The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story recap: 'Manhunt'
Andrew Cunanan makes his way to Miami and the FBI fumbles their investigation
This week’s episode begins like we’re seeing a bizarro-universe version of last week’s: Versace is in a hospital again, but this time he’s standing, looking at the bodies of two gaunt men in beds, while holding Antonio’s hand. At first glance, a viewer might mistake the sick bodies for theirs.
He’s getting treated for something, but the show is intentionally vague on what that something is. The Versace family has always maintained that Gianni Versace was HIV negative, and suffered from ear cancer in the final ears of his life, but the obvious implication here is AIDS — as a gay man living at the height of the epidemic, Versace would have been at risk, and the doctor’s comments about new possibilities with regards to treatment seems to line up. Artistically, it makes sense: It provides a counterbalance to Cunanan, who will emphatically deny being “sick” to Ronnie later in the episode. But vagueness is the best choice of all, mirroring the conversation and speculation that followed Versace in real life.
Versace returns home from the hospital to lounge on a gilded daybed in the center of a room, looking like Marat in the tub, with his sister sitting over him. “What is Versace without you?” she asks. “It is you,” he replies. The scene dissolves from tableau to familial drama: Donatella blames Antonio for Versace’s illness, or for failing to protect him (again, this subtext works better with the implication of AIDS. How was Antonio supposed to protect him from ear cancer?). Antonio asks for basic respect but Donatella balks. He gave her brother neither children nor safety. “If you had given him anything I would have given you respect, but you have given him nothing,” she says. Versace pleads for all three of them to be a family, but things seem prickly at best.
We are transported to the house after Versace’s death, with Donatella watching people place their offerings at the gate. “He is gone, Antonio. There is no need for us to pretend anymore.”
The mortician begins his work of making Versace look as near to his living photograph as possible. Donatella arrives to see his body, bringing a suit for him. She tenderly tightens his tie in the coffin and fixes his cufflinks. He looks perfect, almost living, and then he is cremated. All of that beautiful effort is turned to ashes, and put in a gold box to go back to Italy on a plane with Donatella.
Meanwhile, it’s 1996 again, and Cunanan drives a red pickup truck to Walmart, where he changes the license plate in the parking lot and smiles at a little girl staring at him before driving away. From the radio, we hear that he’s a suspect for the death of Lee Miglin (who had been Cunanan’s third victim), which confirms what we probably suspected: This is before the assassination of Versace. Cunanan, singing along to “Gloria” in the car, screaming out the window, dancing in his seat, is gleefully driving to Miami.
Using a fake passport, Cunanan books a room at the Normandy Plaza (where a massive art piece of Marilyn Monroe emphasizes the show’s theme of celebrity and notoriety) and we see another of Cunanan’s easy lies. “Born in Nice. Have you been?” He’s sociopathically smooth, and it’s a credit to Darren Criss that the oil leaks from his words.
Now that he’s made it to Miami, he heads to Versace’s home, only to find the gates locked. And so he’ll wait for his opportunity, buying sunglasses and a hat and a camera from beachside vender, taking dozens of pictures of the houses to set up a creepy serial killer collage back on the hotel wall.
Even before Versace’s death, Cunanan was on the FBI’s top 10 most wanted list, and the FBI came to Miami to inform local police that they’re operating with the assumption that Cunanan is in town or coming soon.
The FBI agents condescendingly rebuff Detective Lori Weider’s (Dascha Polanco) questions. The FBI only has 10 fliers of Cunanan, and they’re not paying attention to the Miami gay scene. “The fliers aren’t a priority for us,” the agent says. (That decision will come back to bite them in the ass when Cunanan uses his real name to pawn a gold coin, and the pawn shop owner will look over at the bulletin board of posters and not see his face.) Weider photocopies a few herself.
Even as a wanted man, Cunanan lives with complete freedom. He talks his way into an oceanfront room with a little practiced speech and befriends the HIV-positive Ronnie (Max Greenfield) who had been hanging around outside. Ronnie’s appeal is clear: Cunanan loves an audience. He talks endlessly about Versace’s fashion and their close friendship, balking only when Ronnie seems skeptical about his obvious lies.
