The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story: “Manhunt” Season 2 Episode 2 Review

Photo Credit:http://www.newsweek.com/assassination-gianni-versace-fact-fiction-788578

With its second episode, The Assassination of Gianni Versace still hasn’t answered the question of who this show is for yet. But where the premiere felt aimless, “Manhunt” feels a little more purposeful, manipulating time to inject mystery in what the season’s central these is even going to be. This more confident second entry feels like it knows the answer to that question, it just isn’t ready for us to know yet.

Breaking the mold set by The People v. O.J. SimpsonAmerican Crime Story appears to at least partially want to tell this story backwards. The episode chronicles Cunanan’s travels to Miami after he’s already put his name on the FBI’s most wanted list. Criss’ performance here also falls more in line with the show’s darkly playful tone. In an early moment, Cunanan is on the road flipping through the radio stations when his name comes up on a news report. He quickly switches to the next station, playing Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.” Satisfied, he turns up the sound and starts belting out the tune in a manner that just ever so slightly pushes into stereotype. This moment adopts the tone of what this story might look like were Criss’ Cunanan telling the story, as if he’s some gruesome savior of the gay community. It’s a story that, were it not factual and was told with the right vigor, would be an absolute gas for queer audiences (myself included) right up there with Ru Paul‘s Drag Race.

But as Cunanan so delightfully exclaims upon meeting a sexy stranger in a Miami gay club at the episode’s close, he’s not just a serial killer, he’s the one we never forgot. Considering he’s the subject of a television series two decades later, he might be right, putting into question our idea of fame. When Cunanan arrives at his dingy hotel earlier in the episode, he stops and stares at a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. That’s his goal, and he’s on his way to achieving that by doing something he’s apparently quite good at.

I know what you’re thinking: this is supposed to be a show about the Versace family and the fallout of the murder of one of their own. But “Manhunt” makes the compelling case that the story of a violent soul searching for a queer identity larger than that of any other might be more interesting than that of a slain fashion icon. At this point, Versace’s role is to show everything that Cunanan wants in practice. Gianni has a beautiful partner (Ricky Martin comes into his own a bit more this episode) who is ready to drop their playful dips into polyamory for a commitment that binds them closer together. Their relationship embodies the cliche of gay celebrity, and then evolves into something more emotional just one night before Versace’s death.

Even beyond their romance, most of what’s going on throughout the Versace half of the episode is setting up the context of Gianni’s existence. He and Donatella (Penelope Cruz ascending to a role of nuance and complication) lightly bicker over the state of their business, with the former as the artist and the latter keeping the books. The flash forwards to Donatella and Antonio grieving their loss juxtaposed to this add emotional power, as their normalcy is about to be shattered in a manner most devastating. How both sides of the story progress, whether American Crime Story bisects its timelines a la Christopher Nolan’s Memento or if “Manhunt” was an exception, remains to be seen, but this journey even in just this second chapter has already become more thrilling and effective. If that trajectory remains upward, there’s no telling the heights this season could reach. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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