This The Assassination of Gianni Versace review contains spoilers.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace Episode 9
The finale of The Assassination of Gianni Versace is an excellent showcase for a few of the series’ best qualities: attention to detail, an ability to fill in the gaps in the record, and a surprisingly effective effort to make us see some shared humanity with Andrew Cunanan, or at least the ways in which the world failed him as well as his victims.
This episode largely succeeds in its Herculean task of resolving the Andrew of the first half of the installment – the spree killer, the vicious manipulator – with the Andrew of the second – the insecure pretender who grew up in a home of violence and deceiving your way to the top.
There are, of course, more clear messages about the way America treated gay men at the time. Some news segments blame David Madsen in a way that feels tied up in his sexuality and past relationship with Andrew. In one poster, Andrew’s photo is doctored with lipstick and again with a wig and lipstick, even though he wasn’t known to cross-dress.
There’s an excellent blending of archival footage, like of Princess Diana and Elton John at Gianni’s funeral, with news clips done over with our actors, like his old friend Elizabeth going on the news to tell Andrew she knows the real him and loves him, and won’t he please end it peacefully.
There are spotlights for three of our more minor characters, as Jon Jon Briones returns as Modesto Cunanan, trying to parlay his son’s infamy into something for himself, Judith Light stuns yet again as Marilyn Miglin, desperately hoping for an end to her tragedy, and Max Greenfield gives an award-worthy performance as sad Ronnie that will do the impossible, and make us all forget about Schmidt.
Andrew may be a murderer, but his father is an abuser, a manipulator, the violent wheeler-and dealer who taught him everything he knows about deception. He also taught him cruelty, which we remember as Modesto answers a question about his son’s crime and calls him innocent…of being a homosexual. One of the more heartbreaking moments is seeing Andrew cry to his father on the phone: “I’m in trouble, I need help, come get me.” Who hasn’t said those words to a parent?
It’s followed, of course, by Andrew’s face when he hears his father on tv and realizes that no, he is not coming to save him. He’s just trying to make a buck and inflate his sense of self, as usual.
Another moment that worked surprisingly well was Andrew seeing himself in Marilyn Miglin’s story, as she’s shown on the many televisions in the houseboat. Andrew is surrounded by the news, going back and forth between relishing it and being so upset that he shoots a TV. His time in the houseboat is, generally, claustrophobic and increasingly desperate, as he eats the dog food that he had earlier spit out into his own wanted poster. He looks more and more like Ronnie, who’s both AIDS sick and dope sick, as he gets closer to his death.
Later, Marilyn is proud of Lee’s secret acts of kindness, but there’s a hint of the idea that if he didn’t tell her about that, what else didn’t he tell her? Again, this is all courtesy of the powerhouse performance by Judith Light, which gives life and import to the smallest detail, letting it take on new meaning, like the fact that Lee helped a young man’s career.
And still, we have precious little of Versace. In some ways, it feels as though he would have had better coverage if he hadn’t been quite so famous, if he had been memorialized in a single dedicated episode, like Lee Miglin, or even if he had been in a couple, but in more concentrated doses, like David Madson and Jeff Trail.
While Penelope Cruz has given a great performance as Donatella, ultimately it doesn’t feel like it adds up to all that much. Perhaps her character’s arc is a victim of the rearrangement of the Versace chronology to demonstrate maximum parallels between Gianni and Andrew, in service to Andrew’s story line.
I can’t finish this without calling out Antonio’s final scene, where he attempts suicide. A person could reasonably finish this show and believe Antonio died, which is the not the case. There’s so much more to Antonio’s story, why not hint at that, rather than suggest death? We was sidelined and deprived of the rights an opposite gender spouse would have without question, but he also overcame that and his grief and went on to continue his career.
When Marilyn Miglin says, “good. It’s over.” I can’t help but think of the real-life Marilyn, who, somewhere out there, must live with not only what Andrew did to her husband, but with what the media, the public, and even this very tv show is doing to her. It’s never over for Marilyn and the other loved ones, and we have all taken part in ensuring that.
Taking stock of it now, I’m not all that convinced that Assassination was for the greater good. Unlike The People vs OJ, it didn’t bring about any new revelations by reframing an old crime with new understanding. Nor did it particularly empower the victims or their loved ones, like The Keepers. If we have to put something up on the scale to weight against the pain of the real life Marilyn Miglin, Jeff Trail’s father, Mary Ann Cunanan and so many others, what is there? Some fantastic performances, perhaps career making for Darren Criss and Max Greenfield. Perhaps more attention on longtime actor Jon Jon Briones. A reminder to the American public that our dark past isn’t as far back as we think.
But is it enough?
Lined up against the real anguish of those who lost their loved ones, many of whom are ardently opposed to this show existing? We’ve only given Andrew more of what he wanted: we made him special.