In American Crime Story‘s Searing Finale, There’s a Creator and a Destroyer in Everyone
(Episode 2.09)Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FX TV Reviews The Assassination of Gianni Versace
Even when someone’s death is not unexpected, untimely, and violent, there’s often a profound ripple effect through family and community. When the person is murdered, it’s a whole other level of crazy.
The final episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story begins where the first episode did, with Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) shooting Versace (Edgar Ramirez) in the face at point blank range. The first time, we saw the reactions of the people around Versace. This time, we follow Andrew as he breaks into an empty houseboat and raids the fridge. Finding a bottle of champagne, he smiles as he tears the foil from the cork and turns on the TV to watch news coverage of the murder. (Of course, there’s speculation that it’s the mafia, and veiled suggestions that the “infamous” designer might have been targeted for reasons they aren’t quite able to talk about.) As an eyewitness describes seeing Versace on the ground, the cork explodes out of the champagne bottle like a gunshot and Andrew startles violently, then collapses on the couch, giggling. A correspondent notes that Andrew Cunanan is the suspected killer. “Oh my God,” he breathes. You think he’s panicking at first, but as he walks up the stairs to sit on the upper deck of the houseboat, holding the champagne bottle by the neck, watching the police helicopters scanning the waterfront, you realize it’s not panic but elation. He’s done it. He’s famous.
We cut to Marilyn Miglin (Judith Light) as FBI agents come to let her know that Andrew Cunanan has killed Gianni Versace. “When will it end?” she asks in a brittle voice. “You had two months. You had his name. His picture. He had the money he stole from Lee. What have you been doing?”
“We’ve been looking for him.” But the agent can’t wholly defend himself, and they all know what she’s really saying. Lee Miglin’s murder wasn’t particularly compelling to them until Andrew killed a celebrity. Until then, it had been dismissed as a Gay Thing. A trivium. The FBI suggest she get on a flight out of Florida, that Cunanan might know she’s filming there.
Her voice could etch glass. “You want me to run. From him? You provide whatever security you think necessary. I have never missed a broadcast in my life.”
Andrew learns from the TV that he’s made the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list. He’s described as a male prostitute who served affluent clients. (It’s left open to speculation whether he knew Versace in that capacity.) He catches a statement from Marilyn Miglin in which she simply says her husband of 38 years was “her prince” and that she had “a fairytale marriage.” You can’t help hearing both connotations of the word “fairy,” and remembering Cunanan’s siblings referring to him as “Prince Andrew”; everything’s starting to converge and in Marilyn’s slow, deep, pause-riddled voice here is almost oracular.
Andrew dresses, leaves the houseboat and steals a car, giggling at the radio coverage suggesting Mafia involvement in Versace’s murder. Then he realizes he’s stuck at a police checkpoint and it stops being quite so funny. There’s no way off the island. All the causeways are blocked. The world’s finally paying attention to Andrew. He throws the stolen car keys into the water and screams.
He’s not the only one who’s watching the coverage. His mother is hiding under a blanket in front of the TV when the knock comes at the door in San Diego. She opens the door for the police and meekly asks “Have you killed my son?”
No, they have not. Andrew, now trapped like a rat with no money, isn’t laughing any more. Back in the houseboat, he watches TV footage of his mother being dragged out of her condo by the feds, looking totally unraveled.
Meanwhile, the cops have relocated poor, uneducated junkie Ronnie, a character I wasn’t expecting to see again and from whom I definitely wasn’t expecting one of the most searing monologues of the series. “He wasn’t hiding,” Ronnie tells the female cop. “Oh, you were looking for him, weren’t you? The only [lesbian] on the force? But the other cops, they weren’t looking so hard, were they?” It’s a tough call whether the look on her face or Ronnie’s is more devastating. Ronnie’s dismissiveness of their attitude—sure, Cunanan kills a bunch of gay nobodies and nobody cares, but now he kills a celebrity and he matters?—is so scathing and so hideously real, and when the cop doubles down and accuses him of being an accessory to murder, he just scoffs.
“So you never talked about Versace?” the male cop asks Ronnie.
“All he talked about was Versace,” Ronnie replies, his slightly clouded-over eyes suddenly clear as he leans in. “We all did. We all wondered what it would be like to be so powerful it didn’t matter that you were gay. The truth is, you were disgusted by him long before he became disgusting… Andrew isn’t hiding. He’s trying to be seen.”
It’s such a nasty and amazing moment. Because everyone in that room knows this guy is telling it exactly like it is. And there are no available rejoinders, just none. Again, the narcissistic quandary: When you’re not being looked at, you stop existing, so how far will you go to ensure you stay alive? And when society has a tendency to erase you because, as Ronnie puts it, you were “born a lie,” how much more toxic is it to have been raised by parents who, whether deliberately or by incompetence, saw to it that you never had a sense of your inherent human value? Lots of people deal with societal intolerance without becoming anything but stronger for it. Lots of people have narcissistic tendencies without being disordered. Lots of people have personality disorders and never kill anyone. But Andrew Cunanan was a perfect storm, and this man who barely knew him understands it almost instinctively.
