The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story recap: 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
The core of this episode is two interviews about being gay: One interview is extremely public; the other is hidden, both literally and figuratively.
Since we’re moving backward through the story, Gianni Versace is still alive, arguing with Donatella about his decision to do an interview with Advocate magazine in which he will openly say that he’s gay. But Donatella does publicity for the brand and knows the world still isn’t kind to openly gay men. They compare Versace to Perry Ellis, the designer who walked his final runway show weakened by what was believed to be AIDS shortly before succumbing to the disease; Gianni sees it as the most important show of his career, Donatella as the moment people stopped buying his clothes.
Antonio also has a perspective: For 13 years he’s been mistaken for Gianni’s assistant, and he wants their relationship to be public, which makes Donatella even more prickly. She sees Antonio as a climber and a leech; the family business should concern only family.
Cunanan has his own argument across the country, albeit a less glamorous one: He’s on the phone with American Express, asking them if they can expand his credit so he can book a flight to Minneapolis. He has two friends there, he explains, and they owe him money. If only he can get to Minneapolis, all of his money issues will be solved and he’ll be able to pay his credit card bills. The voice on the phone sighs and seems to reluctantly answer in the affirmative. Cunanan injects heroin between his toes, and we’re afforded a wider view into his private life: a miserable, bleak apartment, a closet full of well-pressed clothes. And then behind the clothes: a collage of Gianni Versace, including that inevitable Advocate interview.
Cunanan is met at the airport by both David and Gulf War Navy veteran Jeffrey Trail — two of Cunanan’s victims, back from the dead thanks to the show’s backward timeline. Trail is equal parts savvy and prickly; his repeated “I made the decision” to a co-worker about leaving the Navy implies there was something else going on with his discharge, and as soon as he links up with David in the airport he makes his feelings for Cunanan clear. “Everything he’s told you about his life is a lie,” Trail says. David is more sympathetic to Cunanan — he feels sorry for him, but Trail has nothing but teeth-clenching anger and a debt to pay. Cunanan had “accidentally” tried to out Trail to his father with a postcard signed, “Love, Drew, kiss kiss,” but Trail says he still owes Cunanan, at least enough to let him use his apartment for the weekend so long as they don’t have to interact.
Cunanan comes home with David, who slowly seems to be coming to the same conclusions that Trail already reached. When Cunanan proposes, with a $10,000 watch, David reacts with shame and pity and humiliation for both of them. Cunanan, with his typical dissociated bounciness, tells him to think about it.
David gives him his answer at a polka club that night, where he and Cunanan have come to meet David’s co-worker, Linda (the same woman who will find Trail’s body, and who will tell the police about Cunanan). David says he’ll never marry him, that their relationship isn’t real. “It’s just another story,” he says, thrusting back the watch. Later, Cunanan will watch David bring another man back to the apartment.
Since he has the keys, Cunanan heads to Trail’s home and begins picking through the man’s belongings. He puts on his Navy hat and peels his uniform out of its box, revealing a VHS tape hidden underneath. He watches the video: a news report about gays in the military in which an anonymous man — presumably Trail — talks about his experience, his face shrouded in shadow. Cunanan also steals Trail’s gun and points it at the screen in what we in the television recapping industry like to call foreshadowing.
We flash back to two years earlier to see Jeffrey Trail in the Navy, and witness firsthand the incident he spoke about in the interview, where he saved a gay sailor’s life and it cost him his anonymity. First, he broke up a fight between several sailors attacking one man, and then later, he rescued the man again when he was tied to his bed and beaten, inches from death. Trail comforts the sailor in the bathroom; someone sees him, and that’s all it takes.
Someone makes a sneering remark about identifying gay sailors by their tattoos and Trail tries, in a panic, to take a knife to the ink on his kneecap. With seemingly no way out, he begins to hang himself in the bathroom, until he changes his mind, gasping for breath, and goes another way: to a gay bar, where he meets Andrew Cunanan.
Cunanan is charming and flirty, exactly the type of man someone like Trail would have wanted to run into on his first night attempting to experience life as a gay man. The two become close, close enough that Cunanan tries to talk Trail out of doing the anonymous interview with CBS. But Trail knows: It’s just something he has to do. It’s the same sentiment echoed by Versace: a shared, quiet bravery that makes their deaths all the more aching.
On the day of Jeffrey Trail’s murder, Cunanan eats the most sinister bowl of Froot Loops since Get Out, while Trail returns home, infuriated that Cunanan touched his uniform. He sees Cunanan for what he is: a selfish fraud, a stark contrast to a soldier who’s willing to sacrifice himself for something. “You’ve never believed in anyone but yourself.”
Cunanan protests, asking Trail to remember everything that he gave him, but Trail just spits back bile. “Everything you gave me,” he says, “It means nothing. You have no honor.” Cunanan says he saved him. “You destroyed me!” Trail fires back. Cunanan tells him he loves him, and Trail answers, “No one wants your love.”
From there, we know how the events play out. Cunanan brings Trail’s gun to David’s house and tells Trail to come and get it. While David goes downstairs to let Trail up to the apartment, Cunanan grabs a hammer. Trail’s sister went into labor, and she and her parents call, over and over, to tell him to come to the hospital. Their voices are recorded on the answering machine, playing out to an empty apartment.