This The Assassination of Gianni Versace review contains spoilers.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace Episode 8
We go way back and are squarely situation in the 80s for this foundational episode of the Assassination of Gianni Versace. There’s no death, but plenty of destruction, as breadcrumbs are dropped, the hints of all of Andrew’s traits to come. His love of clothing, from his father’s enormous closet. His penchant for lying and swindling, also from his father. And of course the beginning of his history of violence, as he watched his father manipulate his mother, threaten her, and ring her neck. Dating much older men, receiving lavish gifts, manipulating them like he does with this man, pretending he thought they could go to the party together so he can get the gift and his night back, still spending it how he pleases.
The episode, which features the rise and fall of Modesto Cunanan’s American Dream, benefits greatly from an 80s-inspired soundtrack, including Devo and a great Jefferson Airplane cover. Andrew seems confident in a health way, and while his father obviously favors him, he hasn’t quite done a full psychological number on him yet. But Andrew’s still a mix of utter confidence and intense self-consciousness, and you better believe that yearbook pic, and the superlative “Most Likely to be Remembered,” are both real.
There have been a lot of shots of Andrew dancing throughout this series. Dancing at clubs, sure, but the best ones so far have been solo and incongruous, like jamming out alone in a car after murdering someone. But this sequence, two long, back to back shots of Andrew from exiting his lover’s car, ripping off the trench coat to unveil the white boy jazzercise instructor version of Eddie Murphy’s red leather outfit underneath, and a runway walk that Miss J would approve as he enters the party to his wrist-inflected entrance directly onto the dance floor, puts them all to shame.
It’s sort of like reverse-engineering a puzzle. We see the nervous blond friend, the man from the first episode who called out Andrew’s dishonesty about his sexuality. Wearing a fantastic 80s sweater (that’s what we’re calling them now instead of Cosby sweaters, right?) he wants to ask Andrew out, and we already know he’ll be disappointed. He’s far too earnest and normal for Andrew. He also meets Lizzie, the friend who has flitted in and out of his life since the first episode of the series. It’s easy to see how someone like Andrew would intrigue her, with his attention, lavish lifestyle, and au courrant sensibility. And of course, she’s friends with the da Silvas (!) who own the house.
Modesto is clearly abusive in many ways – physically, emotionally, and perhaps he’s even drugging his wife. At minimum he’s gaslighting her. At one point, after Modesto flees and Andrew wants to chase after him, it looks like Andrew might hit her, but he covers her mouth instead. He’s not that man yet. But he will be.
For most of the episode Andrew seems innocent, like he still believes in good things happening to good people. He clearly idolizes his father, who helped him stay innocent much longer than his older siblings, who seem to hold no illusions about their father’s favoritism and violent tendencies. Andrew bristles at being mocked for being gay, but he doesn’t back down. He could be any gay kid, or someone with less money than their peers, just trying to fit in. He wants to seek out his heroes, mostly LGBTQ and gender-bending icons like Basquiat, Patty Smith, Keith Herring and who else, but Versace.
Viewers looking for more Versace will once again be disappointed. The vignette here is informative, and tracks with Cunanan’s cruel, taunting schoolmates, but once again Versace’s story is in service to Cunanan’s, not the other way around. Even without factoring in screen time, which really speaks for itself when it comes to priorities, the Gianni story is used to make greater meaning for Andrew’s, episode after episode. One wonders why Gianni hasn’t been afforded the same humanity as Andrew’s other victims, with the dedicated episode(s) for Lee Miglin, David Madsen, and Jeff Trails.
I’d love to know more about the woman at work who twice warns Andrew’s father. Was that a sign of AAPI or Filipino camaraderie, was there something going on between them, or was it something else?
Village life, with its mosquito nets and exposed light bulbs, is not how Andrew wanted to see his father. He honestly seems more horrified by what he perceives as squalor than by his father’s apparent crimes, or the fact that his mother is afraid of him.
Again, Andrew seems to learn the wrong lesson, as does his father. While M says his mistake was stealing too little, Andrew learns from his father’s failed thievery that lying and stealing. His father turns on him, on a dime, like Andrew will one day turn on so many other people. And then his father does something that is at once unbelievable and completely credible, coming from the man who raised the person Andrew will one day become: he challenges his son to be a man and stab him.
While I had assumed that this episode had the tallest order to fill, the one going back furthest in Cunanan’s past, it’s far more successful than the previous episode. Perhaps that’s because this one contains all of the ingredients for who Cunanan will one day be. We see the violence, the lying, and the self-hatred. All of these seeds are planted, and rather than drawing weak connections between dots, like “Ascent” did, “Creator/Destroyer” allows us to imagine ourselves how a hard working boy who sees his father steal, abandon him, and pay no price for his actions, could then go on to live a life that seems deliberately fashioned to generate the appearance of vast wealth, with as little work as possible.