American Crime Story

American Crime Story Must Be Talked About, Or It Is Nothing

Andrew Cunanan and Donatella Versace both begin to come into their own -- but only one of them feels entitled, and only one of them is correct -- in this Epic Old-School Recap of S02.E07, 'Ascent.'

I wouldn't call "Ascent" missable, exactly. It has a handful of significant moments, and the usual pro performances. But it feels a bit flabby, by numbers, many of the facts already in evidence, and the attempt to re-foreground the Versaces lands more cheesily than I'd like. Let me know what you thought in the forums.

Milan, 1992. Donatella Versace is struggling to sketch a design, obliged to explain where her drawing can't that, "for a woman, a dress is a weapon, to get what she wants." Off that idea, another member of the atelier adds an element to his sketch. Donatella pointedly crumples her version and throws it away, then gathers up everyone else's drafts and brings them to the conference room for Gianni to look at. Enter Gianni and Antonio, the former looking exhausted and unwell, and a couple of senior designers mutter to each other that he's obviously sick, not that anyone's saying with what or even admitting it. Donatella peers out at them, concerned, then turns her attention back to her brother, who wants to know which of the sketches are hers. None, she says, adding defensively that her idea is there, of dress as weapon. Gianni shoots Antonio a look, closes the conference-room doors, and demands to know what Donatella is: a designer? a collector of other people's work? He shoves the sketches onto the floor as Donatella's eyes fill with tears; she shrugs that he can call her whatever he wants, but he asks what she calls herself. She says she assists him, as best she can. "You have the opportunity to be great -- and you choose to assist," he confirms sarcastically. Antonio cocks his head watchfully as Donatella reminds Gianni that "none of us chose" the situation. She won't talk to him when he's "like this," but Gianni bellows over Antonio's suggestion that maybe he should rest; this is how he talks! If Donatella doesn't like it, fine, they can never talk again!

That's too close to the actual problem -- that what he is sick with is a death sentence, and they won't talk again, whether or not that's a choice -- and Donatella's openly in tears now as she wails she knows he's angry, and so is she, but it's not her fault. He's sick, he says more quietly. They have to face it, because he can't hide it. Looking very young and utterly bereft, she asks what he wants from her. "Everything." He has it! She gives him "all"! It's not enough, he murmurs. She flaps her arms and leaves the conference room, and he yells after her, "Go -- go assist!" She holds the conference-room doors closed outside as Gianni rants about her bringing coffee and some flowers, then leans against it, eyes red and darting in panic.

Inside, Antonio's like, uh-uh, not cool. "She's not ready," Gianni grumbles. Antonio tells him to go apologize. "I don't have time to be kind," Gianni whispers. "You don't have time to be cruel," Antonio corrects him.

Later. Gianni comes upon Donatella in the darkened atelier, drawing. He leans his chin on a nearby dress form until she meets his eye. "I can't sketch," she frowns. He can't either. "You're just saying that," she says, but he insists it's true, she can ask any designer there. "It's not the quality of the sketch; it's the quality of the idea." She's scared; pretending to be bold isn't enough. He wants her to grow, not become something else. Grow into what, him?, she asks. He pulls up a chair and tells her they're going to work on a dress together, just the two of them, as if it's the last dress he'll ever make. She tells him not to talk like that, but he says firmly, though more kindly than before, that he has to -- that "soon" all of this will rest on her. She climbs into his lap for a hug and whispers that the company is him. She has to make it hers, then, he says forcefully; she has to own it. He's right, though not for the reasons either of them thinks. She heaves a breath and asks what he wants to "achieve" with their dress. The dress isn't his legacy, Gianni says. She is. She smiles diffidently.

After the title card, we're at a drugstore in San Diego, where a retail-smocked Andrew Cunanan is restocking a shelf with pocket packs of Kleenex and clock-watching. Later, he stops leafing through a Versace ad spread in Vogue to try to big-shot a cute customer in a UC San Diego sweatshirt by saying he's "actually" finishing up his dissertation there. "Just a few more shifts" at the drugstore, Cunanan adds, as the store owner comes up to the counter to give Cunanan a "rly?" look. The customer's flatter-than-the-prairie "great" is a work of under-five art; well done, young man. The owner grabs the Vogue and grunts at Cunanan, "Not on my time." Cunanan and his perfectly ironical "Andrew: Here to help you." name tag

stare into the middle distance.

