The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story: “House by the Lake” Season 2 Episode 4 Review

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The unspooling of Andrew Cunanan’s killing spree has slowly become the most thrilling thing on television right now, solidified by the all-around excellent “House by the Lake.” With so many larger than life characters introduced thus far, The Assassination of Gianni Versace finally delivers a gay version of the Average Joe through David Madson, Cunanan’s second victim played brilliantly by relative newcomer Cody Fern. The Versace’s once again disappear for the episode, and even Cunanan is portrayed here more as a larger-than-life sicko than he has been in previous weeks. But maybe it just feels that way juxtaposed to the ornate normality of David Madson.

Living as an architect in Minneapolis, David is covertly dating Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock), who early in the episode becomes Cunanan’s first victim right before David’s fearful eyes. Darren Criss has walked a lot of tough lines this season already, but “House by the Lake” has Cunanan at his most terror inducing. Whether he’s just creepily standing there like a mannequin or trying to jam out in the car with David as if they’re Thelma and Louise, there’s a haunting quality to him here that hasn’t been as present in previous episodes, if only because the people he was killing then were simply bigger than him in the world. But Andrew knew that what he was about to do would make him bigger than David and Jeff. As the series portrays him, Andrew is on a never-ending quest to be somebody. But what is it to be somebody if you don’t have someone else to share it with?

That’s where David comes in. Andrew had met David in San Francisco, we learn late in the episode, and was visiting him for a weekend. When the episode opens, the two are reconciling an unidentified argument they had over said weekend while we’re told Jeff is on his way. After Andrew brutally murders Jeff, he escorts David, who’s in a state of shock, to the bathroom so they can bathe together and wash the blood off, telling him how much he loves him along the way. Andrew manages to convince him not to call the police in favor of not going to prison, which he says definitely will happen because he’s a “fag.” Once again, American Crime Story is lacing in the struggles of the gay community into its characters’ motivations.

It’s a hard sell that David would go along with Andrew for as long as he does with more than a few moments to potentially escape throughout, but the script, as well as Fern’s performance, do a really solid job making us understand while not necessarily condoning. Before Jeff’s body is even found, we see David’s paranoia growing simply because of the looks he and Andrew are getting on the street as a typical gay couple. And then there’s the flashback to him coming out to his father. The scene is romanticized in a way to not feel so bad, but it’s through David’s ow expectations of how things would play out that it goes better than he might think. He even refers to being gay as the “bad news.” And so the classic “I don’t like it, but I still love you,” is the best he’s going to get; a reward even. If that’s David’s version of a good response to being gay, then of course paranoia is going to overwhelm him in the street when people give him looks.

But David does eventually come to his senses. After a road trip where he and Andrew horrifically exchange power for each other’s demands to be met, David ends it, and begs his captor to implore reason. For that, he gets a bullet in the head, something this oppressed soul did not deserve from a person he should be able to relate to and confide in. Darren Criss is having the time of his life playing Andrew as a villain we should love to hate, but the best thing about “House by the Lake” is that it reminds us just how much of a betrayal his killings were to people within the gay community both big and small. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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