The People v. O.J. Simpson: Manna from Heaven

"It's hard to be hated by both sides. It takes a man of a certain character."

In the chapter of the same name, Toobin writes -- In the struggle over the Fuhrman tapes, the last great drama of the Simpson trial, it was, as if the id of the case had been unleashed. All the smoldering passion, anger, and resentment shot directly to the surface. I don't think there's a better summation than that for this episode.

'Manna from Heaven' acutely shows the skill level of the series' creators. They took these two sentences and didn't just spin them into an hour of TV but 10 hours -- while this conceit climaxes right at hour 9. This episode's addition to the season will remain a real standout for the incredible level of care it gives to us this 'last great drama'. There was no slo-mo set to some smooth 90s hip-hop or winks at the audience when something's played with a kitschy sparkle. Instead, I suspect we're intended to watch 'Manna from Heaven' in the same state as the courtroom and both sides of the bench listened to those tapes. Remarkably, the shift in tone is aided by a deliberate adherence to the visual style we've come to associate with this series. So this episode plays just as dramatically as all of the others (quick tracking shots plus quick edits galore) but the tone is one of utter stillness. And there's a shit-ton of impassioned dialogue condensed into this hour, more than ever, in my recollection. (Oh dear for next week's closing statements if Marcia has spoken already from her soul, though.) But I'd guess there'd have to be a lot of passionate speeches when, in this case, the manna from heaven is words -- words that are a hate delivery system.

"Whatever's on those tapes really scares me."

Johnnie Cochran really did believe that God handed him those tapes. For him, they were so much more than a boon for the defense. Courtney B. brilliantly exchanged his usual fervent swagger for just outright nuclear energy here. By many accounts, Johnnie turned his own self up to an 11 after their discovery. The trajectory of the trial had hit a height he didn't even dare to dream of. But all of his nature and tactics blazing this strong were starting to alienate him from his peers, who were more interested in an acquittal than blowing up the LAPD. They were all extremely smart, though, because they knew Johnnie's multiple impromptu press conferences put an anvil over Ito's head that would likely result in a decision the defense benefited from. Going back to Vance, good god, give that man the appropriate acting awards when the time comes. He plays Cochran with what I imagine is the right amount of levels someone that complex, brilliant and manipulative lived with. And he's wonderfully wounded when in the company of his wife which is also, in its own right, heroic and interesting (actor and man).

No justice. No peace.

If Cochran repped the anger, Darden has the burden of resentment. Another very strong point to 'Manna from Heaven', was the climax to a conflict started early on in the season with Chris Darden. Darden all but implodes in on himself after the millionth Cochran antic. It's only speculation by observers that the Furhman tapes were the last straw for Darden's psyche -- after all, he'd lost a brother to AIDS during the trial -- that was a far more devastating personal issue than this case. However, that a near insurmountable mountain of shite, one that challenged his identity as a black man living in the world, existed for him isn't far-fetched to submit to the audience and Sterling Brown runs with it. From his outburst in the elevator with Marcia to almost being held in contempt, Brown's Darden doesn't miss an emotional beat as a wholehearted chance to convey the extreme spectrum of how institutionalized racism has fucked specifically him because of his unique position. Everyone involved in this trial was caught in the damned if they do, damned if they don't web, but none more than him. And in many ways, Cochran was the ringmaster.

"This case is a circus. And the defense has made it into a circus."
A word about Paulson's Marcia. (Hey, I only have two more episodes to drool on her majesty.) One of the reasons the Darden/Clark duo is so layered and rich is because she yields to him at all the right times. The sophistication to this acting choice has a rare win/win/win effect. It creates more empathy for him, more love of her and a deeper investment for us. Her Clark never deflects his rage. A lesser actor would have played more than a hint of defensiveness in those scenes, thinking that surface conflict between characters would be more interesting, whereas it's her inner conflict on a molecular level that's 2000 times more effective to glimpse. There have been times it burns, it's so good.

"I am begging you from my soul --"
Choi's Ito is no slouch in the acting department either. There honestly hasn't been a minute that I haven't felt some inkling of the weight on this man during this trial. God, you really get it every time he's referred to as 'the court' in 'Manna from Heaven'. The whole freaking court, you guys, all of it, it's him. The line of dialogue where he talks about being wounded from criticism about his wife is verbatim from the trial transcripts. I found it really so eloquent a statement. Loved it when he flipped one of his hourglasses in chambers, during a stressful moment. An hourglass has the distinction of bridging the past and the future with the present moment. It's a great symbol for this show, really.