Mr. Mercado cuts Cunanan a check as Cunanan, standing Starman-ishly at Mercado's desk, asks if it bothers him that the customers only know him as "that helpful man." Mercado doesn't know quite what that means, or care, as he asks, "Does it bother you?" Of course it does; Cunanan's also bothered by the check itself, but Mercado shrugs that Cunanan's not going to get paid for hours he didn't work, since he's always late. Cunanan arranges his face into a boo-boo-kitty shape and burbles that he was thinking about his mom, not himself. Mercado looks down, then over at a wall map that includes the Philippines, before asking if Cunanan Sr. is still sending money. No, Cunanan says. "He's gone." Cunanan needs a plan, Mercado tells him, and reading magazines doesn't qualify. "I didn't get all this by being idle," he adds, leaning back in his chair proudly. Cunanan looks pointedly around the utterly average office, murmurs, "Yes, Mr. Mercado," and trudges out, his arms not moving at his sides.

At home, Cunanan comes into the apartment, squeezes past his mother without so much as a hello, takes a gallon of store-brand cookies-and-cream ice cream out of the freezer, and turns the label towards her accusingly. She's like, it's half the price for twice the amount as the Häagen-Dazs, and goes into the dining room to set the table. Cunanan's face crumples, and he lifts the container high over his head and smashes it to the ground. Mary Ann flinches, and asks why he has to get so upset. He wants the best, Cunanan blares. Who says "that German stuff" is the best anyway, Mary Ann says in a trembling voice, then enters the Martyr Mom Hall Of Fame by scooping herself some ice cream straight from the melting heap on the floor. She rolls her eyes and enjoys her snack as Cunanan gives her a snotty graf on the history of the Häagen-Dazs name, although his read makes it sound more like arriviste branding bullshit than it actually is. The fact that he's projecting his own aspirations onto a premium frozen treat, but at the same time not really seeing that that means its value as "the best" is an illusion, not to mention one he's just punctured with his need to know everything, is Cunanan in a nutshell. Mary Ann doesn't get it, though, crooning that he's "so smart." He steps around the mess he's made without even a gesture towards cleaning it up, hands her a crumpled bill, and brats, "Next time? Buy Häagen-Dazs." "Okay, Andrew," she says, watching him go with a mixture of fear and admiration.

In his room, Cunanan gets ready to go out accompanied by the opening bars of Madonna's "Deeper & Deeper." You know, my esteemed Mark And Sarah Talk About Songs co-host Mark Blankenship and I like to joke that "MASTAS is #everywhere," but this isn't really what we had in mind? At Flicks, Cunanan pulls his (old '70s American) car into the valet station; inside, he's discussing the night's pick-up game plan with Jeff Trail. Jeff's in the mood for someone "new," but Cunanan's not confident about his prospects. Jeff points out that he never makes a move; Cunanan says distractedly that "being told no is like being told I don't exist." Not sure a narcissist of this type would have that on-the-nose an insight about himself, but Jeff kindly reassures him that he's "a catch." Cunanan sighs that it's easy for two other guys, down the bar, because they have the "look everybody wants," but Jeff and Cunanan end up talking to them. Well, Jeff talks to them, about his service…and Cunanan performs, cringily, making sure to steer the conversation to his father working at Merrill Lynch and to lard it with rehearsed factoids. Jeff pipes up that "Andrew knows everything -- he's amazing like that," but when the one guy whose father really does work there says he'll tell his dad to look out for Cunanan Sr., it's Jeff he throws the come-hither look to, not Cunanan.

