‘The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story’ Premiere Recap: O.J. Fails Polygraph, Contemplates Suicide


The Tuesday, February 2, series premiere of FX’s miniseries American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson didn’t waste any time getting right into the drama. The tense episode was 90 minutes of murder, suspicion, injustice and fury.

Cuba Gooding Jr. in
Gooding in ‘American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.’ Ray Mickshaw/FX

New Blood

In producer Ryan Murphy‘s typical fashion, the show began with a bang. This just so happened to be the bang heard round the world: The audience saw real-life footage of the beating of Rodney King by the LAPD, followed by news reports chronicling the riots that were inspired by it. Sirens, explosions and chaos filled the screen and set the racially charged tone for the episode just before the scene cut to black.

When footage faded back in, it was two years later, and star NFL player O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) came out of a house, apologizing to a waiting cab driver for being late. The driver didn’t mind at all because he was so enraptured by Simpson’s celebrity, which would become a theme as the episode progressed. As they drove away, a neighbor appeared on screen, following the growls of a dog, leading him to a dead body crumpled behind a gate and surrounded by blood.

The New Sheriff in Town

Next to Nicole Brown Simpson’s body was that of an unidentified man, along with a hat, glove and envelope, all discovered by the first cops on the scene. As it became more obvious that they were dealing with high-profile people, higher-ranking officers came in to take the case from Officer Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale).

When cops got to O.J.’s to tell him of the murder, they noticed what looked like blood inside the car parked out front, along with a larger-than-life statue of the venerated athlete in the yard. When they rang the doorbell, a visibly inebriated guy named Kato Kaelin (Billy Magnussen) opened it, told them that O.J. was gone and how to get a hold of him, and then showed them where he had heard a loud noise behind the house earlier. There, they found a glove that matched the one at the crime scene.

When authorities finally reached O.J. by phone to tell him of his Nicole’s death, the detective noted with suspicion that he hadn’t asked how his wife had been killed, with the camera showed a sobbing O.J.

All Signs Point to O.J.

“Brentwood?” asked prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) when the detective briefing her told her where the killings happened. “No one gets killed in Brentwood.”

Tellingly, she didn’t know who O.J. was when the detective brought up his name. She was anything but starstruck, even as the detective breathlessly recapped some of O.J.’s career highlights. She said she thought there was enough evidence to arrest him the minute he got back to Los Angeles.

History Repeats Itself?

At Nicole’s, investigators searched for clues. The phone rang and a child’s voice was heard on the answering machine, asking, “Mommy, where are you? Please, answer the phone,” through tears.

At work, Marcia identified the other murder victim as Ronald Goldman, a waiter and aspiring actor. As she guessed at possible scenarios, the “vicious” photos of the crime scene were brought to her. The men said they couldn’t imagine Simpson doing that because they’d met him, and he was a great guy. One, however, revealed that the star had beaten Nicole up five years prior and had never faced any consequences, being immediately bailed out due to his celebrity.

Meanwhile, at O.J.’s house, the star got home and was led away from the cameras by a few officers, but one intrepid photojournalist scaled a fence and got pictures of the football star being cuffed and detained. His friend Howard Weitzman (Ken Lerner), also a lawyer, advised him against speaking to the police.

“If I don’t talk, it looks like I have something to hide,” O.J. said as the camera panned down to show a bandage on his left hand, just as Officer Fuhrman predicted that the killer would have.

Truth, Justice and the American Way

The next scene showed Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) getting ready for his day, and then meeting with Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown), a prosecutor who wasn’t able to bring charges against officers who shot a black woman in the back as she was supposedly advancing on them. They were getting off because the officers had said they feared for their lives. Chris seemed frustrated but defeated.

“You know what we’re talking about,” shouted Johnnie. “Choose a side!” Then, he went to tell the victim’s family that there would be no justice. He planned to tell them to sue the city for wrongful death and police brutality, saying, “The way things are sometimes, money is the only way to get justice.”

At Marcia’s office, she was dealing with a miscarriage of justice of a different kind. She learned that there had been eight 911 domestic-violence calls in the years before Nicole had been killed. “The system failed her,” moaned Marcia. Her coworker shrugged it off, saying, “It was the LAPD and a famous guy.”

Marcia then listened to the tape of O.J. being interviewed by the police, growing increasingly frustrated as he charismatically dodged questions that the cops then did not pursue any further. It was becoming apparent that no one really wanted to press him but Marcia; everyone else seemed content to let the celebrity get back to his life.

