There’s a moment in the The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story premiere that has stuck in my brain like a stray popcorn kernel since the very beginning of the season. In the “The Man Who Would Be Vogue” scene in question, future murderer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) and future murder victim Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) flirt on the stage of the San Francisco opera house in October 1990, seven years before the killing that would inspire the limited series’ name. Considering how lovely the dreamlike date is, it was always impossible to understand how that meeting could lead to the bloody tragedy awaiting both characters.
Then, Wednesday night’s finale, “Alone,” came to pass. The season closer unveils the unexpected second half of Cunanan and Versace's ACS date in 1990 — and it all makes sense. In “Alone,” the FX series blames rejection for Cunanan’s deadly fixation.
The Crime Story season 2 finale essentially puts Cunanan through hell as he hides out from police in a Miami houseboat following his titular assassination. When police finally enter the house to apprehend Andrew, he commits suicide by gunshot wound to the head. As the spree killer pulls the trigger, we hear him say in voiceover, “I’m so happy right now,” a direct call-back to his “Would Be Vogue” conversation with Gianni. Then, we’re transported back to that warmly lit date nearly a decade prior to see the rest of Cunanan and Versace’s on-stage encounter.
Although this meeting seems to close happily in “Would Be Vogue,” the same can’t be said about the true ending. After hearing Versace’s kind words about Cunanan — “You’re handsome. Clever. I’m sure you’re going to be someone very special one day,” he tells him in the series premiere — the younger man decides to ask for something in “Alone.” After all, Cunanan is nothing if not an opportunist in the American Crime Story world. Emboldened by Versace's support, Cunanan explains no one ever really recognized he was as special as he found himself to be… until the designer finally “truly believed him.”
After listening to Cunanan talk about writing a book, Versace seems to legitimately think his new friend could be a successful author. “It’s not about persuading people that you’re going to do something great. It’s about doing it. You have to finish your novel,” he tells Cunanan. But, Cunanan has other plans with the designer in front of him. “Maybe I could assist you, or be your protege?” he asks. Versace isn’t looking for an assistant, no matter how much Cunanan talks about “destiny.”
All of a sudden, Versace seems to realize he just might be getting used by this young, handsome stranger. So, he rejects him on all fronts. No, he’s not going to hire Cunanan, and he dodges the 20-something-year-old when he tries to kiss him. Versace kindly says he won’t kiss Cunanan because he doesn’t want him to “question” the evening, but he’s simply not interested after the job request. That’s why he turns down Cunanan’s invitation for another date the next night. In fact, he doesn't want to see him for the rest of his time in San Francisco. “Another night, another stage,” Versace tells Cunanan before walking off into the darkness of the opera house, leaving the younger man dejected and alone behind him. Immediately, all the lights go off around Cunanan.
In one moment, Cunanan could see all the fame, money, and love from a celebrated man he ever desired laid out in front of him. In the next second, those dreams were dashed; simply because Versace didn’t see “destiny” was calling.
These many layers of turmoil are sandwiched between Cunanan’s suicide and our first and only look at his body before cops take the bloody corpse away. Crime Story suggests the opera scene is both Cunanan’s last thought and the moment that started the entire tragedy of The Assassination Of Gianni Versace. Narratively, it explains why Cunanan repeatedly said he easily could have been Versace or that Versace took his rightful future away from him. Because, in Cunanan’s mind, Versace did ruin his life that fateful October night.
While the emotional car wreck that was the opera date explains Versace’s murder in the context of American Crime Story, it’s less clear if that already dreamlike scene happened in real life. The Versace family has long claimed the late designer never met the real-life Cunanan, but those in the San Francisco LGBTQ+ scene of the '90s do not agree. As Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth wrote in Vulgar Favors, her investigative book about the Versace murder, which ACS season 2 to is based on, multiple witnesses claim Cunanan and Versace did meet at Bay Area nightclub Colossus in October 1990. Versace reportedly approached Cuanan, who was with a friend, at the club, they spoke for a few minutes, and then Cunanan left to return to the dance floor.
A friend of the spree killer, Steven Gomer, also told Orth he once saw Cunanan in a tuxedo and he claimed he had just come from seeing Capriccio “with Gianni Versace,” Vanity Fair reports. It’s worth pointing out that the ACS opera date follows a Capriccio performance in San Francisco where Andrew is dressed in quite a dapper manner. Although there are no details of what supposedly happened that evening between Versace and the man who would one day kill him, it seems that lynchpin of a Crime Story scene was built around this small detail.
So, we will never know exactly why Andrew Cunanan murdered one of the greatest fashion minds in history. But, we can accept American Crime Story's reasoning as a believable, if surreal, explanation.
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