The apple doesn't fall far from the ambitious, criminal tree
Credit: Ray Mickshaw/FX

I assume this is as far back as the flashbacks are going to take us. Unless Andrew Cunanan had some truly formative experiences as a toddler, ACS: Versace’s eighth episode, “Creator/Destroyer” provides our final, and most intimate, look into Cunanan’s past.

It’s a series of gradually more unsettling vignettes, watching Cunanan’s childhood and seeing the original seeds of truth in his lies: His dad did work for Merrill Lynch, talking his way into a highly coveted job with his professed work ethic and track record of upward mobility. His dad did give him the master bedroom — not as an indulgence, but as a somber reminder of his special status. Even though Cunanan has two older siblings, he is beyond the favorite: His father gives him a car before he’s able to drive, he reads him etiquette books in bed, he reminds him constantly that he’s better than other people.

Cunanan gets into a prestigious private school, where he’s voted “most likely to be remembered.” He happily stands out with a flamboyant flair for attention-seeking behavior. He meets Lizzie at a house party while spinning on the dance floor in a red, leather one-piece jumpsuit. Even by high school, he was dating older men (in this case, a married man who refused to come into the party with him) and dazzling people with his confidence. But he wasn’t a liar yet. He wasn’t a child who skinned squirrels or bullied others. Instead, he read Brideshead Revisited (a massive poster on his bedroom makes sure the audience doesn’t miss the symbolism there) and acts like a manic charmer, seducing people around him with his refusal to fit in.

We get one glimpse of Gianni Versace’s childhood, mostly as a means to contrast Cunanan’s: When Versace is sketching, and called a “pansy” in school, his mother comforts him and promises to teach him. “You must do what you love, Gianni,” she says. When young Andrew Cunanan tells his father he dreams of being a writer, his dad — borderline abusive to his wife and other children — reminds him that writing isn’t an effective way to make obscene amounts of money.

We flash forward to see Modesto “Pete” Cunanan working not at Merrill Lynch, but in a depressing cubicle, scamming the elderly out of their money. That’s how his downfall comes about: called into the boss’s office, who reminds him that he was thrown out of Merrill Lynch under mysterious circumstances, that his track record is spotty at best, that when the FBI comes for him, they’ll give up all of their information. And the FBI comes sooner than anyone might have expected: They’re there at the office, barely giving Modesto enough time to escape home, pry out some cash from underneath floorboards, and exit through a backdoor (agents already made it to the front) before flying away to Manila and leaving his family with nothing.

They’re losing the house, but Cunanan, still loyal to his father, tells his mother that he left money for them — of course his special, genius father would have left money for them. Cunanan’s mother cries, usually so ready to believe pretty lies, but not this one. Cunanan packs his case and leaves her to go to Manila alone to find his father, where he confronts him for his crimes. “Weak, like your mother,” Modesto spits at his special son when Cunanan makes it to the shack where he has been living. “You’re not upset that I stole; you’re upset that I stopped.” And then Modesto spits in his son’s face.

When Cunanan returns home and gets a job at the pharmacy where we saw him at the beginning of last week’s episode, he’s resigned and miserable. His answers in the interview are curt and sad. But then, like a light switch, Cunanan tastes his first lie. He can will a universe into existence where his father owns pineapple plantations. He can build his own future. His yearbook quote was in French: “After me, destruction.” He said he liked how it sounded, but it was prophecy — no matter what personas Cunanan builds for himself, his only talent is in bringing ruin.

Episode Recaps

The Assassination of Gianni Versace
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