“He’s the Juice,” said one of her colleagues. “He rushed more than 2,000 yards in one season.”

“I have no idea what that means, but you know what? It shouldn’t matter. He got away with beating her; he is not going to get away with killing her!” Marcia yelled.

David Schwimmer and John Travolta
Schwimmer and Travolta (right) in ‘American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.’ Ray Mickshaw/FX

A Friend in Need Is a Friend, Indeed

O.J. sat around his house as cameras swarmed outside. He got progressively more agitated as his mother, his older kids and longtime pal Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) tried to calm him down. Kato arrived, and O.J. demanded to know if his houseguest told the cops they were together the night before. Kato said he had, and O.J. seemed relieved, yelling, “That’s what happened! I need support!”

Howard wasn’t there to support him, though, and the lack of counsel was making O.J. irate. When asked if he was a lawyer, Robert stammered and said “not anymore” and that he had never been a criminal lawyer, anyway. Still, Robert was questioning every part of the way Howard had handled the situation, starting with allowing O.J. to be cuffed and ending with him not being in the interview room with his client.

At a fancy restaurant, lawyer Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) received an emergency phone call. O.J. was on the other end of the line, asking for help. The two of them met with Rob and decided that both lawyers would represent O.J., forming a defense team.

Marcia, too, got a new partner, just as she was storming through the prosecutor’s office fuming about O.J. being out and free when she was so sure he had done it. Her boss assigned her to work on the case with a coworker named Bill Hodgman (Christian Clemenson), who would be a little less hotheaded.

River of Denial, River of Love

When asked by Bob if he killed Nicole, O.J. declared, “No. I loved her.”

While O.J. told his lawyer how much he loved Nicole, Marcia was busy talking to Bill about the details of her divorce. The prosecutor had only filed for it three days before Nicole’s body was found. Marcia was chain-smoking as her colleague told her she was taking on too much and stressing herself out.

She was undeterred, continuing to pursue witnesses who claimed to have seen O.J. on the night of the murder. They interviewed his neighbor and the cab driver, both of whom mentioned having seen a white Ford Bronco that belonged to O.J. These leads gave Bill and Marcia enough evidence to conclude that their timelines and theories were correct.

Liar, Liar, Trial by Fire

O.J. underwent a lie detector test, and Rob mentioned being concerned that he was “not the Juice anymore.” As he was lamenting this, the proctor of the exam told the lawyers that O.J. had failed the polygraph.

O.J. started screaming hysterically, insisting that the machine and results were flawed and that anyone would fail the test if they were being asked about the just-killed mother of their children.

Shouts and Murmurs

While O.J. was screaming about the inaccurate test, others were whispering behind his back. Kris Jenner (Selma Blair) attended Nicole’s funeral and quietly asked Faye Resnick (Connie Britton) if she thought O.J. might have killed their friend, who Faye described as a “personal angel.”

Faye whispered that Nicole had always been afraid of O.J., and Kris — pausing to yell at her kids, Khloé and Kourtney, for eating candy at a funeral — whispered, “It was right in front of us. He always had that temper.”

“Did you ever see the pictures of her face after he laid in to her?” she continued. “She hid them away, just in case something happened …”

Their conversation was cut short by the screams of the paparazzi outside as O.J. arrived to the funeral with Kris’ ex-husband, Rob. Someone asked quietly, “Who brings their lawyer to a funeral?”

As O.J. approached the casket, people whispered, “He came. He has no shame.” As he leaned in to kiss Nicole’s face, everyone finally fell silent.

The Escape

Marcia received confirmation that DNA evidence implicated O.J. in the murder. He was charged with double homicide with special circumstances. That meant there would be no bail.

When he found out, O.J. flew off the handle again, shoveling pills into his mouth to self-medicate as independent investigators and doctors took photos of O.J. and prepared him to turn himself in. He wrote his will as Marcia called Kato to the stand, demanding to know if he had been with O.J.

Rob walked in just as O.J. was placing a gun to his head in the childhood bedroom of none other than Kim Kardashian. Al Cowlings (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) showed up, closely followed by the cops, who were there to arrest him because he took too long to self-surrender. By that time, O.J. had escaped out the back of the house, taking his white Bronco with him. Marcia was fuming.

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson airs on FX Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST.

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