The Assassination of Gianni Versace Episode 6 Review: Descent
Andrew Cunanan's abusive and manipulative past is laid bare on his road toward becoming a spree killer on American Crime Story.
This The Assassination of Gianni Versace review contains spoilers.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace Episode 6
With episodes three through six, The Assassination of Gianni Versace has placed the lives of Cunanan’s victims front and center. They are used as a lens to explore Andrew, but they are also shown to be people in their own right, with their own lives and motivation before Cunanan was through. Listing the names at the opening of this episode was a stark reminder of the stakes of the series.
There’s been a certain amount of criticism over how little the series has focused on Gianni Versace. Certainly, given the title, the viewer is entitled to be annoyed. But from an ethical standpoint, honoring three of the other four victims is a worthwhile pursuit, and it has made for excellent television.
However, it’s the absence of an episode devoted to victim number four, cemetary caretake William Reese, that exposes the show’s intentions more clearly: he is the only victim who (undisputedly) had absolutely nothing to do with Andrew Cunanan. It’s purely a situation of the wrong place at the wrong time, which means there’s little his death (or life) can do to shed life on who Andrew Cunanan was, or why he became a spree killer.
Therein lies the rub of true crime: even when it endeavors to honor the victims of a particular crime, it’s almost always in service to more exposure for, and a better understanding of, the perpetrator of the crime, rather than their victims.
The presence of Lee Miglin at Andrew’s birthday party, and in a picture alongside Andrew, David, Jeff, and Andrew’s paramour of the week, is startling. For one thing, a picture of Andrew with three of his five victims would be a big deal on it’s own. Second, Miglin’s family disputes to this day that the two ever met. Futhermore, to show a photo being taken is a bold assertion in anything based on a true story, since it insinuates that the photo actually exists. I couldn’t find any such photo online, nor any mention of it in discussions about whether Miglin and Cunanan knew each other. To portray it here feels like an overstep of the contract that true stories make with their audience, since it would be reasonable to assume the photo was real based on this episode, and I have yet to hear about even a purported existence of such an image.
Andrew’s host is an interesting figure, as is his friend who clearly has Andrew’s number. Andrew clearly isn’t fooling anyone; his older lover has no delusions about their situation. Yet he is firm when Andrew tries to overstep with his extravagant requests, and the incentive to value the older man more dead than alive. “If you want to live this life, you have to work for it. Or you can share it with me. There is no third way.” Much of Andrew’s actions could be seen as looking for that third way. More troubling still, is the fact that in spite of his taste for the good life, he clearly didn’t kill for it. So what, then?
The Andrew Cunanan of “Descent” is fittingly desperate and sad. He’s modeling his life around the kind of person he thinks David could love, which is heartbreak to watch when it’s played so well, but Ryan Murphy and Darren Criss won’t let us forget what’s to follow, even for a second. Andrew is transparent in his attempts to thwart David and Jeff’s chemistry upon meeting, doing everything he can to keep them apart, appear single to David without alienating any of his older patrons too much, and scrambling to project the kind of life that he mistakenly thinks will appeal to David.
This episode, more than any other, demonstrates the warning signs of Andrew’s earlier abusive behaviors. Obviously the physical violence is the most extreme, but there’s more to learn from how he acted before he escalated to such extreme violence. It’s important to state clearly here that Cunanan’s victims are not to blame for not noticing the signs or not speaking up. However, it’s worthwhile to point out abusive behavior whenever it occurs, in the hopes that it helps to keep more people safe.
Much of Andrew’s behavior comes from the classic power and control wheel of the world of intimate partner violence and sexual assault – I’m thinking here of the way he plays the victim when Jeff gets physical in response to Andrew sending the postcard to Jeff’s father to out him, which is itself an act of abuse. Andrew tries to gaslight Jeff and whatever audience he may have, real or imagined, into thinking that Jeff’s actions were more aggressive and threatening than they really were. Andrew effectively flips the conversation so that instead of answering for his betrayal, Jeff has to answer for his reaction to it.
There’s an interesting dynamic at play here that’s not often discussed on mainstream media, that of abuse between members of the LGBTQ community. Andrew’s reaction to Jeff plays up the idea that Jeff is larger and more masculine, making himself seem more vulnerable. Further, so many of the red flags that David, Jeff, and others noticed about Andrew’s behavior would have been easily dismissed due to myths related to intimate partner violence. For example, Andrew lacked a physical advantage, one that is often credited with so much of the imbalance in heterosexual power dynamics. In earlier episodes, Jeff and David shrugged Andrew off as harmless though annoying, or even cruel.
Unfortunately, the downplaying of emotional and verbal abuse is all too common, and it allows more intimate partner violence to flourish. Andrew’s ability to manipulate myths and assumptions around homosexuality and intimate partner violence helped him fly under the radar and ultimately hurt more people.