The Assassination of Gianni Versace Episode 7 Review: Ascent
Andrew Cunanan's uneven early history provides the show's first misstep, while the Versace siblings soar
This The Assassination of Gianni Versace review contains spoilers.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace Episode 7
There’s a lot of the same in this episode – Andrew’s delusions of grandeur, his refusal to either accept a normal life or fight for something better. Yet so much is, chronologically, for the first time – seeking out older men in the personals, taking someone’s story and using it as his own, telling stories with almost no truth to them at all. This episode posits itself as Andrew becoming the Andrew we know, the liar, the killer, the manipulator, the purloiner of other people’s money, stories, and lives. Its mixed performance largely fluctuates with how smoothly it executes that transition.
The Cunanan story is bookended and intermixed by more time with the Versaces than we’ve had since perhaps episode 2, and it’s a welcome change. It’s the time period when Gianni knew he was sick, but was keeping his status a secret, or trying to. All series, Edgar Ramírez and Penélope Cruz have done an excellent job playing the deep affection and loyalty that Gianni and Donatella had for each other. Still, it’s clear who’s side Murphy is on – when Gianni and Donatella fight, the show gives the task of setting Gianni straight to Antonio. This makes Antonio the better person, the man who rises above his disagreements with Donatella for the good of his partner.
Donatella really comes into her own in this episode, struggling with her pain at what was then a death sentence for her brother, as well as fears about her inadequacy to run Versace without Gianni. Both siblings are cracking. He wants her to be great, to be able to go on without him, but he doesn’t know how to show it without disappointment and frustrating. And she gives him other people’s designs, claiming she’s incapable. Maybe that’s why she does it – if she is never good enough to run Versace on her own, perhaps she will never have to.
There’s a truly beautiful moment, when they decide to design a dress together, and Gianni tells his sister that the dress is not his legacy, she is. Rocking a bumpit way before they were cool (or even invented), Donatella steals the show at the Vogue 100th anniversary gala in a dress that would make Adam Rippon jealous. On the other hand, Gianni walks gingerly, still sick, a portent of his upcoming recuperation from “rare ear cancer” in Miami, which couldn’t sound more like a lie if it tried. As he unveils her in their creation at the Vogue 100 party, and then steps out of the spotlight, he passes the torch.,
Of course this being both Ryan Murphy and Donatella, things are a little weird. Donatella and Gianni have always had a weird, too-close for siblings vibe. But there’s something about the way she is as his model, the straps of her slip sliding off her shoulders, him slipping a belt out from his waist and around her neck, the hint if BDSM and auto-erotic asphyxiation, that makes it all a bit too sexually charged for siblings, even for these two.
The first half of Andrew’s story was tough to take. In his first scene of the episode, he doesn’t even look like Andrew – he’s Darren Criss. His dramatic reactions, like his Haagen-Dazs tantrum, feel overwrought and on the nose, rather than precisely characterized the way he’s been so far. It does give him a chance to give his character’s thesis statement: “it’s not even German mom, it’s just a name that they made up to sound special.” Unfortunately, in the first real misstep of the series, it’s not coming through as well in this episode. Somehow, in a show that has featured a person mopping up human blood with a magazine ad for their own clothing and a bird autopsy, throwing a tub of ice cream on the floor still feels too much and off-key.
It’s odd to once again feel sympathy for Andrew, which Criss manages, if only briefly, when trying to sell himself to the woman running the escort service. He seems to genuinely think that saying, “I’m clever” three different ways will be enough. So much of what works in this episode, though, is watching Cunanan become the man we know. So we see him learn to scope out and then manipulate older men, meet and charm David with the dinner we saw him feverishly try to re-create in the previous episode.
Between Andrew’s conversations with his Filipino boss, and his attempt to become an escort have the most pointed discussion of Cunanan’s ethnicity so far. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role, and it’s certainly a career-defining moment for Criss. But it’s also a great case for casting roles with the appropriate ethnicity. Both Criss and Cunanan are half-Filipino, and it’s clear that Cunanan was carrying as many anxieties about his ethnicity as his sexuality, as we see him call himself da Silva for the first time. Unless you’re watching Mystic Pizza or live in certain pockets of the country, it’s easy for many white Americans to forget what it has been like for Portuguese people in this country, even recently. One wonders what further nuance a Filipino or otherwise AAPI (Asian-American or Pacific Islander) showrunner would have brought to this project, in the same way that Ryan Murphy has created a show no hetero would have ever made.
Unfortunately, in the final part of his education, we get both a bonus brutal murder, and Andrew learning the wrong lesson from Lincoln’s death. He saw how to kill, how to get caught, and, most importantly, that gay men can be robber, beaten, and killed without any real consequence. I shouldn’t be shocked by the bloody mess where Lincoln’s face used to be, or the inclusion of another death in this series. But I am. As Cunanan sheds his poor, beaten mother and his old life, the fact that this Andrew-adjacent murder is seen as a reasonable response to a man trying to kiss him (which he didn’t), is just one more reminder of the larger crimes at stake.