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ACS: Gianni Versace: "Descent"

by Jorge Molina

For the first time in a month's worth of episodes about his victims, American Crime Story returns to an Andrew-centric episode. We're going further back into the narrative, to the events and actions that led to his string of murders.  And as it has been teased all throughout the series, all it takes for a delusional man whose entire identity is built on a bubble of lies to break down, is to pop that bubble...

Episode 6: “Descent”
The sixth episode of the series takes place in 1996, one year before the murders. Andrew is living in San Diego in the mansion of gay millionaire Norman Blachford, under the pretenses of being his personal interior designer. Pretenses is all Andrew lives off of; he’s mooching off everything he can from the poor man, who only wants company.

Andrew throws a birthday party for himself, in house that he doesn’t own, with money that is not his, surrounded by people that don’t know him. And yet somehow this is the life that he always envisioned for himself. It’s a game of perception that he needs to keep playing in order to keep the fantasy alive.

Annaleigh Ashford, bubbly and buoyant as ever, returns as Andrew’s best friend Elizabeth, who does not believe that Andrew is living a genuine life with Norman. But he tells her that he won’t stay there for long. He’s now chasing after David (Cody Fern -- it still hurts every time to seem him alive and well), a boy he met in San Francisco that now owns his heart. He will be attending the party, and Andrew wants to show him that he is a loved person. As we see through the episode, this is something Andrew desperately wants to believe in, too.

Jeff Trail seems to be his only genuine friend. They are still close after the initial bar encounter we saw last episode. Jeff comes to Andrew’s party, with real feelings of friendship and gratitude that Andrew brushes away in lieu of putting on a charade for David. He implores Jeff to pretend to have a life that goes more with what Andrew has created for his. Everyone around him needs to be part of his games in order for them to work.

Jeff and David meet in this party. Lee Miglin is also there. They all take a picture together. It has to be a creative decision to have all (or at least sixty percent) of Andrew’s victims gathered in the same place, appearing in the same picture. But it translates the theme of Andrew destroying those around him into visual terms.

But, as it has always been with Andrew, he doesn’t have enough. He needs more from Norman; a bigger allowance, first class flights, being named his sole heir. You know, reasonable petitions. And then Norman bursts the first of Andrew’s bubble, and reveals him he has had him investigated. All the stories he has told about himself are false. He’s still willing to keep Andrew around, as long as he makes himself useful. But Andrew doesn’t want to be useful. He doesn’t want to be ordinary. So he decides to leave Norman. Wanting more is slowly destroying him. 

Living off the last credit he has left, Andrew invites David to LA under work pretenses. He woos him with fancy hotels, and expensive dinners, and lush gifts. But David cannot take this any longer, and makes him clear that he is not Andrew’s guy; never will be. In his last attempt to connect with him, he tries to ask about his past and his family, but Andrew won’t let go of the invented narratives he tells himself. So David leaves him.

And, as an incredibly aggressive way of asserting his territory with Jeff, Andrew sends a postcard to Jeff’s father, outing him to his family. Jeff confronts him and tells him he is leaving for a job in Minneapolis; the city where David lives. He assures him the two have nothing to do with each other, but Andrew doesn’t buy him. And just like that, Andrew has lost all the people he cared about, or that cared about him. So, as one does, he seeks refuge in a crystal meth from a pyromaniac at a local dive bar.

In one of his highs, we get the only Versace appearance of the episode in the form of a hallucination, a way for Andrew to confront this other person who embodies all of his ideals: the man who has everything he wished and fought for. They are the same person, only Versace got lucky. There is bitterness and deep resentment in Andrew, and the psychotic gears start to turn again.

Andrew hits rock bottom (in this episode, at least, not in his life), when he tries to break into Norman’s home so he can get money to pay for his drugs. Norman calls the cops on him. And then we get a final sequence where, having been stripped of everything, Andrew goes to visit his mother.

This is his real mother, not the thousand different women he has invented to strangers at parties. And we confirm what has been always strongly suggested but never confirmed until now. Andrew came from nothing. He had very humble beginnings, and wishing for more is something practically ingrained in the family emblem. “I am unhappy” he mutters to his mother, a cry for help that does deeply unheard. No one is going to help him anymore.

“Descent” was good in illuminating some aspects of Andrew’s character that has been hinted at before, but never expressly addressed; mainly the fabrications that he tells others (and, as it turns out, himself) in order to keep going. The further we go back into the narrative, the more human the characterization of Andrew is becoming, which is a weirdly amoral line to walk when depicting someone that killed five people.

I don’t know how farther back we will go in future episodes, or when we will pick up the murder narrative. The Versace part of the story is as behind from us as it can be, and the show has now made it explicitly clear that it is not about them, or that particular story, at all. I just hope in the last leg of the season we can start moving forward instead of keep looking back. Just like Andrew, if you look too far back, it’s hard to come back from that.

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Reader Comments (5)

Andrew is the like a twisted gay Gatsby- the dark side of the American dream

March 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I remember Andrew’s photos ciculating in the news then. I had chills seeing Darren Criss’ version. The resemblance is giving me the creeps!

March 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJC

I really wish the show would be more about Versace than Cunanan. Versace was a once-in-a-generation designer who changed fashion and whose influence and company are very much alive today. Cunanan was a pathetic loser who was by most accounts about ten times creepier than even depicted in this show, and who probably dreamed of the day his spree would be turned into a flashy show like this. The genius of the first episode with Madson and Trail (and Aimee Mann) was that it implied that Cunanan had a background like the one depicted in this episode, and so this episode feels a little unnecessary. However, using Laura Branigan's "Self Control" was a stroke of genius!

March 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

The show is called American Crime story not Great Fashion Designers

March 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

I still don't understand how Dave Madson qualifies as a "boy". He was 33 years old in 1996 and 6 years older than Andrew Cunanan. Also, there is no evidence that Lee Miglin was at Andrew's birthday party.

March 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s

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