“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” aired the riveting new episode “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” on March 8 on FX. The episode zooms in on the intense scrutiny Prosecutor Marcia Clark endured during the trial, while she simultaneously battled some important family-related issues and struggled against a very negative and arguably unfair public perception. Emmy-nominated “American Horror Story” star really dug in deep to deliver what may arguably be her best small screen performance to date in the highly-charged emotional episode.
Anyone who has watched Sarah Paulson deftly navigate the series of complex, difficult roles she has enjoyed on “American Horror Story” knows how fearless she is when it comes to climbing inside a character’s skin and enduring their pain, struggles and triumphs come what may. In “AHS: Asylum,” for example, her heroic character Lana Winters endured unwarranted shock treatments, was held captive and sexually assaulted by a deranged serial killer and was forced to undergo aversion therapy.
In “American Horror Story: Coven,” her character Cordelia endured severe mommy issues and even gouged her own eyes out. In “Freak Show” she pulled off playing conjoined, two-headed twins Bette and Dot with incomparable ease. In her latest effort on the AHS companion true-crime anthology series “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” Paulson tackles a huge challenge in portraying a real life, very high-profile figure with Marcia Clark.
In short, Paulson is sublime. In this week’s Marcia Clark focused episode, she arguably delivers the performance of her career. Paulson addressed the responsibility she felt to present Marcia Clark’s humanity in an Entertainment Weekly interview.
She said, “I do feel a responsibility to honor the circumstances. She had two young children. She was going through a terrible divorce. There was a human being behind the person you were watching on TV everyday, that you were making assessments about and deciding if she was failing or succeeding and a good hair day or a bad hair day. It’s a person who had to withstand all this scrutiny. She was on the cover of tabloids. Like I said, to be a civil servant all of a sudden in the middle of this maelstrom, you just sorta go, “How does one survive?”
Undergoing the intense personal and professional scrutiny Marcia Clark endured during the O.J.Simpson trial caught her completely off guard and served up a wholly different kind of horror than series Co-Executive Producer Ryan Murphy has previously conjured. Sure, large parts of “American Horror Story” installments and characters are based on real-life people and places. But even Murphy enters new territory in leaping into the harsh, legal landscape in one of the biggest criminal trials in history.
Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark is key and critically important to the successful reenactment of an indelible part of the searing look back at an indelible segment of the American criminal justice system. Paulson has the performance incredibly nuanced, from the tilt of her head to the swimming tears in her eyes for being ridiculed not only about her perceived lack of appropriate parenting skills but also her physical appearance. Paulson makes us hurt for Clark and will for some sort of miracle that will turn the known “not guilty” verdict around to play in her favor.
ACS is bold in its depiction of everything that Marcia Clark endured in the equally-charged racial environment that existed so soon after the Rodney King beatings. She was the only woman involved in trying the case with the burden of proof weighing so heavily on her shoulders. The insurmountable evidence seemed like a slam dunk conviction. Unfortunately her own public perception and poor handling of the investigation by the police soon began to chip away at the solidity of the case.
This series and this episode, specifically, really humanizes Marcia Clark who at the core of her being was also a devoted mom who was seeking justice for another mother who was repeatedly abused and then brutally killed. Clark was battling her own child support issues and an outspoken ex-husband who tried to do everything he could to discredit Clark as a mother and as a prosecutor. On top of that, she fell hard under the harsh light of public perception and her trial opponents’ brash, sexist attitude. Chris Darden, played brilliantly by Sterling K. Brown, is seemingly the only port in Marcia Clark’s raging storm. He recognizes her pain and tries desperately to free her from it.
Who else wishes Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) or Johnnie Cochran would have been criticized for having busy eyebrows or flashy suits? It is infuriating to watch Cochran try to slither his way out of domestic violence allegations of his own by bribing his ex. He may be a grand showman, but Cochran is also largely portrayed as a massive manipulator who clearly gets away with lots of things – why shouldn’t he then, help his client get away with murder?
The bottom sort of falls out for Marcia Clark after another ex-husband leaks nude photos of her to The National Enquirer. She collapses to the floor of her office in tears and Darden finds her and once again, tries to soothe her wounded spirit. The scene is brilliantly played by Paulson and Brown, who share great onscreen chemistry. These people are both outcasts in one of the most publicized, highly-debated cases in history.
Thanks to Paulson and Brown, we will never forget Clark and Darden’s bruised, beating hearts at the center of the media circus. More excitedly, perhaps an Emmy statue is finally going to land in Sarah Paulson’s creatively versatile hands. Who else wants to launch the campaign now?
“The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” airs on FX on Tuesdays at 10 pm ET.