Jeff and the other guy leave together when the lights come on at Flicks, and Cunanan is left alone with a bill he can't pay, dissembling that he'll "settle it next time." The bartender's okay with it, but the older gent still sitting at the end of the bar has a come-to-Jesus observation for Cunanan, sliding over and saying that most young guys in Flicks don't even see him, but Cunanan always does. Cunanan looks a bit fearful as the guy goes on that "you can lie about a lot of things in life." He scribbles what looks like his name and number on a bar napkin and finishes, "But there's either money in your wallet -- or there isn't."

At home, Mary Ann is waiting up for Cunanan, in the dark, smoking. Hours and hours he's been out -- where does he go? Is he drunk? Cunanan leans on the doorjamb near the dinette set; there's something threatening about his posture as he sardonically sort of repeats her questions back to her instead of answering them, but to the last one, he responds, "Drunk on dreams." Dreams of what? Getting the hell out of there, he says evenly. Mary Ann pouts: "What about me?" "Little mama, don't you know?" he croons, leaning down to her, and for a moment she looks afraid, before he says that she's his "dream woman," and of course she's coming with him! She's pathetically grateful, and allows him to rock her, asking where they're going. "Up," he says, sky-high, where "they all look up at us, and we look down on them." He rests his chin on her head and schemes.

The first part of his non-magazine-reading, upward-bound plan: trying to get signed to an escort agency. He's immediately on bad footing when the booker, played by Molly Price with a flinty rhinestone flair that makes me want to see a whole episode just about this character, eyes his double-breasted suit and is like, you look like you're going to church -- do you know what this place is? Cunanan projects his usual confidence that he can bend the situation to the way he thinks it should be, versus having to observe the same realities as the rest of us; Rhinestone's like, we'll see, and takes a Polaroid, then asks his age and what he is -- Latinx, Italian, what? He goes into a whole family tree that Rhinestone cuts off with a quickness: she doesn't want his "story," just his stats. This is the kind of reductive assessment Cunanan dreads, built as his whole shtick is on grand pronouncements meant to distract from the lack of there there, but he gambles on calling himself "Asian-American." Wrong answer; Rhinestone notes straight clients ask for Asian women, but gay clients don't ask for Asian men, so he tries to backtrack to calling himself Portuguese -- would that work? No. If someone asks for a Latinx guy, she can't send an Asian, and her Latinx guys "are studs." She gestures at the Polaroid board, then asks Cunanan for his "greatest attributes." He says he's clever, witty, fun…he's cut off again. "My clients aren't looking for a wife," she snorts, adding she really meant how well he's hung. Cunanan regards her with loathing, then covers to chuckle that he's well-endowed. Uh, it's an escort agency; she's going to need proof, boss. Sure enough, she grunts, "Show me." It's probably wrong to enjoy his humiliation as much as I do, but Rhinestone's utter lack of use for Cunanan is giving me my life today.

Cunanan clearly wants to take her life, but whips it out.

She looks at it expressionlessly, then tells him to put it away and roll up his sleeves, asking if he's a drug user. "No, never," he says. She checks his teeth, horse-trader-style, and nods to the bookshelf: "Pick any book. Talk about it." He fishes out the Versaces' South Beach book; asked why that one, he shrugs that it's the only one he hasn't read. Rhinestone has her doubts, but he cuts her off this time, daring her to ask him a question, any question. So he can hold his own in dinner-table conversation, she says, unimpressed. "I am the dinner-table conversation," he snots. Is he good with older men? The best, Cunanan predictably replies, oversharing that he took a man in his thirties to his prom and that he's much better with older guys than guys his own age: "It's a gift." Well, he's only one letter off. "Hm," she says, and goes back behind her desk to tee him up: he has a lot going for him, but her clients don't ask for Asians, and they for sure don't ask for Asians "with attitude." Cunanan protests that he can work harder than any of the guys on the Polaroid board, but Rhinestone snorts that "this isn't a sweatshop, sweetheart" -- nobody cares about hard work. "This is about being what people want." Ouch. Cunanan says he can do this. Not for her, he can't: "I can't sell a clever Filipino -- even one with a big dick." Then he'll sell himself, Cunanan says grandly, and walks out, slamming the door.

