[For The People v. OJ Simpson “Manna From Heaven” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
Manna From Heaven. Johnnie Cochran and F. Lee Bailey go across country to acquire the Mark Fuhrman tapes.
“Manna From Heaven” opens with the Dream Team’s investigator calling a woman to ask her about tapes she made of Mark Fuhrman but she doesn’t want to help OJ Simpson and refuses to even talk to him. Then he tells the team the tapes are filled with offensive language including the n-word all over the place and talking about planting evidence. But they can’t get the tapes because the woman who has them wants to sell her screenplay. She can’t be bought otherwise. Johnnie latches on to the importance of these tapes and won’t abide Scheck’s comment that lucky breaks doesn’t just fall from the sky. “Oh yes they do,” Johnnie says, raising his hands to the ceiling. “God brought us these tapes… this is Manna From Heaven” and he spends the rest of the episode arguing this point.
The prosecution isn’t quite so ironclad or optimistic, though. Darden is flustered from Cochran’s avalanche of courtroom accusations of racism and it adversely affects his lawyering ability. He’s rattled and it doesn’t help his nerves that the whole thing is televised. Marcia, who cares only about winning at this point, is not exactly empathetic to Darden. They’re cranky and intolerant with each other at a time when they need each other’s support more than ever.
The Dream Team then puts forth a subpoena for the thirteen tapes; they’re in North Carolina so the Dream Team needs to send members to fight for them. F Lee Bailey explains that he should go because he’s won over two hundred cases in North Carolina. Of course, Johnnie has to go too, as the self-proclaimed true believer in the tapes. They fly to North Carolina immediately and right away sit down to read the transcripts. It turns out that, indeed, racist hate and the n-word are all over these tapes. Johnnie argues a case in the North Carolina court that the tapes need to be brought to California for the OJ trial but the judge isn’t persuaded and denies his request. On the way out of the courtroom F. Lee Bailey suggests that he present a prompt appeal merely because he’s a more welcome sight in a southern courtroom. Of course, it turns out he’s right and subsequently the tapes go to California for the trial.
The next step is getting Judge Ito to find them admissible. While we’re waiting on that decision we hear some outtakes from the tapes and they’re horrifying. But it gets even more complicated when Clark and Darden play a tape for Gil (the DA) that has Fuhrman talking about how much he hates Judge Ito’s wife, a high ranking officer in the LAPD. This represents a gigantic problem because it’s a conflict of interest for Ito. This would mean a mistrial. Once Ito gets wind of this situation he brings it all out in court and says he doesn’t want to trigger a mistrial and thus thinks another judge should determine if he should continue to be the acting judge on this trial. The new judge reviews the tapes and listens to arguments, in the end finding that Ito should remain on the case. Then we’re back to the issue of admitting the tapes.
There’s some Darden and Marcia drama that plays out so true-to-life it’s tugs at even our jaded, fossilized, hearts. First Darden yells at Marcia because he’d fought so hard against using Fuhrman. How many times did he tell her? So many times. And Marcia ignored him over and over again. He says, “You put me on this trial because you wanted a black face but you never wanted a black voice,” powerful and true words that Clark really seems to hear, finally. Then in a later scene she apologizes to him for not listening about Fuhrman. Darden then apologizes to her for not listening to her about having Simpson try on the gloves. They shake hands and are a dynamic duo again. But, unfortunately, no make-up sex. We do predict some Clark/Darden romantic fan fiction appearing on the Internet in the near future, though, so don’t get too bummed. The nation demands titillation and it always gets what it wants eventually.
Fighting to get the tapes heard by the court, Cochran argues that Fuhrman uses the n-word thirty times and cites harsh and unwarranted punitive actions against suspects based on their race. The tapes are literally a bloody racist mess and all from a man who testified that he’s never even said the n-word. Marcia argues that she’s not here to defend Mark Fuhrman but rather Ron and Nicole. These tapes merely cloud the real issue at hand, she says. This is a murder trial. Ito then decides he doesn’t want to suppress any information because of nationwide interest so he will play the tapes in court but keep the jury out for the initial listen.
Trouble is that because the tapes are played in court and thus on nationwide broadcast, this Fuhrman disaster does indeed overshadow the other evidence. The information on those tapes is such a grand scale with enormous repercussions that it took over the minds of everybody so that it’s no longer just a murder trial. Ron Goldman’s father speaks to the TV press about how it’s a tragedy that this trial has completely lost sight of the murder victims. And he’s right. In fact, critics on both sides are right. Darden was right when he said the trial has become a circus but Cochran is also right that there is a larger societal issue at hand. The fact that this was going on in the LAPD shouldn’t be ignored – also true. So, what do you do when both sides are right? That’s when you have to rely on the rules of law as applied to the issue at hand. So, this is how Ito handles it. He decides to allow the jury to hear only two sentences from the Fuhrman tapes. From those two statements the jury will know that Fuhrman committed perjury which is the alleged purpose of playing the tapes. Although, everyone’s fully aware that Cochran has a higher purpose in mind as well.
Next we see Johnnie get the news that only two sentences of the tapes will be admitted into evidence. He’s upset that he can’t put the whole racist system of violence and oppression that Fuhrman represents on trial. For him it’s a personal loss even though, for this particular case, it’s a technical win. The jury only hears twelve words but Johnnie’s wife points out to him that the world already heard the rest of the tapes. There’s evidence of this the next day when picketers attack vehicles outside the courthouse holding up signs that say “Get the KKK out of the LAPD” and similar statements. Then Fuhrman sits on the witness stand yet again. This time Darden walks out of the courtroom before Fuhrman testifies. But all Fuhrman will say is that he wishes to assert his fifth amendment privilege as an answer to every question. It’s a waste.
In the last scene OJ dances with glee as he changes from his courtroom suit to prison clothes. He’s celebrating his inevitable freedom as Kardashian looks on with disgust all over his face. Meanwhile at the DA’s office, Clark finds out she got primary custody of her children in her divorce settlement. Her assistant says, “So, you got everything,” and Marcia looks up at her, bewildered. Of course she didn’t get everything but yes, she did get primary custody of the kids. You win some you lose some, her eyes seem to say but you never ever “get everything” that’s for certain. These last two facial expressions, on Kardashian and then Clark, perfectly comprise the resonant feeling of this episode. It’s as if the characters are starting to realize this trial is actually quicksand and no matter how hard they fight, it’s a sinker. There’s a scene where Clark and Darden discuss if maybe a mistrial wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It could represent a chance to “do-over” having learned from all their mistakes. Then Marcia points out that of course we all want to do over certain regrets from life. But we live in reality and thus, instead we have to forge ahead, move on, and do the next right thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how any of us might want to rewrite the OJ Simpson case. There is no do-over even in this semi-fictionalized universe of “American Crime Story”. Because it was a real life event, this trial will proceed the way it happened, whether we like it or not.