Homophobia has been lingering in every episode of this season of American Crime Story, but “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” gave it the explicit attention it deserves. I appreciated seeing how Naval officer Jeffrey Trail (Finn Wittrock) met Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), but this was definitely also the slightly more heavy handed, learn-something episode of this season. I might also just be salty because this is the first time the choice of having a jumpy timeline made things less suspenseful à la all the repetition of scenes in How To Get Away With Murder. Maybe some people like that blanket of understood sadness over everything (since we know Trail is going to be killed by Cunanan), but I can’t say I’m a big fan.
Wait, what did I learn though? For starters, I never knew fashion designer Perry Ellis died at 46, likely of complications from AIDS, although he denied he was sick up until the very end, which is truly a testament to the shame and stigma that especially surrounded the disease in the early ‘90s. What Donatella Versace (Penelope Cruz) mentions about the rumors that Ellis had contracted AIDS after he appeared too weak to take a final bow at his own show without assistance, is true. He also lost his long term partner to an AIDS-related illness, and his company was bought by a larger fashion company following his death. Two details I feel are worth mentioning because it means that his eponymous clothing line has actually been designed and run by other people for nearly my entire life when I had assumed he was alive and wearing expensive polos this whole time.
As dark as the ACS series is, I’m thankful that it offers the opportunity to highlight not-evil people like Perry Ellis or Gianni Versace’s (Edgar Ramirez) graceful or forgotten moments. Ryan Murphy has said that he was proud and admired Versace for his real-life coming out interview in The Advocate. It was moving to watch Versace decide to live his life without shame or apologies. I was a little emotional when he brought Antonio (Ricky Martin) to the couch because it felt almost like they were getting married with the interviewer as their priest.
It’s intentional that the name of this season is “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” because Murphy has been explicit that he sees Cunanan’s murders as politically motivated, since he went out of his way to out people and often humiliate them. The idea of sending a gay person’s parents a postcard (like the one poor Trail had to grapple with) is so obscenely inappropriate it makes my blood boil. In previous episodes, Cunanan exhibits internalized homophobia, but it seems to show in more emboldened ways with each passing episode. When Cunanan is talking with Trail, he says people will only see him as a “f*ggot,” and I’ll admit that I was shocked to watch the words leave the Glee star’s mouth.
The only moment that chilled me more than Criss’ use of the f-word was seeing Cunanan at the San Diego port bar because it forced me to reckon with the hard truth that predators walk among us in plain view all the time, and we just don’t know it. I also hate watching him be a Cheshire cat tormenting Trail while he’s still just a “baby gay.” I’m surprised that later in the episode, Cunanan took offense to being told he has no honor because dude has no honor.
It’s irritating to watch someone like Cunanan push the limits of regular friendship and hospitality so far with Trail and his ex David Madson (Cody Fern). Cunanan is also sometimes just bitchy and hearing him say things like “when I found you” makes me uncomfortable, because Cunanan has this manipulative way of acting like he “made” people, and that they owe him big time. He actually pushed it even further and says, “I saved you.” It feels like the most outright egomaniacal he’s been.This week was hard because people’s intuitions were right so often: Trail is done with him, Madson tries to cut down their amount of time together, and on and on. Trail and Madson knew Cunanan sucked, but you can’t report someone to the police for sucking. You can fall into a black hole wondering how things might have been different if he had reported his gun stolen to the police, but who would really do that to a former friend?
I hope the remaining episodes give us more time with the Versace family. Although they fight, they bother me so much less than Cunanan. The probable psychopath even manages to make eating cereal look evil. When Cunanan is looking down at his colorful bowl of Fruit Loops, an image of Allison Williams in Get Out flashed before my eyes. I’m torn because the more time this show spends on more normal people outside the Versace family, the more it seems grounded in reality. I almost couldn’t listen to Trail’s family’s voices on his voicemail. The final words of the episode were successfully realistic, and that much more disturbing.
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