On that same theme, Gianni settles a dress on Donatella, then gets an idea as he's fastening the belt around her waist, and puts his own belt around her neck. Looking thoughtful, he sketches something and shows it to her. She loves it, and exclaims again over his unique gift and she'll never be able to do what he does, blah blah blah, and I'm sorry to sound dismissive of Donatella's legitimate anxieties about the future, admixed with pre-grief over the loss of her beloved brother/mentor, because it's not like Penelope Cruz isn't acting the hell out of it, but while the decision to work the timeline in reverse is for the most part extremely effective and affecting, this is ground the writing's trodden already in the episode, not to mention earlier in the season and with a lighter step. Exhibit A: the scene continuing with Donatella saying the dress is perfect for Naomi, Gianni saying it's perfect for Donatella, she says no, he reiterates that it's a joint effort and she has to own her creation, "I would look absurd," "you would look like a star"…the creation myth of Donatella's self-assurance isn't uninteresting to me, at all. This translation simply doesn't work for me.

Nor does the subsequent scene, which takes place at the Vogue 100th Anniversary Gala and is very predictable. Gianni and Donatella prepare to mount the stairs outside, both looking nervous, and he comforts her with a memory from their childhood -- her sitting on his shoulders to see a concert, which he then saw through her eyes -- and she hesitantly draws down her wrap and a paparazzo is like, holy shit, and then she's surrounded, and a star is born. See above; don't really buy it. Could totally have happened this way, but I don't get the sense that Donatella ever particularly lacked in poise, and the comparison between the Versace family's version of supportive togetherness and the Cunanans' is duly noted, as is Gianni stepping aside to leave her alone in the circle of flashbulbs. (And, for not the first time in the series, Donatella's period-inaccurate platform pumps.) Cruz looks fab, though.

In his room, Cunanan goes over the newspaper with a highlighter, noting charity events at which he might find and latch onto wealthy older men. He selects a staging of a Marivaux play, and circles Norman Blachford's picture (which appears in a row with David "Red" Gallo's and Lincoln Aston's).

At the theater, Norman orders a red wine. Cunanan deploys target lock and orders a red wine of his own, making sure to bump against Norman and make meaningful eye contact -- and leave a meaningful over-tip. Norman watches him go, intrigued but seeming to see what he is; Cunanan floats up the stairs with a smirk. Sure enough, Norman approaches him to wonder what brings a young man to an eighteenth-century play on his own. Cunanan name-drops a hard-to-pronounce repertory production, which has the desired effect, then introduces himself as "Andrew DeSilva," adding, "It's Portuguese. On my father's side." Yeeees, that's how patronymics generally work; the customary spot-on detail in the writing that shows Cunanan giving himself away just a little bit. He doesn't always realize it, but after going on that the original production of the play was considered a failure thanks to "inappropriate" gender roles, he does see that Norman smells a try-hard, and chuckles that he sometimes sounds like he's "in a lecture hall" -- it's why he's more popular with older people. Norman is giving him a "settle down, kid, you got the job" look when he's joined by his friends Red and Lincoln, as seen in the paper. Lincoln exclaims that he can't leave Norman alone for a second before he finds the handsomest guy in the place, and introduces himself. "I'm Gallo, if anyone cares," Red gripes. Lincoln invites Cunanan to dinner after the show. Cunanan would be happy to, "if you don't mind." Lincoln is maybe a little weirded out by this -- he did invite Cunanan, after all; why would he "mind"? -- but the blood rushing to his nethers allows him only to say he doesn't mind at all.

At Lincoln's, Cunanan asks who Lincoln's interior designer is. "My wallet," Lincoln snorts; Norman's "the one with taste." Red pipes in that Lincoln always leaves an extra spot at dinner for "some young man -- he's superstitious like that." Lincoln says not to mind Red, who's like, right, "I'm bitter and unloved," before snarking on Cunanan's rented tux. Cunanan seats himself and mutters to Norman, "He's hilarious." Asked what brings him to La Jolla, Cunanan pretends he doesn't want to bore them with the details, then does: he's "in hiding," from the end of his marriage, which he claims was to Lizzie Coté. He sings her praises while showing her picture around; the older men frown inscrutably at it as Cunanan goes on that he couldn't live a lie anymore, so he bolted. "You're very young to be married," Red observes. Cunanan locks eyes with him and nods very slightly, bullshit game recognizing sharp-sense-of-smell game, but Norman interrupts with a toast to outcasts finding new friends and families. "To outcasts no more!" Cunanan eagerly agrees. Red is clearly only on board for the "no more" part.

