“American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson” Finale Review

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What a season it has been. “The Verdict,” the miniseries finale of “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” wrapped up an outstanding 10 episodes that covered almost every significant detail of the 1994 O.J. Simpson trial, from the invasive media coverage to the tense surrounding racial politics. Dramatizations and small inaccuracies aside, Ryan Murphy and Co. have built a masterful depiction of one of the most infamous cases of the 20th century. What’s even more impressive is how the show transformed “The Verdict” into a stellar, breathtaking ending, even when we already knew what the outcome was going to be.

Other than the actual verdict itself, the finale touches on several important aspects regarding the trial, particularly with the closing statements of prosecution duo Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson, “Carol”) and Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown, “Supernatural”) and defense attorney Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance, “Joyful Noise”). Considering how all three lawyers were able to develop compelling points for and against O.J. Simpson, it’s amazing to see how their arguments make the case even more complex. Additionally, it provides another showcase for Paulson, Brown and Vance’s consistently outstanding performances.

After the statements are finished, the remaining jury members are left to determine O.J.’s fate. The sequence of the trial’s ultimate decision between the jury is very telling of what the case is also really about: race. Following the horrific Rodney King beating and the subsequent 1992 L.A. riots, the O.J. trial divided both Black and white americans. In terms of the actual decision, this racial divide reigned true as well: the Black jury members all believe O.J. is innocent, while the two remaining white members think he is guilty. Whether or not this was actually what happened, it’s still very unnerving to watch. However, after only four hours until finalizing their decision, that’s where things get interesting.

The titular climax of “The Verdict” encompasses pretty much every reaction possible before, during and after O.J. is found not guilty for the murder against Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Thanks to some fantastic editing and clever use of archival footage, a split-screen displays the polarized response from the lawyers, the courtroom audience and those watching on TV screens around the country. The Black community is relieved and cheering in the streets, while the white community is in total disbelief and shock. Though the verdict didn’t incite a resurgence of the ‘92 riots, there’s no doubt that the trial left some tense residue among Americans.

Once the dust settles, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” captures some of the final glimpses of its characters, strengthened especially by the tremendous effort from Murphy’s direction and Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s writing. First, Darden and Cochran share a passive-aggressive exchange about the distortion of the truth behind the case and its lasting effect. Cochran believes Americans are finally recognizing Black civil rights, but Darden counters him, saying that “police in this country will keep arresting us, keep beating us, keep killing us” and tells him straightforwardly that Cochran hasn’t “changed anything for black people here.” This, of course, is a sobering truth that continues to resonate today with police brutality against Black people in America. Later, Darden meets up with Clark and the two discuss their frustrations with not bringing justice to Nicole and Ron. But even in their disappointment, they still have each other.

Then comes O.J. (Cuba Gooding Jr., “Jerry Maguire”), relishing in his freedom but realizing that things are different now. He’s no longer “The Juice” that every football fan loved; he’s still in shackles. The final seconds of “The Verdict” concludes with a haunting image of O.J. walking alone in his backyard and hopelessly gazing at the marble statue of himself, knowing that his reputation will be forever tarnished by this murder, regardless of his race, fame or fortune. Coupled with Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” scoring an epilogue montage of each character, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” finishes on a rather devastating, eerie note: pictures of a smiling Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, ignorant to how their deaths will be taken in vain.

The O.J. verdict may not have brought justice, but “American Crime Story” shined a light on something in modern history that still matters today. And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sweep the Emmys.  

Grade: A

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