I wish I was not the kind of fool who roots for a happy ending because The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story keeps putting my heart in a vice. This week’s “The House By The Lake” was another visually distinct episode that started out in Minneapolis, and followed architect and nice man David Madson (Cody Fern) on the run with Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss).
The start of the episode was such a classic horror show. It was immediately tense, and Cunanan was so looming. I realized that I hate him so much now, which is impressive considering how likable Darren Criss normally is. Every interaction between Madson and Cunanan inside that ominous ‘90s apartment feels like it goes on forever, and it reminded me of the uneasy gut feeling Get Out built up, where you can’t help but yell at the screen, “Run!” I just wanted the tension to end so badly.
I lost some respect for Cunanan’s charisma in this episode since he is actually not that great of an emotional manipulator. Not that emotional manipulation is such an admirable skill, but I sense Cunanan takes pride in it. The ugly truth of this episode is that Cunanan is actually just physically threatening Madson the entire time. Some moments feel like more gentle coercion maybe, but a significant amount of the episode takes place at gunpoint. Later, when Cunanan is trying to be sweet and offer Madson the carrot instead of the stick, I just wanted to slap the glasses off his handsome face. It got to the point where it was therapeutic for me to have Madson as my onscreen surrogate, getting madder and madder at him until the very end.
I keep harping on this because I’m brilliant and always right, but women are yet again the ones who follow their intuition and check on Madson’s apartment. Maybe we were meant to feel the detective’s judgment of homosexuality, but it also felt to me like there was a subtle distrust of the women by the cops, when in fact, they appeared to be helpful. Without them, it could have taken way longer to start the investigation. I also just thought the cops were garbage because who would ever say, “your friend’s the killer” after taking a few quick glances around a loft? Ass. Plus, his comments to Madson’s parents that there’s a great deal they don’t know about their son were incredibly condescending and ultimately inaccurate, but I appreciate that American Crime Story frequently revisits the sometimes antagonistic relationship between victims, their families, and the police. All parties are human, and the system is imperfect.
The rest of the episode reminded me of Misery on wheels. After the moment when Cunanan tells Madson that he should start thinking about his new life, I realized what an insane hostage experience Madson is having. Why would he want a new life? His life seems good. He’s working as a hot shot architect in a more hip version of the American Psycho apartment. I would almost go as far as to say that Cunanan might have misjudged the extent of Madson’s loneliness and loyalty to him, judging by how much resistance he gets from him at each step of the journey.
A beautiful shining oasis of calm in this episode came when I realized it was Aimee Mann singing that gorgeous cover of The Cars’ ”Drive.” She was so casual, almost as if she’s rubbing it in your face that being fabulous isn’t hard for her. We also see Cunanan cry, which terrifies me, but is also a dirty trick that got me to think maybe I’ve been wrong about him. When Madson woke up alone in the next scene, for one naive moment, I was hoping Cunanan had let him go.
I thought Cody Fern did a masterful job of playing David, who was a real lover of Andrew’s. I thought he looked incredibly young, and it turns out he was only 33 when he was murdered. He was absolutely someone with a full life ahead of him, and the scene where he presented his achievements to his dad while also coming out to him reminded me of the “Best Little Boy in the World” hypothesis, or the idea that some gay men will seek out traditional and measurable successes in a potential attempt to deflect attention away from their sexuality. A little digging into Madson’s real life revealed that he had applied and been accepted to both architecture and law school. Cunanan told his friend’s that Madson was the love of his life, which must be taken with a grain of salt because of his compulsive lying, but it is interesting that he’s one of the only love interests we’ve seen so far that was roughly a peer. But as soon as you start to like someone in this series, they’re gone. Given the frantic pace, Cunanan’s red Jeep is starting to feel like the only recurring character I can count on.
I was caught off guard but not mad when the episode slipped into surrealism for its big finish. When Madson is drinking coffee with his father, I knew he was dead, but I still left 1% of my heart open to the possibility that he got away, or that someone else was inside the trailer. I think true crime does a darkly magical thing: you know what’s going to happen and it still manages to be shocking and painful.
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