My kingdom for a Red commentary track on The Bachelor. After dinner, Lincoln asks if Cunanan can stay. Cunanan asks what everyone "else" is doing. Norman grumbles that he has to leave for Phoenix early the next morning. "Phoenix!", Cunanan exclaims, and you can practically hear the gears grinding before he tells Lincoln that yes, he can stay.

In the foyer, Norman hurls his napkin onto a sideboard and tells Lincoln that Cunanan's "a very interesting young man," but not Lincoln's type at all. "You're a sore loser," Lincoln shrugs. Red pats Norman on the shoulder while shooting Lincoln a "good luck" look.

Lincoln returns to the living room and gets straight to it: "Hundred dollars a night." Cunanan counteroffers: a weekly allowance, an expense account, and he'll be available to Lincoln at any time. "I like variety," Lincoln warns him. Cunanan claims he knows "everyone" in San Diego, and can make Lincoln's condo the center of the city's gay social life. Lincoln looks at Cunanan's lips and says that sounds like fun. "Let's discuss your wants, and my terms," Cunanan says.

At the atelier, Donatella is getting a hero's welcome and a flute of champagne for…successfully wearing a dress that in my opinion did not look that outré even for the time -- Madonna's Gaultier cone bra was well before this -- much less for Donatella, who is consistently shown in animal prints, black leather, and gobs of heavy gold jewelry. I get what they're trying to do here and I get that they want to give Cruz something to play; I don't buy it, really, so I'm-a skim over most of the rest of this section of the story. Donatella serves up some gloppy writing to make the point that, good reviews or bad, "they're talking about us."

Chatter don't pay the bills, though, as Gianni is getting a global sales report -- which he makes a point of asking the operations lady to speak up to deliver -- whose bottom line is that people talk about the dress, but nobody buys it. Operations Lady notes that there's a global downturn in play as well, and when Gianni is baffled that nobody wants the dress that made his "sister a star," OL is like, I don't make the numbers, I just report them, and they're bad. Donatella wonders if maybe it's a good look for red carpet, but they need a simpler version for customers. "One design, two dresses?" Gianni asks, in a completely non-credible "you got your chocolate in my peanut butter" tone, like, come on, guys. The Versaces did not invent the idea of runway-to-retail or couture loss leaders that get butts into the pret seats, and I have trouble believing Gianni would have been this fragile about changing his design. But no, this is where the scene is going, as Gianni sarcastically says fine, grabs a pair of scissors, and asks what Donatella wants him to remove from the dress they made, together. She's like, oh, so female empowerment is fine when I'm wearing the dress, but in the atelier I don't get a vote -- do you want to sell clothes or not? He wah-wahs about fashion designs having a heart and soul, she blah-blahs about not every woman wanting to be the center of attention, Gianni ends up cutting the breastplate of straps away from the look and bellowing, "Is that normal enough?" He slumps into a chair, panting. Donatella looks frightened and asks what's going on; maybe he's too tired. Gianni looks even more frightened and tells her he can't hear her -- he can't hear anything. Donatella tells Antonio to call a doctor as Gianni begins to sob.

At a posh San Francisco hotel restaurant, Cunanan is telling his friends he's a "consultant" to Lincoln, who in his telling is a Texas oil gazillionaire. Everyone toasts to Andrew, or really to his nads in calling himself a consultant; the man of the hour is eager to analyze what everyone else in the restaurant thinks of them, "making all this noise and spending all this money" -- who do they think Andrew and his friends are? They probably think you ought to quiet down and act like you been there before, but I've been ordering people off my lawn since before this scene is set, so what do I know. Spotting David Madson at the bar, Cunanan spins a story about him, that he likely couldn't stand being alone in his hotel room, "so here he is, amongst people…hoping someone will see him." That story is really about Cunanan, because everything is, in the end.