On the beach, Cunanan does what is implied to have become a habit: becoming an escort for wealthy, older men. He finds one and returns to his hotel room, where the man’s suggestion (“I can be submissive”) is all he needs to duct tape around his head, neck, and eyes — and finally, his mouth.
The man begins to struggle. Cunanan turns up the music and flirts with a pair of scissors. “Accept it,” he repeats. “Accept it. Accept it,” chanting it like a mantra, or the chorus of a song. While the man flails for air, Cunanan dances around the room in the show’s most unsettling scene to date.
Finally, Cunanan in his tiny bathing suit straddles the man and raises the pair of scissors above his head. It’s not obvious what he’s going to do. He stabs the man in the face — allowing him to breathe.
The man, alive but still looking very shaken, answers the door for room service in a robe. Cunanan gleefully eats and tells pretty lies about his mother packing his lunch when he was growing up. The man locks the door after Cunanan and puts back on his wedding ring. He calls 911 but hangs up. Cunanan’s greatest ally is the shame men feel about their gay dalliances. (Recap continues on page 2)
In Versace’s glamorous life, the designer is arguing with Donatella about which models to use for the show. He doesn’t want girls who look too skinny. He prefers girls who look like they enjoy eating, sex, life. What do these models enjoy?
“Front covers,” Donatella answers. She is the business end of the operation, the public face who understands how to stay relevant and get people excited about a brand. Versace designs the beautiful, beautiful clothing — he has a vision. And he executes that vision at the show, ending with a “Versace bride” in a silver mini-dress. Even Donatella gives him a thumbs up from backstage.
His relationship with Antonio is evolving as well. “I don’t want this anymore,” Antonio says about their open, polyamorous lifestyle while Versace is swimming in his pool. “I want you. I want to marry you.”
“You can say it in the morning, but can you say it in the evening?” Versace answers, and swims back to the other end of the pool.
Presumably only a few miles away, Ronnie and Cunanan are cohabiting a room, and Ronnie is beginning to realize how dangerous his new friend really is. While Ronnie talks through the bathroom door about wanting to open a florist kiosk, Cunanan wraps his entire head in duct tape, from the nose up. “Andrew,” Ronnie finally asks. “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” Cunanan says. “I’ve done nothing my whole life.”
Cunanan pawns a gold coin (stolen, I assume, from the man he duct-taped). The pawn shop woman, who knows enough to be suspicious, asks where he got it. “It’s a remarkable story,” Cunanan says, with his usual grease. We don’t even get to hear it, because we don’t need to. Everything is an easy lie. He is the talented Mr. Ripley without the talent at impressions.
While walking past the Versace house, Cunanan sees a woman with long blond hair trying to get in the front gate, pretending to be Donatella. Versace appears on the balcony. “Baby, I can only handle one Donatella, one is enough!” he calls out, trying to get the woman to leave. “Big kiss for you.”
Cunanan sprints home, thinking this is his shot. He grabs his gun and pulls all of the photos down on the wall before charging back down the hallway.
“We were friends, that was real, right?” Ronnie asks when he sees Cunanan leaving. He knows this is the end. “When someone asks if we were friends,” Cunanan says, “you’ll say no.”
But Versace isn’t home anymore — he goes out to the club with Antonio (who repeats his desire to get married, this time at night). And Cunanan gets a sandwich, where the clerk recognizes him from America’s Most Wanted and calls the police. Of course, by the time the police get there, he’s gone, managing to get to the same club where Versace went (again, just missing him). If only the police had staked out the clubs — this is one of the sites the detective mentioned specifically.
Cunanan doesn’t know Versace is gone yet, and so he frantically scans every face. When someone asks who he is, he rattles off every identity. I’m Andy. I’m a serial killer. I’m a banker. I’m a stockbroker, shareholder, set builder, importer. And then the most important identity: “I’m the person least likely to be forgotten.” It’s Cunanan’s desire above all else: to be someone like Versace, someone important, who’s created something incredible. He wants to be remembered, linked to Versace in death if not in life.
Which makes you wonder whom exactly this television show is serving.