The People vs O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story – Season 1 Episode 8 – “Manna from Heaven” Review

It seems that even reprobates like Mark Fuhrman found a second life after the O.J. Simpson trial. Unsurprisingly, he’s gone on to earn the title of “Fox News Contributor” and “talk radio personality.” He neither contributed to justice nor had a lot to say during the waning days of the Trial of the Century, having claimed his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination during the trial. 20 years later, what he didn’t say during that trial would arguably have more impact on today’s life than Simpson’s acquittal ever will. We wouldn’t be talking about Simpson were it not for Ryan Murphy’s engrossing interpretation of Jeffry Toobin’s book. We are still passionately discussing race and justice and the police.

The basement tapes

“Manna from Heaven” looks at the havoc one racist cop could wreak on the justice system. His blabbing to a struggling screenwriter produced tapes that were instrumental in setting O.J. Simpson free. His sexist comments about Peggy Hart, Lance Ito’s wife and a police commander, nearly caused a mistrial. These things are big, yet not nearly as explosive as the other things Fuhrman bragged about, falsifying evidence, brutalizing suspects and actively trying to prevent women from becoming cops. As Johnnie Cochran’s wife says at the end of this episode, “[the tapes] are bigger than O.J. Simpson.”

Laura Hart McKinny (Marguerite Moreau) was one of the millions of writers trying to type their way into Hollywood when she interviewed Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale) in the mid-1980s. He willingly obliged to help her with his insider’s view of being a cop in what was becoming the most dangerous city in the US. He showed her the hideous underbelly of the front lines of justice instead.

Mark Fuhrman on trial

McKinny tried to stay out of the trial; however, word of her tapes spread (spread by one of her lawyers). F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane) had already set Fuhrman up nicely for a perjury charge (at best) with earlier, prescient questioning. McKinny’s tapes were to be Cochran’s gift from God; the smoldering gun covered in gun powder residue. The tapes would link Fuhrman with an admission of falsifying evidence and by inference, a framing of OJ Simpson.

Mark Fuhrman

Fuhrman (Pasquale) on trial – courtesy of Fox/FX Networks

There were two problems. One was that McKinney didn’t want to release the tapes. She didn’t want to testify, thinking O.J. guilty. So Simpson’s defense team had to shuffle off to North Carolina (where McKinny was a college instructor) to get a judge to force her to release them.

Cochran thought it would be easy enough to get a judge to release the tapes. After all, he was the Johnnie Cochran. The NC judge presiding over the matter didn’t like Cochran’s “showtime” theatrics (Cochran took witness testimony from McKinny, which “Manna from Heaven” didn’t dramatize). It was up to Bailey to convince the judge (on appeal, in fact) with his version of Southern humility in court.

The second problem was that, of course, the prosecution didn’t want the tapes played at all. Marcia Clark and Chris Darden were still smarting from a string of trial mistakes. They argued the tapes contained irrelevant information. Clark thought the info was irrelevant; however, Darden knew the tapes were toxic. Their existence proved him prescient; he was against relying on Fuhrman as a witness from the beginning.

Ito’s quandary

The tapes were heaven-sent for the defense and a curse for the prosecution. They posed an ethical issue for Judge Ito (Kenneth Choi). Fuhrman made disparaging comments about Ito’s wife, who was Fuhrman’s supervisor. The tapes put the judge in an untenable position; he would look the racist villain to prevent a jury from hearing the tapes, and a petty, vengeful husband if he released them.

Judge Ito doles out justice

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY — Pictured: Kenneth Choi as Lance Ito. CR: Michael Becker/FX Networks

Cochran’s plan to only allow the jury to hear part of the tapes went over too well. Ito only allowed the jury to hear just enough to implicate Fuhrman perjuring himself. When Fuhrman took the stand, he took the fifth, exercising his right not to say anything that would incriminate himself.

Cochran did enough to make Fuhrman look like a liar, and that he was surely hiding something about O.J.’s guilt. However, Cochran wanted to do more. He’d wanted to use the Simpson case to discuss Cochran’s battles with corrupt cops, and the Fuhrman tapes would have allowed that to happen on a grand scale.

The jury never heard the 13 hours of conversation between McKinny and Fuhrman. The rest of the country, still absorbing tabloid TV like A Current Affair, at least, heard Fuhrman being a racist, sexist twit.

Cause the police always got something stupid to say

The pyramid was upside down. With the taboo-related, celebrity controversy that was the Simpson trial, what Mark Fuhrman had to say was lost on most. Young black men all over the US were probably bored with the – to them – obvious concept of a lying racist cop. Perhaps others just didn’t care enough. What Fuhrman said on those tapes was far more valuable to the country than they were to O.J.  Cochran may have been grandstanding when the TV version of him says as much; however, haven’t the high profile tragic deaths proven he’s right!!

Murphy doesn’t underplay this, and rightfully so. He allows Darden to rail against his co-counsel for “not wanting a Black voice” on the trial. He highlights the righteous anger of the African-American leadership in California over the matter. He shows Cochran shedding a tear over losing the quest to present the entirety of the tapes to the jury.

Murphy could easily have portrayed Cochran as a scoundrel for wanting to play the tapes. Instead, he allows Cochran’s motive to seek justice equal footing with Cochran’s desire to win (and massive ego). He also allows the doubters to understand why African-Americans cheered Simpson’s acquittal. It was less love for the Juice than it was a cry out for justice.