The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story recap: 'Descent'
Fueled by jealousy and self-loathing, Cunanan's violent breakdown begins.
We reunite with Andrew Cunanan in a beautiful beach home, arms laden with shopping bags, wearing sunglasses, and diving naked into a pool. It’s the the closest he’s come to the first morning we saw Gianni Versace experience in the pilot: Cunanan found a way to live that rich and famous life — the only difference is he never earned it.
Cunanan meticulously wraps a gift in Tiffany-blue wrapping paper and carefully selects an outfit from a closet curated like a department store. He wipes some cocaine on his gum. This little scene — we’re reminded — takes place one year before the murders began. And so what, we must ask, caused this man who seems to be so on top of the world to completely snap?
Cunanan is having a birthday party, and we get a glimpse of the wonderful Annaleigh Ashford again as a pre-murder spree friend, Lizzie, interrogating him about his new gay lifestyle and questionable relationship with a much older man, Norman (in whose beautiful home he’s been staying). “I…curate his art,” Cunanan answers, when Lizzie asks what he’s been doing at the house of the older man. But even though he’s a live-in boyfriend, Cunanan only wants David.
Jeffrey arrives first, wearing a suburban dad’s uniform of bad jeans and a button-down shirt, and Cunanan tries to manipulate the scene a little better for David’s benefit, so Cunanan looks more “loved.” He buys Jeffrey a new pair of shoes and asks him to corroborate the white lie he told about Jeffrey still being in the Navy. “But Jeff — being an officer in the Navy just sounds so impressive!” Oh how innocent his manipulations began.
David finally arrives, all the way from Minneapolis, and Cunanan kisses him on the lips. It’s obvious that David is impressed, and also impressed when Jeffrey presents Cunanan with his self-bought gift, right on cue. But the chemistry between Jeffrey and David is also immediate, and sends Cunanan into the bathroom for another line of coke.
It’s one of the older Norman’s friends who puts Cunanan in his place, attempting to protect his friend: “Too lazy to work, too proud to be kept,” he sneers at Cunanan. “That room is full of people who love me,” Cunanan said, gesturing to the party. “That room is full of people who don’t know you,” the man replies.
Cunanan is desperate to interrupt David and Jeffrey’s immediate report, but he’s thwarted by a familiar face: Lee Miglin, who came all the way from Chicago, clearly crazy about Cunanan even though Cunanan is embarrassed by him. Cunanan is surrounded by all of his future victims in a group photo—the next scene shows he’s scratched out all of their faces but David’s.
Cunanan presents requests to Norman in order to stay together: an increased living allowance, a car, and his entire inheritance. But Norman is a savvy businessman, and he fires back with the one thing Cunanan hates the most: the truth about who he is. Norman knows Cunanan’s real name. He knows that he had been working minimum wage and living with his mother. Norman presents the facts and Cunanan walks away, silenced. Norman is too generous with Cunanan — he offers to increase his living allowance and pay for his college (“I already have a PhD!” Cunanan shouts). He sees through the lies and still wants to help him. “You can have this life, if you work for it, but if you won’t, you must share it with me,” Norman says. He refuses Cunanan his list, and after throwing a chair through a glass table, the boy sulks off like a petulant child. “I’m leaving. I expect you to call.”
Cunanan’s real home is a miserable oatmeal apartment with a bare mattress, and we see his first act of vindictive revenge: the postcard attempting to out Jeffrey to his father, for the sin of Jeffrey hitting it off with David at the party. Jeffrey confronts Cunanan and holds Cunanan against the wall. He tells Cunanan he got a new job — in Minneapolis. Where David lives. “I’m leaving,” he says. “I thought you should know.” Jeffrey gives Cunanan a filthy look as he leaves.
Cunanan now does what he has to to win back David: offering a fully funded trip to Los Angeles, the desperation in his voice only slightly audible. One can only imagine the credit card debt he’s racking up. David has come, but it’s obvious he’s uneasy, especially when Cunanan makes it clear he imagines them sharing a future. Cunanan drowns him in expensive gifts and fancy food — more desperation.
And David feels guilty. “Andrew, I’m not the one,” he says, after offering to pay for half of everything. “I’m sorry.” The truth of the situation’s weirdness comes out — they had one great night together in San Fransisco. Just one. And Cunanan is trying to recreate their perfect meeting.
“So know me! Get to know me!” Cunanan cries. David, it turns out, just wants to know the real Cunanan. The two of them gleefully peel off their jackets and sit across from each other. David asks about Cunanan’s parents, but his eyes go dull as Cunanan continues to spew lies about his extravagant upbringing.
Cuannan goes back to his apartment alone, with no messages on his answering machine and a massive credit card bill. In the story he tells to the bartender that night, he proposed to David and David said yes. In his meth-fueled dream, Versace is tailoring his suit. “We’re the same!” Cunanan says to Versace’s cold arrogance. “The only difference is you got lucky!” Versace says that that isn’t the only difference. “Oh yeah?” Cunanan says. “What else you got?” Dream-Versace doesn’t even smile. “I am loved,” he says.
Now Cunanan is twitchy and strung out. His stories to the bartender don’t make sense. He doesn’t have money to pay his meth dealer. And so he returns to the house where he had so recently hosted a birthday party. He pleads on his hands and knees for Norman to let him in, barking Norman’s name, while Norman lifts a phone to call the police.
Cunanan has nowhere to go but his mother’s house. She believed his lies, she brags about him to her friends, and she comforts him, bathing him in a tub like an infant. And then he’s sent on his way — off to do all of the great things she thinks he’s doing.
What city is next, she asks.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace