The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is up to its old tricks. Last week, I fell right into the trap of thinking the killer’s mother, Mary Ann Cunanan (Joanna Adler) was a completely awful wretch, and now this week I feel terrible for her and the cards life dealt her. Stop making me sympathize with creeps, FX! I don’t want to feel!
Let me collect myself. “Creator/Destroyer” begins by hitting us over the head with just how opposite Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) and Gianni Versace’s (Edgar Ramirez) childhoods were. Duality, we get it. As we descend into an exploration of Cunanan’s father, Modesto (Jon Jon Briones), I am reminded that while this show is named for Versace, it spends most of its time focused on his killer. Modesto is as slimy as they come, and everything he does feels like a threat. He tells his favorite son that, “When you feel special, success will follow,” which is such a sad, warped lesson that clearly stuck with Andrew.
If you told me Modesto had a coke addiction, I would 1000% believe it because every word that leaves his mouth has the distinct bravado and aggression of someone who’s high. I feared him as soon as he appeared, and even before he grabs his wife by the neck, you can sense he’s been abusive by how skittish and careful she is around him. Modesto also brings up Mary Ann’s mental health four times when she’s being perfectly normal, which is textbook gaslighting or manipulating somebody into questioning their own sanity. It’s popular amongst predators like Modesto.
Something rubbed me the wrong way in the last episode when Cunanan says, “older men have always liked me,” while breaking eye contact a little sadly. And unfortunately, I think it could be in reference to his father abusing him. There are a million little things that are wrong throughout the first scene with the Cunanan family. Why do they call Andrew a prince; why does he still have a teddy bear; why would he get to ride shotgun; and then later, why would his dad kiss his feet? It’s interesting how long I held out hope that Andrew’s father was not sexually abusive, which I think is both a testament to denial and how dark this subject matter truly is.
This was almost like a teaching tool for priming or grooming for abuse, except for the fact that Modesto probably didn’t need to win his son’s trust because he was already his son. Plus, the gifts he gave Andrew were so over the top and flamboyant. Seeing his dad buy him a car years before he could drive makes the things Andrew does later, like buying lobster and insane hotel suites, make a sick kind of sense. I know Cunanan must have been terrified for most of his childhood because the threat of violence seemed omnipresent, but I did also feel like something hardened in him when he rolled up the window on his mom by his own choice.
“Lizzie” Elizabeth Cote (Annaleigh Ashford) is a rare reprieve from the darkness of this episode.
She’s a good friend and person, and it’s interesting to know that her first impression of the youngest Cunanan was him at his most vulnerable and in need of a friend. Her character gets more filled in, but it felt so rushed! She’s a married, “real grown up” and is yet another case of Cunanan meeting someone when they were feeling a little bored or down (and then probably leveraging it later.)
Cunanan’s father is such a pure, selfish evil. We know he sold nonexistent stocks to a 92-year-old woman, and the fact that he had that much cash ready and a go bag makes me think his crimes must have been serious and plentiful. I was shocked his dad was actually there when he went to find him, but I was not surprised there was no money. I think he stole to get by, and I actually was impressed with how much sympathy I could muster for him after he said, “You can’t go to America and start from nothing, that’s the lie.”
You can finally almost feel for Andrew because there is an excruciating pain to realizing someone close to you is a liar, and a parent is the closest authority there is. To have that compounded by the fact that this parent made you feel so special, it makes you feel like you’re not only no longer special, but you’re a fool for ever believing the lie that you were. Some of the writing was a little heavy-handed, because just as I typed that last thought, Andrew literally says, “If you’re a lie then I’m a lie.”
I was still shook that his dad spit in his face, and I lost all sympathy for the washed up criminal when he started calling his son a sissy. Modesto says crying is weak, and that his son is being just like his mom, which solidifies any doubt I had that the mom wasn’t probably actually mentally ill aside from experiencing postpartum depression. This episode ends up feeling kind of confusing because Andrew says he won’t become his father, but we kind of know he does. A moment stuck with me in this episode when Andrew puts his hands over his mom’s mouth with a little too much natural, controlled rage. It seems like the first reason the two of them have had to fight, but it feels like he’d just seen force used so casually in that house so many times that he didn’t think twice.
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