"This whole situation is toxic."
Closing Statement

* Loved the several instances of juxtaposing the prosecution and defense experiencing one thing or another -- the first listen of the tapes, as well as, Ito's proposing the chance of a mistrial.

* It's amazing to me that no one involved lost their damn mind completely. Seriously. Though most checked out of life as they knew it in one form or another after the trial was over.

* Each shot through the court camera is an exact re-enactment from one of the thousands of hours of tape of the trial.


* So glad they chose to end the episode on this high note for Clark.


* Just a quick aside to say that I saw Steven Pasquale in a stage production of 'The Robber Bridegroom' last week and he has the voice of an angel.

Quotes

Ito: "And I'm so mad at both of you guys right now, I'm about to hold the two of you in contempt."

Judge: "Mr. Cochran, there are no TV cameras in my courtroom. There is no need for gratuitous alliteration."

Bailey: "With all due respect, I don't know if you play as well in Dixie."

Johnnie: "This is a smoking gun for the United States."

Marcia: "Yep. Not only does Fuhrman hate blacks, he hates Peggy York, the highest ranking woman in the LAPD."

Dunne: "You couldn't get away with this plot twist in an airport paperback."

Marcia: "I shouldn't have bet on Fuhrman."
Darden: "Well, as long as we're apologizing, then I'm sorry as shit about those gloves."

6 comments:

Mallena said...

Johnnie Cochran is a complex character. I get the sense he doesn't care at all if Simpson is guilty, he is going to win a victory for his race and against the LAPD. I grew up in a predominantly white suburb of LA, so I have no right to judge him on that. It's too bad Nicole was lost in the battle, though. The scene with him and Nathan Lane in front of the southern courthouse was amazing. The producers of this show took something that could have been campy and hired the right actors and writers and made it great. I wished they had a scene with Ito' s wife. She knew what Fuhrman was like and kept that from her husband? What was she thinking?

sunbunny said...

All the acting awards for Courtney B. Vance. Seriously. I can't believe the series is nearly over!! Also, could Fuhrman be a worse human being? Wow. I had no idea the tapes were that bad.

Heather said...

Mallena, I thought Nathan Lane really stole the show here. I, too, loved the North Carolina scenes. I thought we'd see Peggy York again, too. But I also see why they skipped it. We already know why she signed her name under false pretenses and probably how she felt when this came out, as well. The subtext is done very well in this show!

sunbunny, the Fuhrman stuff is really painful to bear/relive. I'm sad there's only one more episode!

ChrisB said...

I went to law school with three detectives from the NYPD. Their perspective on the trail was always very interesting. For one thing, they were convinced that no large, urban police force would be able to withstand the type of scrutiny the LAPD was under. People like Fuhrman pop up, especially in jobs like law enforcement.

When Fuhrman took the Fifth, however, these three men took it as a personal affront. Their job is to arrest and convict the guilty, not to protect themselves. That a member of a police force would let down such a big trial in such a big way was beyond comprehension to these men. If Fuhrman faced from his fellow LAPD officers what he would have faced from my friends at the NYPD, he did not have a pleasant time of it.

The question that occurred to me as I watched this, and I don't remember thinking at the time, was around how much of what Fuhrman was saying he actually believed and how many of those incidents actually happened. While I am sure that Fuhrman is about as awful a person as it is possible to be, I wonder how much he was saying on those tapes was fiction, told to a screenwriter to impress her or to make himself look bigger and badder. We'll never know, and it doesn't matter. The damage was done.

Agreed that the acting in this episode was sublime, as was the production. The entire scene was Fuhrman made me hold my breath, even though I knew what was coming. Fantastic review, Heather.

Josie Kafka said...

Um, I think it's time I come clean: I've stopped hating this show. I just love it now.

[slinks away, tail between legs]

Heather said...

Chris,
There was a lot of follow up on Fuhrman's stories after the tapes came out. It was conceivable that he and other members of the PD would be prosecuted by the DA's office. There was truth to the one story the episode chose to highlight. Not all of the details could be verified but some could. God. MAW really did exist too (Men Against Women) which wasn't mentioned in the show but was rumored to exist in the LAPD before the tapes came to light. This was an organization that Fuhrman was a part of that conspired to make the lives of female cops intolerable. I hope you're right that Fuhrman's dick move on the stand to plead the fifth meant that he was ostracized completely from his 'brothers on blue'.

Josie,
Doesn't it feel good to finally say it?