The following article contains spoilers.
The People v. O.J. Simpson is, by this point, lost in the entropy of a trial in which both sides are simply concerned with discrediting the opponent. Writers are unable sustain their own linear narrative, as Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) did with the shot glasses in last week’s episode. Discerning what is fact or fiction can’t be a priority in the midst of a firefight like this; damage control and anticipation takes up too much of everyone’s time.
The defense is on the losing end, now. A decisive DNA test and a dramatic finger-point from a knowledgeable defense witness cannot turn public opinion around after Chris Darden’s (Sterling K. Brown) botched glove demonstration. But it can, throw Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) into a proper crisis of faith; by the close of this week’s episode, he’s close to leaving the defense. Meanwhile, in a battle for leverage in the courtroom, Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) and Clark bait Judge Ito (Kenneth Choi) into pruning the jury, prompting their ranks to rise up, to rebel against the court. When the disorder escalates to the point of a potential mistrial, both sides have to find a way to either make peace, forcing Cochran to extend Marcia a bit of goodwill, even if just in the form of a cup of black coffee.
The episode mimics the characters’ feeling of claustrophobia and panic, all handheld close-ups and dramatic angles; it gets even worse as everyone involved wrestles with the possibility that they’ll be forced to undergo this whole harrowing process over again. No one’s plight is more daunting than the jury’s. In the most memorable scene of the episode, a juror kicks off her heels and tears off her blazer, running screaming through the sterile motel conference room where the jurors eat their soupy buffet meals. It mirrors several other wit’s-end moments in the episode: Clark throwing her case files across the office, and Robert breaking down in his ex’s — Kris Jenner (Selma Blair) — arms.
More than the previous slew of very strong episodes — especially the John Singleton-directed “The Race Card” — “A Jury in Jail” focuses almost entirely on the details of the trial. This is the time period, after all, in which the proceedings turned into a circus most comprehensively. The tone of the episode brings out the absurdity of the prosecution and the defense’s petty battle to gain influence; there’s nothing more farcical than Clark and Cochran’s tête à têtes on the courtroom balcony (Clark: “Toughen up, Cochran, this is a smoker’s lounge. Daycare’s on the first floor.”)
It’s less successful than the previous, more emotionally penetrating episodes, but the show is still adept at exploring the complex racial dynamics — especially, the court’s willingness to exploit the tension between the black and white jurors — to fascinating effect. Of course, these issues will only be excavated more in next week’s penultimate episode; this week’s cliffhanger introduces the Fuhrman tapes, which will — as history tells us — throw the course of events completely off the rails.