The irony is that separation is exactly what Judge Lance Ito set out to achieve in sending 12 jury members and 12 alternates into extreme sequestration for eight and a half months. "We will try to make this something less than ... an experience of incarceration, but it won't be a picnic," Ito told those citizens at the outset, according to press accounts at the time. By now, the show has made obvious why such drastic measures were taken. The ubiquity of the case meant that a glance at a TV, an encounter with a neighbor, or a flip through a Reader’s Digest could contaminate members of the jury pool (who, perhaps more for logistical reasons, were also banned from their hotel’s actual swimming pool).
But even after they were removed from the world, could the jury really be thought of as pure? The bulk of the show’s intrigue, after all, is about the attempts by both the prosecution and the defense to manipulate the people in the jury box, in ways that go beyond the strict presentation of evidence. The selection process earlier in the season, where race and gender played a huge role, highlighted how the two sides sought jurors not for their open-mindedness but for their predispositions. And in this episode, we saw how sequestration itself might represent a kind of jury-tampering: It messed with their heads. Locked in a hotel with a handful of others, the jurors began to form bonds with guards, even holding a “strike” when Ito rotated likable ones out. Forbidden from arguing with one another about the case, they argued with each other about which VHS to put on—Martin or Seinfeld?
Even in that latter, banal debate, one of the Great Themes of the whole case seeped in: race. The series opened with images of the Rodney King beating and L.A. riots, a reminder of the context that may have swung the verdict in Simpson’s favor. The show has since preceded with remarkable nuance on the topic, nailing some of the essential ways that skin color makes a material difference in peoples’ lives. Prejudice is part of the picture, but not its entirety. Race, viewers are reminded, relates to social networks, which relates to culture, which relates to worldview. It can influence which sitcom you prefer, which discount retailer you prefer, and whether you expect justice from institutions or not. Of course, on the show as in life, no single attribute determines a person’s complete identity. Turns out, O.J. likes Seinfeld a lot.
Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, Ryan Murphy, and the rest of the show's writing and directing team work the show’s many motifs—including the media’s amorality, the court’s corruptibility, and the lawyers’ petty humanity—like symphony composers: Themes surge, recede, and work in counterpoint. It certainly helps that the material’s richness continues to astound. This latest episode mined yet another fascinating subplot, the fact that the case introduced DNA evidence to a national audience. And the jury strike, a nearly unprecedented act that has been mostly forgotten today, was handled deftly. On another show, it might have been used to symbolize some big idea about the state of the case as it dragged on. But its portrayal here was grounded in the specific circumstances of the jury’s sequestration. Again: Data, not abstraction.