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'The Assassination of Gianni Versace' Episode 2 recap: Death's a beach

Price Peterson
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan. (Images: FX)

Warning: This recap of the “Manhunt” episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story contains spoilers.

From the beginning we’ve known that Andrew Cunanan fancied himself a man of finer tastes. Even while on the run for a murder spree, he still took the time to purchase just the right Wayfarer knock-offs or order a surf ‘n’ turf meal from a wealthy john. Did Cunanan wear just any old bathing suit? Nope, it was magenta Speedo all the way. And when it came to rat-infested, crumbling junkie motels, you better believe Cunanan asked for an ocean view. Yes, even the lowest of human existences can leave room for glamour.

“Manhunt” continued last week’s premiere with even more backstory of where both Versace and Cunanan had been in their respective lives before the titular assassination. And like last week, it took what everyone knew about the case (from sensationalized tabloid coverage mostly) and filled in the gaps with new facts, genuine insight, and arresting beauty. Let’s talk about it!

We began with an unrecognizable, anonymous man in disguise.

Underneath this ingenious, identity-concealing ensemble was none other than famous fashion designer Gianni Versace. But this costumed ruse would be for neither heist nor romp. No, he was at a clinic receiving bad news about a blood test he’d recently taken. And while this episode was careful to keep things vague, this scene, added to a later scene in which he could barely walk unassisted, was meant to suggest that Versace’s life had once been threatened long before Andrew Cunanan ever pointed a gun at him. You can probably guess what the illness was. But as a reminder, the ’90s were an especially bad time for a specific group of people.

Versace’s diagnosis played heavily into this episode’s central concept. That he’d been able to fight off his illness using state-of-the-art medicines, he’d slapped the grim reaper across its tacky face, and he’d begun to embrace life as only a formerly dead man walking could. Which, as Donatella Versace noted, made his later murder all the more devastating.

But death comes for us all, even those who can afford to have their facial bullet wounds spackled over and their cremains laid to rest so fabulously.

Even when reduced to several ounces of ash, Versace still flew first class. Honestly touching.

We then cut over to Andrew Cunanan, who was currently speeding on the freeway scream-singing “Gloria.” Which, we’ve all done that, and in my case nearly every day. “Gloria” is one of the greatest songs of all time. As we quickly discovered, Cunanan was only just arriving in Miami, so this act of free-wheelin’ joy came after he’d murdered his first four victims. Yep, he was now murder-jazzed, and it was time to spread his brand of awful in a beach community!

Cunanan showed up at the dingiest motel with the most beautiful oceanfront view in Miami. It was clearly a faded stucco hell pit of junkies and, well, other serial killers I’m guessing. Between the presence of a junkie Max Greenfield and a duct-tape gimp mask, this was like if American Horror Story: Hotel had been crossed with Miami Vice. Into it.

Meanwhile the FBI had arrived in town around the same time, but this local Miami detective lady quickly realized they were terrible at their jobs and had not tried particularly hard to catch this gay spree-killer yet. They hadn’t even made any copies of his “Wanted” poster! And as we’d learn later, citizens were ready and willing to report a Cunanan sighting, which made it all the more frustrating that the FBI had been so slow to spread the word. (Thank God for America’s Most Wanted.)

As you can imagine, Andrew Cunanan made fast friends with junkie Max Greenfield, and after a heartfelt scene in which Greenfield’s character talked about his HIV diagnosis, the two schemed openly about how to make quick cash and/or buy some junk to smoke. An enterprising liar and conman, it was almost charming that Cunanan still resorted to turning tricks sometimes. I guess that was easier than, like, check fraud or whatever.

So, sex work for local lonely hearts was now on the menu! Congratulations, Miami fellas!

Except, whoops … there was the pesky fact that Andrew Cunanan was a total psychopath. Which meant that this john’s simple request to be dominated led him to finding himself suffocating under a face full of duct tape and terrorized within an inch of his life while Andrew Cunanan danced around the room in a pink Speedo.

Yeah this was one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve seen in a Ryan Murphy joint, but the terror was effective. The disturbing vibe continued even afterward, as the terrified john sat watching Cunanan finish a lobster meal, waited until Cunanan left, and then debated whether to call 911 and report the assault. Alas, the wedding ring he placed back on his finger suggested why the crime ultimately went unreported. Again: The ’90s really sucked.

But enough darkness, it was time to remember what made Versace famous! In this scene, Donatella urged Versace to change things up and compete with his more goth-inspired competitors Galliano and McQueen, but Versace made clear that he was in the business of joy and beauty and life, especially now that he had his health back. Donatalla couldn’t help but see his point.

And credit to this show for not only producing a convincing fashion show (with convincingly Versace-ish looks) but also even casting a runway model who resembled Shalom Harlow to play Shalom Harlow! Miss her. Come back, Shalom.

As though we needed more evidence that Andrew Cunanan was unhinged, we got this cute scene where he smoked tons of drugs, then went to the bathroom for some quiet time. In this case quiet time involved wrapping his head and face in duct tape and also admiring the intensely insane serial killer wall he’d created in the bathroom:

Yeah, I think we’d recalled Cunanan as being an out-of-control party boy or whatever, but this series has done a lot to prove he was insane in a scary and singular way. Just a bad-time-guy lookin’ for trouble.

We also got glimpses into the romantic life shared by Versace and his lover, Ricky Martin (as himself, jk). And though their lifestyle of hooking up with men together and going to the clubs was nothing they were ashamed of in their private life, we could sense that the straight world would never understand their situation. Versace himself doubted that his partner truly loved him enough to want to be married (which … gay marriage? What a futuristic concept in 1997!), yet they still were clearly everything to each other. It would be romantic if we didn’t know where this was all heading.

We then got another classic Cathy Moriarty appearance, in which we saw the incident when Cunanan sold a stolen coin to her at her pawn shop and she remembered it enough to contact the police after the shooting. And again, she’d even glanced at her collection of “Wanted” posters before making the sale, underscoring again that the authorities’ slow-to-act tendencies toward gay crime had almost directly led to Versace’s murder. But at least we can all continue to count on Cathy Moriarty when we need her!

I loved this brief scene when a drag impersonator of Donatella showed up at Versace’s manor and demanded to come in and hang out. He was polite enough about it, noting that one Donatella in his life was enough, but still. She DID look fun to hang out with. I probably would’ve let her up.

That night, Versace and his lover went out to the local dance club Twist, and Andrew Cunanan followed them there, presumably to shoot him right there in the club. But Versace ended up ducking out before the encounter happened but not before his lover informed him that even at night, even amid opportunities to be around other men … he still chose Versace and wanted to marry him. Again, except for the line of strangers behind them and the bad ’90s techno wafting in the air, this was an incredibly touching and romantic moment. These two.

Inside, a clearly dejected Cunanan was approached by a random hottie, and he responded by having a borderline meltdown in which he listed all the different fake occupations he’d ever pretended to be. Including, of course, serial killer. But while the random hottie had no reason to think Cunanan was being serious about any of them, it was a chilling notion that someone who had spent a lifetime lying about his accomplishments was now going to try to make a name for himself in a more tragic and gruesome way. Ugh, he was the worst.

“Manhunt” functioned best as a continuation of last week’s introduction to the story and setting. And like last week, it relied on visuals and physical performance more than written dialogue, and was just as spellbinding. Tense, funny, emotional, and troubling all at once, this is a fascinating world to explore and I can’t get enough. Obviously it’s a dark story and doesn’t promise to get any lighter by the end of it, but I can’t help myself. That this is even on the air (and executed so perfectly) is enough to give someone a new lease on life. How very Versace.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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