On 'The People v. O.J. Simpson,' Marcia Clark meets the court of public opinion

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. It’s a message familiar to many and an attitude fully embraced by the most recent episode of "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” which focused on the trials and tribulations of prosecutor Marcia Clark, who found herself on trial in the court of public opinion as the Simpson case unfolded.

Ultimately, the key to “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” which aired on International Women’s Day, no less, comes in its opening scene.

Clark sits at a table in the midst of a hearing for her divorce, unable to stay silent, repeatedly speaking over her own counsel until finally the judge reprimands her asking (telling) Clark to, “Please remember her place.”

But more than just being the undercurrent of the episode, being mindful of your place resonates throughout the whole of the series, unsurprising for a show spent unpacking the pseudo-Shakespearean tragedy that is the trial of O.J. Simpson.

The racial politics at work in the series are always tense, much like the era it's set in, much like the era it airs in and the episode addresses not just the accusations of domestic abuse levied against Johnny Cochran, but the lurking racism of Mark Fuhrman and the LAPD. It uses the “n- word” as a cudgel, backing the cop into a corner that he cannot escape from.

The series, created and overseen by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, comes back time and again to where people of color fit into a culture that continues to marginalize them, as the country coalesces around the trial of a man who claims, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”

But Tuesday’s episode is more interested in where Clark belongs. Where, exactly, is Marcia Clark’s place?

Anchored by Ryan Murphy stalwart Sarah Paulson’s nervy performance as Clark, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” visits a slew of trial lowlights for the prosecutor. We see Clark called out in court for her child care issues and eviscerated in the press for being a careless mother. We see her shamed into changing her image and exposed in leaked nude photos.

Central to these attacks on her character are the idea that it's impossible for Clark to be both a good mother and a good lawyer. She is chided by Cochran for her baby-sitting issues, as well as by Judge Lance Ito, to the point where she feels it necessary to admonish the court for minimizing the issues of working mothers.

Even beyond her motherhood, the show illustrates the struggle Clark faced to ever be seen outside the lens of her sex.

In a cringe-worthy scene that the “real life” Marcia Clark recounts as completely true, the attorney is met with an attempt to buy tampons with a crude joke about PMS and the defense team. In the moment, Paulson’s Clark looks dumbfounded at the thought that her job had made her body, inside and out, public knowledge.

The episode doesn’t work without Paulson at its center and the actress has never been better. Paulson conducts a high-wire act, depicting Clark as simultaneously thorny and vulnerable, unlikable and empathetic.

It’s a balance familiar to any woman in the public eye, if the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton or the Twitter feed of Kim Kardashian are any indication. But more than that, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” suggests that it's a problem not isolated to just the rich and famous.

More often than not, a person’s place in the universe, for better or worse, is determined by the society they exist in. For Clark, that means any number of things. Is she a bad mother? Is she a bad lawyer? Is she a frump? Is she a bitch? Is she a babe? Can she have more than one facet?

Yes. No. Maybe.

But none of the answers matter. Clark isn’t defined by facts, she’s defined by perception.

When, toward the end of the episode, she enters the courthouse after her infamous makeover, curls cropped close to her head, Clark walks in with the devastatingly misguided confidence of a person who’s forgotten that how she views herself doesn’t matter. No one gets to dictate their own story.

When Johnny Cochran tells his team that their strategy for the case needs to be to “tell a better story,” he’s revealing not just his brilliant legal mind, but his keen understanding of human nature. People want a narrative to believe in, regardless of the truth.

And when Clark weeps to Christopher Darden that she doesn’t know how to handle the scrutiny, that she’s not a public figure, she’s revealing that she’s not yet cynical enough to grasp that her place has always been on trial and it’s merely the size of the courtroom that’s changed.

“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” illustrates an ugly, seemingly insurmountable truth that each day, each one of us is being tried by a jury of our peers and from that, our place in the world determined.


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