He has a martini sent over to David, who's kind of a bumpkin about it as he peers over his shoulder to see Cunanan, Eli, and the rest looking at him. "He wants to know if you'll join him," the bartender murmurs, in a tone implying that she's both used to and impatient with grand lonely gestures of the sort. David cautiously approaches Cunanan's table and smiles that nobody's ever sent him a drink before. Echoing the earlier scene with Aston, Cunanan asks if David will join them, and David says, "If you don't mind. I mean…sure." He squeezes in at the end of the booth as Cunanan makes the introductions…

…and, later, is properly awed by Cunanan's huge suite with commanding view upstairs. As David's looking around, Cunanan briskly blows off an incoming call on a phone the size of John McClane's walkie-talkie. David spots the two pairs of slippers he mentioned in the diner scene in Episode 4, and asks disbelievingly, "They give you these?" "His and hers," Cunanan says. David picks up a pair: "Can I?" He can, and puts them on, but Cunanan is nodding toward the window to make sure David appreciates the view (and Cunanan's role in providing it). David is again properly impressed, wandering towards it making "wow" noises, and you can fairly hear Cunanan becoming engorged at his own power.

He follows David to the window and leans in to murmur, "How are the slippers?" David answers by kissing him. After a collage of the two peeling each other's clothes off and showering tenderly together -- no hint of the conflicts over bondage/top-bottom preference alleged to have existed between them by Maureen Orth -- they're both in bathrobes, and David is telling Cunanan a story about a schoolmate of his, Leah, who was bullied; one day he found her crying in the bathroom, so he grabbed her hands and told her that one day he'd be "the world's most successful architect" (which doesn't really seem like the kind of career a high-school kid has in mind, specifically, for himself, but let's just go with it), and he'd build her "this big, beautiful house," and they'd live in it together and no one would be mean to her "ever, ever again." He even drew Leah a picture, he says, chuckling at himself, and goes to get some hotel stationery and a pen. His childlike enthusiasm to draw the house for Cunanan is so sweet as he narrates his sketch: the house, a two-car garage, a yard… Cunanan watches him fondly, attaching not really to David but to the traditional, outward-facing vision of prosperity and contentment he's describing. David repeats what he told Leah, that as long as they lived there, they'd be happy. He meets Cunanan's gaze…

…but doesn't see what we do with the benefit of hindsight, that Cunanan is already too deeply invested in what he sees as the promise of this drawing, "promise" as in "implied vow," not "potential." David sighs that, when he finally told Leah he was gay, "she was so upset" -- she felt betrayed, like the drawing "was a marriage contract?" She never spoke to David again. "Anyway," David says as Cunanan makes Brandon Walsh concern brows some more, "I hope she found her house."

They're side by side in bed now, and Cunanan whispers that he knew he had a good room, with a good view, but it didn't give him any pleasure "until you walked into it." A sleepy David has no reason to distinguish between the sincere version of this compliment and the reality that Cunanan can't experience anything without an audience, and whispers back that it's an amazing room. Cunanan rolls onto his side and snuggles into David's shoulder, an oogy callback to his cuddling with David's eye-shot corpse.

Back in San Diego, Cunanan answers his phone to find Lincoln wondering where he's been. Cunanan lies easily that he was in San Francisco looking for "new antiques" -- Lincoln agreed! Lincoln didn't agree to midnight bottles of champagne, and asks if Cunanan has a secret lover; Cunanan, eyes screwed closed, tries to convince Lincoln he wasn't with anyone, but Lincoln's like, it's an itemized bill, rookie, "I can see every dollar you spent." Cunanan bets that a breezy reminder that he has "a taste for the finer things -- you know that!" will charm Lincoln. Survey says? ERRRNNNHH. "Not anymore," Lincoln says, and hangs up on him.

