The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story recap: 'A Random Killing'
It’s a Versace episode without Versace. Week three takes us back a few months before Cunanan’s most high profile murder to his second-most high profile murder: that of wealthy Chicago real-estate developer Lee Miglin.
It takes some time before this episode even gets to Cunanan. Instead, we’re given a brief slice-of-life picture of the marriage between Lee and his wife Marilyn, a Home Shopping Network star. Marilyn returns home from a trip to promote her perfume on television to find that her husband isn’t at the airport to pick her up. And so instead she takes a cab, and returns home to eerie silence and the unmistakable sense that something isn’t right. The house is set like a stage, with creepy tableaus — ice cream melting on the counter, a hunk of deli meat in Lee’s office, stabbed with a knife. Marilyn enlists the neighbors and calls the police, who tell her what she already knew. Lee is dead.
Flashback to a week earlier, when Lee and Marilyn were at a fundraiser for Illinois governor Jim Edgar. Marilyn’s speech introducing her husband as a guest of honor gives us a clear picture of who he was and sort of relationship they had. He was wealthy and powerful. He and Marilyn were a partnership, working together to grow their individual careers. “Without a hint of cynicism, my Lee is the American dream,” Marilyn says to the full banquet hall.
Of course, the façade falls when they return home, but only slightly. This isn’t a marriage of convenience, but it’s not one of passion either. Not long after Marilyn leaves town for her television appearance, Lee invites over a certain young male escort: Andrew Cunanan. From their interactions, it’s obvious the two men have had a relationship for a while — Lee mentions that he’s wanted to show Cunanan his plans for the “Sky Needle” building for some time, and Cunanan kisses him deeply enough for Lee to be able to pretend that theirs isn’t just a financial transaction.
It’s at the Miglin house that we get see one of Cunanan’s most distinctive habits return: He loves to eat with his prey, stuffing his face with no regard for whether they’re eating too or whether they’re comfortable. It’s a disruption of social patterns (food is something to be shared, enjoyed together), almost an act of aggression on Cunanan’s part.
The real aggression comes a few moments later, when the men move to the garage and Cunanan initiates the most disturbing sequence we’ve seen on the show thus far. The interaction begins with the cadence of a consensual BDSM encounter until it becomes terrifyingly obvious that Cunanan has something awful in mind. When Miglin is fully bound, with duct tape around his face and cords around his ankles, Cunanan punches him hard enough in the face to break his nose and reveals that he’s killed two men already, and that he’s planning on killing him as well, leaving his body in women’s underwear, surrounded by gay porn. “What terrifies you more, death or being disgraced?”
Cunanan crushes Miglin’s ribs with a bag of concrete and stabs him with a gardening tool. He tears up the drawing of Miglin’s dream architecture project — the Sky Needle, 500 feet taller than the Sears Tower — and burns it at the altar where Miglin had prayed earlier that day. He leaves the meat with the knife in the study. He seems to spend the night.
The police arrive when Marilyn calls, and when they find the body, they understand that the situation surrounding the murder makes the case more sensitive than most. Marilyn — stoic and dry eyed in her interactions with the police, graciously bringing them free sandwiches — bears no anger when she hears that her husband was found surrounded by gay porn. It clearly belonged to the murderer. “That’s all I’ll allow that man to steal from me,” Marilyn says. “I won’t let him steal my good name. Our good name.” She and her awkward milquetoast son (a Hollywood actor, she brags) are staunch in their approach that this was just a random killing, and that Andrew Cunanan had no relationship with her husband aside from being the stranger who took his life.
The police traced an abandoned car a few blocks away to Cunanan, already wanted for two other murders, and because he stole a car from Miglin that had an attached phone, they are able to trace his movements and see that he’s making his way to New York. At least, they’re able to trace him until that strategy leaks to the paper. Cunanan hears from a news story on the radio, while driving Lee Miglin’s car, that the police are tracking the suspect through Lee Miglin’s cell phone. He snaps off the car’s antenna, but he knows that’s not enough. He need to swap out cars.
Cunanan pulls into a rest stop and watches for victims, waiting until he sees a man driving a red pickup truck. When the man starts driving away, Cunanan follows him, shadowing him through a graveyard as if the scene weren’t ominous enough. Finally, the man goes into his home, and Cunanan follows with a gun drawn. “Stay calm,” Cunanan says. “No one’s going to get hurt. I’m here to steal your truck.”
The man is terrified, and polite. He shows Cunanan the car keys and walks down to the basement to let Cunanan lock him downstairs. He gets on his knees when Cunanan asks, and he’s telling him about his wife and their son when Cunanan shoots him, point blank, in the head.
If any viewer had any sympathy or affection for Cunanan up until this point, this episode stripped that away entirely. He is terrifying and merciless, but not just merciless — cruel. The final moments of the episode are given back to Marilyn Miglin, back on the air, talking about how much her husband meant to her. Maybe she’s just speaking to the cameras, maybe their entire marriage had been something for appearances, but when she talks about their partnership of 38 years, it comes across as heartbreakingly genuine. There are many kinds of marriages. Theirs might have had secrets, but it would be flippant to dismiss decades of friendship and affection for Lee’s brief and fatal fling with Cunanan. Cunanan isn’t anyone’s partner. He is a taker. He takes food, and cars, and reputations. He takes lives. He is someone who consumes and never gives anything back.