Andrew haunts the waterfront, literally and figuratively adrift, and is getting really hungry. In front of a TV screen again, he sees Lizzie (Annaleigh Ashford) reading a statement in which she says she knows who he really is, adds that she loves him unconditionally, and urges him to turn himself in.
Next, David Madson’s father appears on TV, responding to accusations that David was involved with Andrew in the murder of Jeff Trail. (The cops really haven’t bothered connecting the dots, have they?) Andrew turns off the TV, but the voices don’t stop—it’s almost as if they’re in his head, but really there are just multiple TVs and radios blaring the same coverage. The desperation is getting serious at this point. He’s hungry enough to try (unsuccessfully) to eat dog food. So he watches Marilyn Miglin on the Home Shopping Network, talking about how she always wanted to make a perfume for her mother; how her wonderful father had died young; how they had lived in poverty and her mother had never had money for luxuries; and how this perfume she’s selling is one she would have wanted to go back in time to give to her mother as a way of saying “how special” she was.
And yep, Andrew calls Dad (Jon Jon Briones), who immediately says he’ll be there for Andrew in 24 hours, regardless of the danger he’ll be putting himself in. “I will find you. I will hold you in my arms like I used to. I promise.” Andrew is stupid enough to be filled with hope, and packs his things and waits.
But Modesto Cunanan doesn’t show up in Miami. He shows up on TV, from Manila, telling a reporter his son is innocent.
Of being a homosexual.
Modesto goes on to say Andrew is “special” and “a genius” and that he would never kill anyone and that he’s too smart for the police to find him anyway. That he phones all the time. That he has spoken to Andrew in the last 24 hours.
“What did you discuss?” the reporter asks.
Modesto smiles like a snake. “The movie rights to his life story. Andrew was very particular about the title.” The camera zooms in on Modesto’s face. “A Name to Be Remembered By.” Horror dawns on Andrew’s face, followed by rage. He puts a bullet through the TV screen, and through his father’s face.
In Milan, Antonio (Ricky Martin) and Donatella (Penelope Cruz) are talking before the funeral. Antonio mentions staying at Lake Como in a house Gianni had left to him. Donatella tells Antonio the board had to take possession of all Gianni’s properties because his personal finances were troubled. There’s nothing she can do. She’s on the board and Gianni’s sister, but there’s nothing she can do. Antonio’s out in the cold. Nice lady. At the memorial service, the priest won’t mention Antonio or even touch him as he walks by to bless the family. It turns out that Ronnie never understood that maybe there was really no amount of wealth or privilege that could erase the stigma of being gay. Well, maybe in Miami Beach, but not in the Catholic Church, not even when your priest is supposed to be there to help you process the loss of your partner of 15 years.
Andrew’s now eating the dog food as he watches Princess Diana and Elton John arrive in Milan for the funeral. He watches the service, fervently singing along with the boys’ choir rendition of “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” I don’t think he’s singing for Gianni Versace.
They’ve found the houseboat. The landlord, the cops, the FBI, helicopters, snipers. Andrew locks himself into a bedroom, where he sees a phantasm of his younger self. As the cops enter the houseboat, Andrew poses (dramatically as ever) in a seriously freighted silhouette, with the barrel of Jeff Trail’s gun in his mouth.
“I’m so happy right now,” he says to Gianni Versace as we hear the shot. They’re back in the San Francisco opera house from the season premiere. Gianni tells Andrew he doesn’t need to persuade people that he’s great or special, he needs to do something special. “Finish your novel,” he tells Andrew. Andrew begs to be taken on as his protégé, then tries to kiss Versace, who rebuffs him. “No,” Versace says. “I wanted you to be here to be inspired, to be nourished by this,” he says, indicating the empty house. “If we kissed, you would doubt. One day you will understand why I said no.”
Of course, Versace’s right, and we’d all live in a better world if there were more men with boundaries that intact.
We cut back to Marilyn Miglin as the police come to tell her that Cunanan’s dead. “Good. It’s over.” Her assistant finds her looking through letters. “We receive hundreds of letters from viewers,” she says. “Since my husband died, I receive letters about him. People he helped. Whose bills he paid. He never told me.”
At Lake Como, Donatella tells Santo that she was annoyed with Gianni the morning he was killed, that she didn’t pick up the phone when he called.
Antonio takes a boatload of sleeping pills.
A plaque with Andrew Cunanan’s name on it is applied to a blank piece of marble in a columbarium. A maid finds Antonio still alive. Donatella lights a candle for Gianni. The camera recedes down the faceless hallway of the columbarium, the ashes put away behind the identical squares of white stone.
In everyone, there is a creator and a destroyer.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.