This Assassination of Gianni Versace review contains spoilers.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace Episode 2
There’s a creeping sense of foreboding that is built effectively throughout this slower-paced episode, only to be deflated time and again. The effect builds stress for the viewer, and shows us that for Andrew Cunanan, violence was not indiscriminate but rather one of many ways to pass the time, like lying on the beach.
The Cunanan parts of the episode feel like the writers telling us: we’re not there yet. This is not the main event. The law enforcement discussion of Andrew’s four murders before Gianni certainly suggests that we will see those killings early on, rewinding to show how Cunanan became the man who showed up on Versace’s doorstep with a gun. Here again, Darren Criss’s performance sells us on this steely-eyed “predatory escort,” and his clear-eyed malevolence is so immediately understood by the audience that it’s more shocking when he doesn’t murder someone, or even physically harm them at all.
In the premier, we were treated to an awful lot of Cunanan showing off his off-putting, yet somehow winning, chameleon-like qualities as he met people in different times, places, orientations, and socio-economic standings. But if the Andrew of Episode 1 is inscrutable, the one we get to know in Episode 2 is surprisingly candid. Even before he tells a cute guy in a club that he’s a serial killer, confessing his many fake personas, we see Ronny repeatedly pick up on his strangeness.
“Manhunt” also expands on Max Greenfield’s Ronnie, a lonely HIV+ gay man who Andrew connects with easily. Ronnie’s story is heartbreaking because while we see it across Greenfield’s perturbed face every time he catches something amiss, he seems to want companionship so much that he’s willing to overlook his intuition. I hope we’ll be seeing more of Greenfield’s effective performance in the future, as his presence in Cunanan’s hotel room during the police raid suggested in the premier.
On that point, we spent more time with our law enforcement officials this episode. It’s startling that they knew Cunanan’s full name after he killed Lee Miglin, his third (known) victim, although they neglect to mention a circumstance of his death that bears a striking similarity to the events of this episode. They even somehow knew that he would be in the general area. But their shortsighted approach to finding their suspect (who needs fliers, anyway!) and their fidelity to the victim profile of closeted men, caused them to miss what was right in front of them all along.
Another heartbreaking moment comes courtesy of Andrew’s victim-who-wasn’t. The man clearly picks up guys often enough (and feels badly enough about it) that he answers “yes” when asked if he’s done it two or three times. The look on his face when he calls 911 to report what has happened is devastating. His self-doubt, shame, and likely correct guess about how that call would be received keep him from reporting, and Cunanan continues on his predatory way. To be clear, it’s not the man’s fault that Cunanan remained free. This small but portentous moment at the phone is an excellent reminder of the #MeToo dynamics specific to the experience of men who experience sexual violence, as the encounter with Cunanan surely is. Any experience where there’s no safe word (or even the means to say one, or otherwise object) and one person nearly dies cannot be considered consensual any longer, even if it started that way. Even if he paid for it.
On the other hand, Versace’s story gave a moving look into Gianni’s life, focusing on his two soul mates: his sister and Antonio. It becomes even more clear that they have no great affection for one another, or at least Donatella doesn’t for Antonio. And she does not mince words. There’s already a hint of what will happen to their relationship after Gianni’s death, and it certainly doesn’t suggest that they will be family, as he urged.
The heartbreak of Gianni surviving HIV but being shot by a near-stranger doesn’t escape Donatella, but it’s a worthwhile reminder for a modern audience, particularly those to young to remember the days when the so-called Gay Plague was a death sentence. Here we also got one of our first real looks into Gianni’s life and creative process, and the way he thought of his life’s work. His wish for models who are not dainty but rather look like they eat, have sex, and live real lives is certainly pleasing to modern sensibilities, and is a reminder of the way he departed from his contemporaries. The shout-out to Carla Bruni (then a model, not yet a first lady), the rise of Galliano and McQueen are reminders that while Gianni is a legend, he still had to fight for it, the empire he created from nothing.
In the premier, it comes across that Gianni is at least a happy participant in he and Antonio’s open sex life, although of course that comes from Antonio. This deeper look into their loving partnership shows that perhaps Gianni tired of that life before Antonio, and perhaps was never as interested to begin with. It’s sweet to see Antonio commit to a life together “in the evening,” not just in the morning, but the knowledge that they will lose each other (and a little real-world knowledge about how all of this turns out for Antonio) turns the moment into a wince.
So far, almost every character who we’ve seen spend any real amount of time with Cunanan has figured out some aspect of his act, though I doubt most of them would suspect what he was truly capable of. The john who Cunanan almost suffocated, his college friend, the high school friend and her boyfriend, and poor Ronny have all noticed. In Murphy’s eyes, Cunanan is a compulsive liar and shapeshifter, though not the most diligent one. He can be convincing for a few minutes, but he quickly loses track of his lies, or otherwise doesn’t care to keep them straight. He even signs his full name and hotel address when he pawns a gold coin, and the pawn shop owner checks the board for where that flyer should be. All of this reinforces the larger point of Versace’s narrative: how did this guy get away with it?