But Lincoln's not going to get to enjoy this gotcha moment for very long, as he's at Flicks, picking up the "drifter" convicted of killing him. Much is made of the guy, Kevin Bond, claiming to be straight but spending a lot of time in gay bars under those circs, and Bond flinchily shrugs to Lincoln that "men buy me drinks." He does end up at Lincoln's, drinking brown liquor and looking fearful, and Lincoln assures him that he's not going to try anything if Bond doesn't want him to, it's not his style. Lincoln's joking about liking Bond's "monosyllabic John Wayne routine" but thinking "zero-syllabic" is a bit much when Cunanan lets himself into the condo and pads down the stairs to the main living area; he slows down to listen when he hears Lincoln talking, saying Bond can keep the fifty bucks, he'll call Bond a cab. Bond says nothing, so Lincoln makes a "fine, don't finish your drink" crack and moves to take Bond's glass, brushing his fingers against Bond's as he does so. Bond is triggered immediately, grabs a sculpture off a side table, and whangs Lincoln across the face with it, knocking him to the floor. Lincoln tries to crawl away but Bond pulls him back and obliterates his face with the sculpture, a visual I didn't need, as Cunanan backs away in horror at the end of the hall, but bonks into a closet door, catching Bond's attention. Bond stalks towards him and finds Cunanan with his hands in the air, hold-up style. "He, he tried to kiss me," Bond whines. "I know," Cunanan says, aiming for "soothing," and adds, "You should run." Bond does. Cunanan looks stricken. (Despite various headlines implying that people doubt Kevin Bond's involvement, and the fact that the manner of Lincoln Aston's murder is consistent with others Cunanan committed, it doesn't seem to me like we can link his death to Cunanan, except to say that if Lincoln hadn't felt obliged to dump Cunanan, he might not then have gone to Flicks looking for a replacement, et cetera.)

Cunanan finds Norman at the theater, in the front row of the balcony, brooding. He sits on the aisle stairs as Norman says he's making a donation to have a plaque with Lincoln's name on it put on one of the seats. Cunanan says Lincoln would have liked it "very much," but Norman isn't sure, laughing that he thinks Lincoln would have called him "a sentimental old fool." Cunanan doesn't respond to this; he has news about "the killer," namely that he's in custody -- and in fact called from Utah to confess. (This may contribute in large part to the theory that Bond was a fall guy, because it doesn't sound probable, but it does happen, op. cit. Edmund Kemper.) What do the police say? Cunanan eye-rolls that Bond's story is that Lincoln tried to kiss him; "Kevin snapped and lost control." Norman eye-rolls back that no doubt the cops considered that explanation acceptable, and Cunanan nods that they say Bond "lacked the self-discipline" to leave the house when he got uncomfortable. "This surprises you?", Norman grouches, although Cunanan doesn't seem surprised to me. Norman's lived through this his whole life: "We fall sick, it's our fault; we're murdered -- it's our fault." Cunanan adds, "You can rob us, you can beat us -- you can kill us and get away with it." He purses his lips in an approximation of disgust at this state of affairs, though of course he's thrilled, consciously or not, because it will let him get by with shit a less marginalized population might have reported him for.

The kindred-spirit act works on Norman, though, because we cut to a walk on the beach and Norman explaining that he can't just move; he's lived in Phoenix a long time. Cunanan swans that that's Norman's old life -- Norman should let Cunanan make a home for him in La Jolla. A new house…they could be happy. Norman mulls this, and asks Cunanan to tell him "honestly" if he thinks he could really live with Norman. Cunanan says yes. Norman wants to think about it. Cunanan needs to close the deal now, though, so after some mulling of his own, he recycles David's story about Leah. He changes her name to Mary -- hmm -- and ups the drama so that "Mary" tried to kill herself. The part where "Mary" rejects him when he can't deliver on the romantic aspect of this fairy tale is left out; Cunanan goes straight to arguing that he can make that home, that feeling of safety and togetherness for Norman. On that mic drop, he walks off down the beach. Norman watches him go for a moment, Michael Nouri's semi-opaque squint doing a great and economical job of communicating that he would like to believe Cunanan, or anyone, who spins such a future, but is mostly landing on respect for the effort.

