No Glove, No Love On American Crime Story
Nothing's a good fit on the latest episode, except the acting and your eyeballs. Sarah D. Bunting made a list.
"Conspiracy Theories" is like a train wrecking into the side of the set of Curb Your Enthusiasm: it's horribly uncomfortable, it's extremely well done, and I both can't stop looking at it and can't stop pulling my scarf up over my face so I won't have to see it. What wonderful storytelling that could have me cringing in anticipation of what AC Cowlings and Bob Kardashian might find in OJ's garment bag, or how Chris Darden might react to Bailey's obvious schoolyard taunt, when I already know -- already saw the real thing, read Jeffrey Toobin's book, live in the world and can see what's next?
The seventh American Crime Story episode does this on the macro level, and on the micro/character level. It's everything endearing, enraging, and human about Darden, Marcia Clark, the two of them as a team, Cochran and Shapiro's contentious relationship, and OJ's odd position at this point in the trial as both a monster and a bulky pawn in the misplays of others.
Key moments from "Conspiracy Theories," from first to worst.
The rise and fall and -- nope, that's another fall of Clarden.
The acting here is simply outstanding, starting with the pregnancy-inducing stares in the office.
The cigarette is traditionally for after you do it, Marcia. Then Darden sort of semi-asks Clark out to a birthday party for a childhood friend of his, and they get all ripped up, his friends like her, they get back to the hotel and stare at each other's lips for about five years in front of her door, and how she doesn't take this face as license to kiss him herself before her clothes incinerate themselves is beyond me,
but Darden's bigger head apparently thinks better of boning the boss, because he doesn't go through with it. But thinking better maybe isn't the way to put it, as Sterling K. Brown's flawless look of panic when he gets the zero-Kelvin "goodnight, Darden" probably attests.
But it's not over, oh no! At the office, Clark's acting brusque and unchummy, and he's like, hmm...and then announces, "I think you and I should just go for it." "And what does that mean?" Clark smirks, thinking he must mean Doing It.
He does not mean that. He means making OJ try on the gloves in court.
Sarah Paulson for president of all acting everywhere. Her rendition of that turbulence-jolt of a face-fall is just the right size.
Soooooo then Clark's like hail no, bad call; Bailey baits Darden about it; Cochran makes a spurious objection to Darden not...even having done it yet, I guess, which sets a huge, creaky, three-story trap that Darden nevertheless walks RIGHT into by demanding that OJ try on the gloves despite Clark just having ordered him again not to do it and reminding him that she's in charge, so Darden's trying to show up both the defense and Clark. And Clark knows every bump and inch of it. You can feel her willing herself not to explode.
The whole sequence is so effectively done, the space that she's crowbarring open between them, the fear it's creating in the audience that it's affecting everyone's judgment, the questions we ask ourselves about whether that in turn is a conspiracy theory we've come up with to explain why the prosecution bungled this bit of its case, and so avoidably, too. It is still SO AWKWARD.
Nathan Lane's Bailey bitchfaces.
John Travolta's "Shapiro buys time by feigning dudgeon" lip-purses.
We see you, production designers.
Kardashian's plaintive "Who do you think did do it?"
Honorable mention to Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who ripples Al Cowlings's stolid unwillingness to consider that his mentor could have committed the murders with a tiny stir of doubt and then calms the waters again, but this is David Schwimmer's show, and he's great, mixing in anger at himself for not admitting it to himself sooner, despair that there's "no other suspect; no other answer," and a hint of fear at what AC might do if he presses the point.
"It's just desperate flailing."
"Conspiracy Theories" has two different scenes in which Clark's overconfidence, and her assumption that, because right and truth look so obvious to her, everyone else must then see them the same way seem admirable, but at the same time regrettable. First, Clark dismisses the defense's attempts to portray the LAPD as a corrupt monolith that framed OJ, failing to appreciate how appealing conspiracy "narrative" always is even if -- or especially if, on those occasions when it relieves or diverts the pain of disappointment in a loved one or revered figure -- it doesn't make sense. The second is her bravura performance in the bar in Oakland, demonstrating just how horseshitty the Fuhrman-planted-everything idea is; she carefully walks the group through the absurd implications of the theory, but her "you can't be so stupid as to subscribe to this, can you?" tone is just the thing to make the theory's proponents dig in. Clark can't help herself; she has to be right, even when she's not quite.
Gooding's OJ faces during the glove demonstration.
Maybe you have to remember or rewatch the real footage to appreciate Gooding's work, but I distinctly remember watching OJ "trying" to get the gloves on and wondering aloud if he'd like some mustard on that.
The mugging was so shameless. Of course, the real damage had been done long before, but at the time it seemed like the gloves sank the case.
Using OJ's constant football references to point up his limitations.
Another instance of duality, the "bullshit in the third quarter" this and the "you're the quarterback" that make OJ both hatefully glib, and pitiably overmatched emotionally. It's the only language he knows. That, and acting.
Clark spying on Cochran having to run the press gauntlet during the "two families" kerfuffle.
So petty. Love it.
"Are you helping my daddy find the man who hurt my mommy?"
Why was that even in the script, seriously.
Dropkick a cowbell out the window of the Strasberg Institute next time; it's faster and less clanky.