This The Assassination of Gianni Versace review contains spoilers.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace Episode 4 Review
This week, we continue to work our way backwards through Andrew Cunanan’s killing spree, going to Minneapolis in April of 1997, a week before he killed Lee Miglin. Once again Gianni is absent from the story named for him, though we all know true crime cares more about perpetrators than victims, and so far it has paid off for American Crime Story.
Unlike last week, this week’s murder comes right away. Or at least, the first one does. Andrew murdering Jeff is immediate, calculated, and blocked so it isn’t shown on-screen. But the sound and the blood-spatter are bad enough. They use scene blocking strategic framing to hide the murder, hiding Jeff’s mangled dead body with the dog the way another show would jokily obscure nudity.
Going backwards like this is an interesting choice. The obvious advantage is starting the first episode with the death of Gianni Versace. One thing we lose, ironically, is the sense of Andrew becoming a killer. This way, it feels like he always was one, like it was some sort of dark destiny for him, to the point where his not murdering the john in episode 2 was a bit of a surprise. This episode tries to walk us back to a time when murder wasn’t Andrew’s default. It’s marginally successful at that specific task, though superb at others. When Andrew tells David no one else will get hurt it feels obviously untrue, but when Andrew tells David that he will never hurt him, Darren Criss sells it: Cunanan might even believe his own lies.
Cody Fern gave an excellent performance here as David, as did Finn Wittrock with his brief, restrained performance as Jeff, a man who was both terrified and certain he was worrying for nothing. David’s fear is palpable as he backs away from Andrew in his own apartment, runs from him in his final moments, or in more reserved moments like interacting with neighbors outside while fearing what Andrew will do to them. The best moments, though, are his interactions with his father, and seeing him realize that everything about killing Jeff was calculated. It naturally begs the question: how did Andrew make the leap to someone who carries out such grisly, intentional murders?
There’s something brutal about watching another person Cunanan victimizes call 911 and then hang up. Whether he believed Andrew, or simply sensed that he was unstable and becoming agitated, David complied and hung up. Andrew directly engages with how homophobia would color David’s interactions with the authorities, praying on very real fears of the time. David’s use of gay marriage being illegal as a way to brush off the over-eager Andrew is another sign of the times.
It’s painful to watch the cold, controlled way Cunanan uses genuine fear of homophobia to his advantage, particularly when it’s juxtaposed with a story of David and his father, who ultimately stood by him when he came out. Once again – or rather, for the first time – Cunanan intentionally leaves his victim’s gay porn out for law enforcement to find, which feels a bit like the impulse of many perpetrators of domestic violence (which this surely is) to decide that if they can’t have their partner, they will ruin them, one way or another.
I’ve got to think one of the only things as terrifying as being told your child has been murdered is being told they are a murderer, and both happened within a week to David Madson’s parents. But they knew their boy – we see that David’s inclination to call his father when he was in trouble was a good one. It also makes his imaginary safety with his father particularly poetic. His father surprised me by not forcing hunting onto his son any further, and by not giving him a hard time for not liking it. Coming out didn’t go quite as well, though also not as terrible as I imagined. His father didn’t approve, but he still loves his son. Sadly, this is what passes for “taking it well” in the 90s.
Darren Criss continues to wow as Andrew Cunanan, and this week we see a few different shades of the killer. After killing Jeff, Andrew treats David the way one might treat a scared loved after saving them from a violent intruder, reassuring him and gently guiding him toward next steps. But here, Andrew is the intruder.
There is an echo of David’s squeamishness around hunting with his father in the way Andrew tells him to turn away when he rolls up Jeff’s body in the rug. Andrew has cast himself as protector, and later as gleeful boyfriend on his first road trip as a couple. As David points out, there’s a very fuzzy line between when Andrew knows he’s lying and when he falls for himself. He seems to wrestle with that, or perhaps the realization that he will need to kill David, as Aimee Mann covers Drive by The Cars at a roadside bar. David sees through Andrew’s lies and Andrew can’t live with that, even if that means murdering the man he thought he loved.
More so than in the prior episode, ACS shows us how law enforcement falls short. From the beginning, they make assumptions that buy Andrew more time, rather than investigating. It’s unclear whether these shortcomings are motivated by any prejudice or simply the universal neglect that is corner-cutting assumptions. These assumptions lead them to jump from the theory that David is the victim to David as killer, ignoring the only real evidence they have in two character witnesses, David’s work colleague and apartment building manager.