THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE Review: “Descent”

An origin story for a spree killer.

It's 1996 - one year before the murders of Jeffrey Trail (Finn Wittrock), David Madson (Cody Fern), Lee Miglin (Mike Farrell), and Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramírez). We're in the lavish La Jolla, California home of Norman Blachford (Michael Nouri), a silver fox businessman who - after losing a partner to AIDS - became Andrew Cunanan's (Darren Criss) sugar daddy. Today is Andrew's birthday, and he's throwing a party for himself, much to the chagrin of Norman's friends, especially bitchy queen supreme David Gallo (Terry Sweeney). Only instead of a happy occasion, it's another utterly awkward session of fumbling about and trying to impress everyone around him, going as far as to provide fake presents for Jeffrey to give him, in order for David to think he's truly "loved".

"Loved." If there were ever a universal ingredient peppered into the great murderers of our time, it was the inability to feel as if they were adequately adored by parents, friends, neighbors, or the population in general. In "Descent" - the sixth hour of American Crime Story's The Assassination of Gianni Versace - the entire motivation for Andrew's deadly existence is boiled down to simplistic (yet no less painful) instances of perceived heartbreak. Despite Norman legitimately admiring the professional liar - his private investigation debunking Cunanan's claims of possessing a PhD and background in interior design - the wealthy lover’s still willing to let Andrew share his life with him, given the pretty boy’s down to work for it. Yet Andrew simply wants everything handed to him; these bursts of instant gratification allowing him to float on air, like a bump of uncut cocaine (but none of that "gutter drug" crystal meth). He's an addict, desperately in need of detox. 

A forced withdrawal comes when Cunanan walks out on Norman liked a spoiled brat after the millionaire refuses him a list of lavish luxuries - a Mercedes, first class tickets to wherever, all the clothes he could want - that come with the small price tag of Andrew's affections. Instead, the future killer opts to jet off to Los Angeles (on a near maxed credit card, of course), and fly David out for a holiday together that he literally forbids the aspiring Minneapolis architect from saying "no" to. When David ends up rejecting him, he does so with a speech that translates into one of the most poignant, insightful moments that The Assassination of Gianni Versace has presented thus far (which is saying something, because this show can pack a wallop when it wants to). 

“We had a great time in San Francisco,” David says about their initial meeting. “One great night. And maybe there was a chance, but…I get the feeling you don’t have many great nights with people — am I right? So, when you do, it feels huge, it feels life-changing.” If Andrew is a junkie, then this is the closest anyone has come to staging an intervention with him. But Cunanan's hunger is insatiable, and he retreats to an unfurnished apartment, telling tall tales at the local queer club about the honeymoon he just spent with David in Europe, before buying speed from the spot's skeevy dealer. The unfillable void inside Andrew's soul becomes a physical pit, in which he shoves nasty bathtub crank via a needle in his arm. In a weird way, this feels like Andrew actually being truthful with himself for once, all while confessing to Gianni in a hallucination (where the Italian garment maestro is fitting him for a custom suit) about how nobody's ever truly loved him.

“This world has wasted me," he tells his fantasized idol, "it has wasted me while it has turned you into a star. We’re the same. The only difference is you got lucky.” But again, it's all bullshit; even when Andrew's being the most honest version of himself. Because almost immediately after, we meet his mother Mary Anne Schillaci (Joanna Adler), who lives alone in a shitty apartment. Almost instantly, we understand where Andrew got his penchant for self-delusion, as she seems to seriously believe her baby's been traveling with Versace to Tokyo, Sydney, Moscow and Milan. Despite the kid smelling foul and unlike himself (his mom’s own words) and looking like he's been on a week-long meth bender - because he has, ending in Norman threatening to call the cops after Andrew comes begging to be let back into the mansion – Mary Anne still gives him a bath, before he heads off to Minneapolis. Now, it's time for our hearts to be broken, as we know this simple-minded, fragile woman will never see her son again, and three men who were gathered together at a birthday party not so long ago are about to be gunned down in cold blood, along with the famous fashion designer. Andrew Cunanan’s mother’s home was his first stop on this road to nowhere.

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