The crime anthology series American Crime Story is currently in its second season, with two episodes already aired. We saw the third episode, along with the first two, in a special screening held yesterday by Hotstar.
For those unfamiliar with the premise of the show, ACS focuses on a particular crime or criminal and the story behind the events that brought the same to limelight in a single season. The first season focused on O.J.Simpson and his trial. The second season brings to us the story of the murder of famed fashion designer Gianni Versace and his killer Andrew Cunanan.
The events shown are largely based on media coverage and the book titled Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History by Maureen Orth. The season proceeds in the reverse chronological order, starting off with the murder itself and gradually revealing the events that led up to it. The first thing that you’ll notice about the show is the attention to detail that has been paid to all the aspects, be it the casting of various roles, or the 90s setting across America.
The show boasts of a stellar cast with Edgar Ramirez as a stunningly accurate Gianni Versace, Penelope Cruz as his sister Donatella Versace, Ricky Martin as his partner Antonio D’Amico and Darren Criss in a show-stealing performance as the killer Andrew Cunanan.
Since the murder itself and the manhunt for Cunanan were both extensively covered in the media, there isn’t much to be spoiled here. The first episode puts you right in the middle of a Miami Beachfront in the fag end of the 90s. The events are set in motion (backwards) with the murder, with eventual glimpses into the lifestyle of one of the greatest designers in the world of fashion, the (less) love – (more) hate relationship between his sister and his partner, and the twisted obsession of the killer with his target.
From the get-go, you’re amazed by the strong portrayal that Darren Criss brings to the screen. While much of what is known about Cunanan’s motivations is speculation, it is no secret that his serial killing days started off as a reaction to his rejection from a couple of wealthy elderly patrons to his escort services. Beyond this, Darren Criss and writer Tom Robb Smith have done an amazing job to bring a dash of insanity into the role, which, interestingly, blends right into the character’s sociopathic suaveness the very next moment.
One of the constants on the show is the topic of homosexuality. While the first two episodes explore it in the context of Cunanan’s exploits on one side and Gianni’s relationships on another in the comparatively open-minded Miami scene, the third episode heads to Chicago, Cunanan’s last stop before heading to Miami and the location of his third murder (Gianni’s was his fifth).
A Random Killing
In this episode, we are introduced to Lee Miglin, a successful business tycoon, also shown as a homosexual individual on the show, and his wife, Marilyn Miglin, well portrayed by Mike Farrell and Judith Light respectively. In a deviation from first two episodes, this one does not spread across on the Versace family and Cunanan in Miami at all and instead focuses mainly on the Miglin murder. The show takes the responsibility of filling in the gaps present in the story that the book tells. Lee Miglin is shown as one of Cunanan’s patrons who he calls upon when he is in Chicago. With wife Marilyn being away for the promotion of her perfume line in Canada, Lee invites Andrew to his home where the events that lead up to his murder unfold. This episode gives you a disturbing glimpse into the mind of a murderer who has but recently realised that he’s a serial killer – he especially announces it to Lee before brutally murdering him. On the other hand, the set pieces that reveals the murder – the silence on the other end of the telephone when Marilyn calls home; the empty, reverberating house; the uncharacteristic untidiness that tells her something is wrong – have been masterfully executed.
Another persistent focus on the show is on the numerous ways in which the FBI had botched the investigation – starting from a tip from a pawn shop where Cunanan had pawned a coin stolen from Miglin with his real name to ignoring local law enforcement officers’ advice to canvas the well-known homosexual bars in Miami – where Cunanan is shown to repeatedly show up in his hunt for Versace. The show does not miss out any of these details, even highlighting that Marilyn had informed the police that her husband’s unique gold coins were stolen too, which could be easily identified if they were pawned (which is something that Andrew does).
While on one side, the murder itself might make you want to look away yet hold your gaze at the same time, on the other hand, the episode doesn’t just showcase a murder in a series before moving on. The interaction between Lee and Andrew before the event goes a long way to further the audience’s understanding of Cunanan’s psyche – he truly believes that he deserves power and fame, and despises those similar to him who have these while hiding their true selves. Lee is celebrated as a straight, family man, something that he is not, which is why Andrew makes it a point that when his body is found, it is found in a manner that brings his sexual orientation to the limelight. Judith Light, as Marilyn, displays just the right amount of emotions through a wall of stoicism that one would expect from the wife of a tycoon, who is a businesswoman and a public figure herself, who is going all out to protect the family name after the murder by insisting that it was ‘A Random Killing’.
The best thing about the show is that it does not put you in the perspective of a particular side, or character. In the first three episodes, as the show takes you backwards, it builds context for the actions that are shown in the pilot, without giving you too much information. For a show whose plot is public knowledge, this approach works completely in its favour. Add that to the stellar performances by the entire star cast, and missing this season of ACS is just not in vogue anymore.