THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE Review: “A Random Killing”

An episode of AMERICAN CRIME STORY that leaves its namesake out entirely.

While The Assassination of Gianni Versace is at least partially devoted to detailing the life of the famous gunned down fashion mogul - complete with his possible struggle with and recovery from HIV/AIDS - it's mostly a serial killer profile at heart. Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) is the true center of American Crime Story's second season, as he drives halfway across the country, amassing a body count along with way. Before Versace (Edgar Ramírez) was shot dead on the front steps of his Miami estate on July 15, 1997, Cunanan killed four other men, his spree a primal expression of his own self-loathing (as this series seems to posit). Lee Miglin (Lee Farrell) was Cunanan’s third victim - a wealthy Chicago commercial architect with a "perfume queen" wife (Judith) who loved and trusted him with all her heart, his weakness for male prostitutes allowing Andrew into their bedroom, which would lead to his sad demise. 

Much like the controversy that surrounds the artist’s supposed HIV diagnosis - which the Versace family adamantly disputes to this day - The Assassination of Gianni Versace may be playing fast and loose with the facts again (though investigative tomes like Wensley Clarkson's Death at Every Stop have also included Lee’s murder in Cunanan's sordid history). The Miglins have always maintained that the architect’s death was "a random killing", hence the title of this episode. Though Ryan Murphy & Co. don't make it clear how Cunanan and Miglin met, it's an ostensibly familiar late-night phone call to Lee's home office that prompts the deadly meeting. When Marilyn (Light) takes off on a business trip - hocking her "Pheromone" spritz for the Home Shopping Network - Lee goes to the tiny chapel in their basement and prays for forgiveness for what he’s about to do. “I try,” he almost begs with the Lord to understand. Then he goes upstairs to meet Cunanan - clearly not for the first time - but the episode leaves it up for us to decide whether Marilyn knew about her husband's "secret life" the whole time.

It’s all campy and trashy in that inimitably Ryan Murphy sort of way - bringing longtime fans back to his work on Nip/Tuck - but any flamboyance is balanced by a mournful and sympathetic tenor. Suddenly, decades of closeted senators and CEOs are flashing through the audience's mind, as they ponder how the Miglins’ functional yet fundamentally flawed relationship is just one of how many over the course of history – two human beings who love each other, are successful, while possibly knowing there's something missing sexually between the two of them. "I knew it," Marilyn says upon arriving home during the episode's lengthy, hyper-portentous opening (which feels pulled straight out of a horror picture), and we're not sure if she's commenting about a premonition about Lee's death or his attraction toward men. The whole hour is masterfully paced, fastidiously composed, and ends on a note that's shatteringly sad. 

Judith Light gets to do the bulk of the heavy emotional lifting in "A Random Killing", and Light is in complete control of every moment. Seconds after Lee’s murder is discovered by an investigating officer, Marilyn is up and taking stock of all the items Cunanan stole from the house (including the couple's Lexus). Throughout the rest of the episode, she struggles to remain strong, delivering a speech on HSN about how she's always loved her "American Dream" of a husband, and only breaking down ever so slightly at the very end. Yet this minor lapse is quickly painted over by rage, as Marilyn doesn't let anyone - including the police - try and label Lee's death anything but a mere act of chance. “He won’t steal my good name,” she says of Andrew, echoing the sentiments of Donatella Versace (Penélope Cruz) in the wake of Gianni's death. It's another portrait of a female made of granite, as waves of grief attempt to erode their tight-jawed visages. 

For all the sorrow, this is still American Crime Story, and Murphy lets director Gwyneth Horder-Payton and writer Tom Rob Smith indulge in some rather ghoulish sexual violence and horror set piece creation. "A Random Killing" contains a version of Andrew we haven’t seen up until now - the lying con man replaced with a venomous assassin, ready to lash out at any moment as if his murderous impulses are nothing more than diversions he indulges to tickle his loins. The actual staging of Lee's death is difficult to watch, as Cunanan again tapes his victim’s face shut before beating and cutting him to death. Later, after discovering that Chicago PD are tracking the cell phone in the Miglins' Lexus, he dumps the luxury car and coldly executes the driver of the red pickup we've seen him sporting during every episode up until this point. Darren Criss is just amazing, jettisoning any need for us to empathize with this psychopath as he transforms into a pistol-toting land shark, constantly swimming and killing in order to survive uncaptured another day. 

The chronology of The Assassination of Gianni Versace continues to be a little unnecessarily convoluted - jumping from several periods between '92 - '97 - but what the show might be overdoing in terms of storytelling style, it’s more than making up for in terms of raw poignancy. The final shot of Marilyn Miglin's face, captured in a slow creeping zoom, is as haunting as OJ staring up at that statue at the very end of The People v. OJ Simpson. Perhaps the most miraculous element of American Crime Story (and there are so, so many) is its ability to isolate pure truthful emotion inside of headline-grabbing sensationalism, mining the country's tabloid myths for what they actually mean to the figures who lived through these horrid exploits. 

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