible perm. She was a single mother and a working woman! I argued. You didn’t know what she was going through at the time!
That is the great strength of “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” which I knew from the end of that first viewing was getting my perfect 10/10 review rating. It’s all the stronger for coming off of last week’s “The Race Card,” which was the first episode to challenge Marcia as the unequivocal hero and moral compass of this story. This episode showed just how unprepared she was to have her private life trotted out for the world to see, and by the time she learns about the nude photo her ex-ex-husband leaked at the end of the episode, you hurt with her.
The biggest issue we see is that Marcia’s personal and professional lives are stretching her too thin and she’s failing at both of them, and no one is supporting her in any significant way in either world. (Darden’s support is her lifeline in the courtroom, it seems, but when her boss tells her to change her look, that’s a ding against her confidence.) Her ex-husband Gordon isn’t cutting her any slack because in his eyes she is sacrificing their children’s well-being for working late hours, and she puts herself at risk in the courtroom and DA’s office when she brings up the time constraints being a working mother puts on her.
This offers some insight into why Marcia has some blinders on when it comes to the trial; it’s frustrating to see her brush off Christopher Darden’s concerns about Fuhrman, especially when they come to fruition at the end, but she inevitably can’t commit her entire life to the trial because part of it is waiting for her at home. The candid and intimate conversation between Darden and Marcia where he opens up about the regrets he has about sacrificing his relationship with his 15-year-old daughter for the sake of the job draw an intentional parallel between that and Marcia’s current dilemma.
Her big win in the episode came when she shut down Cochran for mocking her childcare needs, which at that point felt like a victory for the audience as well, especially after hearing Marcia called “frump incarnate” or having a store clerk tease her about her period of having her defend herself to Gordon by saying, “Why should I be penalized for doing my job?” Then there’s the hair. Watching Marcia slowly give way throughout the episode and have this great moment of triumph when she gets a haircut she thinks makes her stronger, only for everyone else’s opinion to shatter that perception of herself, is an innately relatable moment
On the other end of the spectrum is Johnnie Cochran, who is (as Marcia notes) prepared to be a public persona when his history was trotted out and treated as fair game. He quickly squashed a potentially salacious story about his own domestic abuse history and the audience don’t see his children being a tax on his time. That allows him to push his team to go for the jugular even if they do have some stumbles, like with the housekeeper. His push is to tell a more credible story and to play the game, even if it means repeatedly dropping the N-word in a courtroom to invalidate and undermine Fuhrman’s testimony. (The direction of that scene that felt like a person’s head whipping back and forth in shock was dizzying but quite effective.)
This was Paulson’s episode through and through, and she earned every minute of screentime she was given. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” danced around the potentially romantic relationship between Darden and Clark, and both she and Brown played that with a great sensitivity. (Also, it should be noted, Sterling K. Brown’s dancing needs to be GIFed until the end of eternity. A++.) But it was absolutely Paulson who stole the show her, and deserves every accolade that will inevitably come her way.