If the first episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story scared me, the second episode, “Manhunt” almost lured me into being intrigued but feeling a little dirty about it. I was a hesitant rubbernecker made aware of how a particularly scary monster can feel impossible to look away from.
The introduction of Ronnie (Max Greenfield) felt like an exploration of the disturbing phenomenon, where people know there’s something off about a person like Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), but are unable or simply don’t want to bring themselves to stop talking to him. It reminds me of the folklore that vampires, ghosts, demons, and witches all have to be invited into your home in order to enter. To be fair, that folklore sounds a bit victim-shame-y if I think about it long enough.
For guys doing drugs in a seedy hotel, Ronnie and Andrew have an almost sweet, sad-sack friendship. TVLine noted that this actually the second time that Ryan Murphy has cast Greenfield as a drug addict. I found the New Girl star’s makeup and hair so convincing that I wasn’t sure it was him at first.
Ronnie’s presence is understandably heavy because he’s living at such a unique historical moment: he’s HIV-positive and assumed he was going to die any second. Suddenly, he is given newly discovered treatment and is not immediately dying. He’s based on a real person, and I found myself thinking of him and this especially fragile time in his life for the rest of the episode.
Andrew and Ronnie’s dark and dingy life is harshly contrasted with Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramírez) and Antonio D'Amico’s (Ricky Martin) glamorous lives – they included a fashion show he hosted atop his own devastatingly beautiful swimming pool for Christ’s sake. Seeing Gianni walk – er, glide? arm in arm with two models in glittering dresses does remind me why fashion shows are a cultural problematic fave. I ate up every word of Gianni’s speech about his artistic intentions and vision. It was at times a bit self-important, but it made me respect him and what he was trying to do. It also allowed me to see what might have made Andrew fall in love with him. I’m actually not sure if I think Andrew was in love with him, or if he simply had a jealous obsession with his seemingly perfect life. Gianni does seem like the ideal symbol to fixate an envious rage on. He lives flamboyantly and acts almost like the unofficial mayor of South Beach. I’m reminded of this when his staff bowed to him in the first episode.
I see now that the choice to start the season off with the murder itself and then work up to it chronologically is a classic stab and twist. Seeing the tenderness of Gianni and Antonio’s relationship warms your heart until you remember that their desires lining up is happening days before Gianni will be assassinated. Knowing this painful timing makes the moment from the first episode when Donatella (Penelope Cruz) is berating her brother’s lover for not trying to give him a family all the more heartbreaking.
One more example of people knowing something is not quite right and doing nothing comes along when Andrew takes a client and nearly suffocates him. We watch the man he dominated consider calling the police, but decide against it. I’m not sure what I’d want that man to have done, but it’s interesting to see by the look on his face that he knows on a gut-level he was not safe until Andrew left. I couldn’t help but notice that we’ve seen two examples of women whose intuition tells them to act. Detective Lori Wieder (Dascha Polanco) thinks they should be flyering the very area where Andrew is, and the woman in the pawn shop reports Andrew and doesn’t hear back from the FBI for days.
As the episode goes on, Andrew’s behavior becomes more and more unhinged. It feels like a wink to the camera when he tells the guy at the bar that he’s a serial killer, but it does show just how frayed and sloppy he is becoming. There’s a lot of glorifying serial killers for being so careful and calculated, but Andrew is unraveling and might even be enjoying being almost-caught at every turn. Still, I’m hooked because I really wouldn’t put anything past someone with such a clear absence of a moral compass and his back getting further and further up against a wall.
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