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American Crime Story puts Marcia Clark on trial in an unforgettable episode

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Straight off the bat: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” is definitely in the running for best television episode of this season. I’ve watched it multiple times because it’s an hour that I can’t stop obsessing about. As mentioned in other reviews, it’s been impossible to ignore the lingering theme of “fame” that runs throughout all of the episodes, from O.J. Simpsons’ special treatment by the police officers to Kato Kaelin’s 15 minutes to the lawyers suddenly being thrust into the public eye. For some of them, such as Bob Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran who have represented popular clients and/or did the rounds on the news circuit, the publicity of the Simpson trial isn’t that new. However Marcia Clark, an attorney who just really, really loves being an attorney and working her ass off, isn’t used to all of the public scrutiny. To be thrown to the media wolves when you’re not expecting to be is bad; to be thrown to the media wolves when you’re a woman can be — and usually is — absolutely terrifying and demoralizing.


There are multiple developments in the trial such as the unforgettable scene where F. Lee Bailey questions Fuhrman about his past usage of the word “nigger” (the stylistic choices here were a bit off but very Ryan Murphy; it was essentially shot like a music video with slam zooms and quick pans every time Bailey uttered the word) or the testimony of Rosa Lopez that didn’t quite go as planned. In an earlier scene, Cochran smartly brings up the fact that Lange lives in Simi Valley (where the cops in the Rodney King beating were acquitted), repeating the suburbs name to make sure it sticks in the jurors’ minds as Lange talks about bringing evidence home. Watching the defense’s strategy play out slowly — the ways in which they are introducing the racism of the police officer, or planting the seeds of doubt — is endlessly fascinating.

Yet even as everything moves forward in American Crime Story, the trial itself takes a backseat to the in-depth character study of Marcia Clark (while also showcasing the undeniable acting skills of Sarah Paulson, conveying frustration and sadness through just a simple touch of her hair or a quiet sob). Clark’s in the middle of a battle with her ex-husband over custody of their children and it’s seeping into her professional life, running late to court and protesting a late night because she has to get home. Her personal and professional life collide when Cochran takes aims at her (much to Simpson’s amusement) and Clark bites back: “I’m offended by Mr. Cochran’s remarks as a woman and as a mother.” Things only get worse when Gordon holds a press conference calling Clark out for saying she was going home but then getting guilted and pressured into working late. There is literally no way for Clark to win in this situation.


That’s what makes “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” such a dark and depressing episode of television: It shows that there is no way for this woman to win. It puts sexism at the front and center, remarking on the ways in which women are unfairly treated and scrutinized. American Crime Story already gave us a glimpse of this during Clark’s focus group but now it goes full speed ahead with the uncomfortable horrors that Clark faced throughout the trial. The entertainment coverage made her hairstyle news, making Clark insecure enough to head to the beauty salon and change it, only to just make it worse for herself. She’s once again tabloid fodder, she gets multiple double-takes and snickers as she enters the court room, and even unprofessional Ito remarks on Clark’s change. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see Clark’s calm happiness as she’s getting her hair shampooed to her immediate self-consciousness when she realizes that it didn’t turn out as she hoped, and that she’s still the butt of the joke.

More than anything, it’s Marcia Clark’s gender that is being attacked here. She’s picked apart for everything from her hair to her clothing to her confident manner that many perceive as bitchiness. She can’t escape it even outside of the court: her face is plastered on tabloids and accompanied by snarky headlines; the (male) cashier notes the tampons she’s buying and remarks, “Guess the defense is in for one hell of a week, huh?” (Side note: I’m pretty sure this line marked the first time I threw something at my television since a particularly bad episode of The New Normal so I’m starting to think Ryan Murphy owes me some electronics.)

That line has been echoing in my head since the first time I watched “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” Everything about it is so telling, like the self-satisfied grin of the cashier who is so proud of himself for making such a shitty, invasive joke. It’s telling that he thinks it’s perfectly OK to make a comment like this to a woman, to a stranger, because he thinks that he knows her from watching her in the court. It is, once again, the perils of unwanted celebrity: The O.J. Simpson trial made Marcia Clark into a public figure, so much so that a literal stranger thought it was totally fine to comment on her period. During the trial, Clark’s gender was emphasized over her professional work: from her looks to people’s doubts about her ability to mother her children to the topless photo of her that her first ex-husband leaked to the tabloids. This last bit is too much for Clark, causing her to sink to the floor while Darden tries to comfort her. O.J. Simpson may be the defendant, but it’s Maria Clark who is being put on trial.

Stray observations

  • Fact check: The cashier’s line, which I originally thought must have been written for the show because what kind of dude is that much of a dick?!, did actually happen, per Toobin’s book.
  • Oh hey, Jordana Brewster as Nicole Brown’s sister!
  • I can’t stop shipping Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. They are my Ross and Rachel. I mean, look at them dance together! He reassured her that she looks fantastic! He holds her hand and I dream of their beautiful mixed-race babies!
  • (OK, admission: I didn’t really think Marcia looked that different after her makeover?)
  • The “Kiss From A Rose” music cue is my new favorite music cue in any show ever.
  • That dick joke in the court was in perfect synergy with those Republican debates, huh?
  • “Bring Kato back on the show!”
  • Oh, yeah, so how surreal it was to turn on the television and see a press conference about O.J. Simpson in 2016? ‘90s nostalgia has gone too far. But yes, let’s talk about that whole knife thing, please, because it’s taking over my life.