Wearing the same outfit he had on for the beach walk, Cunanan packs a suitcase while Mary Ann thrills that Cunanan is hitting the road with "Signore Versace." Cunanan reminds her -- or, really, himself -- of whatever horseshit version of their "friendship" he based this also-fictional job on, that they met in San Francisco and have dinner once a year. Cunanan happily lists various great international cities, "anywhere there's an opera house," and Mary Ann says she always wanted to go to Paris. "Well, I'll send you a postcard," Cunanan says. Ooh; rookie mistake. It does seem to me as though his lizard brain would fire the "promise you'll send for her soon, using vague 'specifics'" synapse, if only because that version makes him look more important, but the purpose of the scene is to check the "Cunanan becomes physically abusive" box, so Mary Ann has to remind him that he said she would be coming with him. "…Mom," he snorts, but she's like, well but I have to, I can't make rent on this place if you're not here. He says he'll send money. "But you promised," she says quietly. He says relatively patiently that he can't take her along, and Mary Ann starts to lose it, grabbing clothes out of his bureau and gabbling that she "won't be any trouble" -- she'll make his bed, she'll cook for him, he doesn't even have to acknowledge her as his mother. He's over it with her now, and snots that he doesn't need those things done for him; he'll be staying in hotels. Mary Ann's like, well, then I'll do anything else you want, you name it, "just…don't leave me here alone, not all alone." He tries to take his rolled-up socks out of her hands as she continues rambling about his asking Gianni, they're both Italian, he's a family man, he'll understand -- she can talk to him! If he says no, she'll accept it, but "you need to let me try -- let me try!" She punctuates that screech with a lunge at the suitcase. Cunanan roars, "No! Stop it!" and shoves her sideways into the door frame, which she hits with a crunch, sliding to the ground. Cunanan is taken aback.

At the doctor's office, Mary Ann sits at the end of the exam table, bolt upright, pocketbook in her lap. The gooseneck lamp beside the table is on, but pointed behind Mary Ann, illuminating nothing, while the silent Cunanans are arranged in a very Tony-and-Livia way.

The doctor comes in, frowns at them both, and informs them that Mary Ann has a fractured shoulder blade. "It's a very serious injury," she adds, and asks what happened. Cunanan creates a pantload waiting to see what Mary Ann is going to say, but of course she rouses herself from her depression fugue to use the covering-for-him script, saying that it was an accident. Cunanan found her, called the ambulance…he's a good boy. "He's always been a good boy." Cunanan breaks down, from what should be guilt but is merely simple relief.

Donatella marches into the atelier, wearing a huge-shouldered leather peplum jacket and sunglasses, and gathers the murmuring designers and seamstresses around. Gianni is sick, as they all know; he has "a rare form of ear cancer," and has decided to go to Miami to rest. She's on day-to-day operations for the time being, "while he is recovering." Her eyes fill. "My brother is stubborn, don't forget that," she says -- he's stubborn about life. He loves all of them, he loves this place, and he will be back. She's humbled and honored to take over temporarily, she says, wiping her eyes, then says their last runway show was their most attention-getting to date. "We must be talked about, or we are nothing!" With Gianni away, they have to be bold, daring, show that this house will survive, "no matter what." When everyone's gone back to work, she surveys the atelier, then sits down at the desk and plays idly with a pencil…then realizes she has the power to sketch, I guess? Again: enh. The writing could do and has done better by Donatella and this relationship.

Cunanan's sitting pretty, though; it's move-in day at Norman's condo, and he's primly bossy with the movers, then reassures Norman that he'll make the currently empty condo beautiful and homey. They move to the terrace. Cunanan puts on his sunglasses. "If they could see me now!", he smugs, taking in the view.

"Who?" Norman asks.


Also Available As Part Of The Epic Old-School Recaps Podcasts

Readers liked this episode
What did you think?


Explore the American Crime Story forum or add a comment below.