The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Recap: Season 2, Episode 4, “House By The Lake”

Much like last week’s episode, “House By The Lake” leaves Gianni and Donatella Versace behind to give us more insight into the events that led to the moment that gives this show its name. We keep moving back in time, before Andrew (Darren Criss) shot Versace outside his Miami home in 1997; before he tortured and killed Chicago tycoon Ed Miglin. We meet him here, months before, when he was just a guy that David Madson (Cody Fern) and his erstwhile lover Jeffrey Trail (Finn Wittrock) found rather creepy and hoped wouldn’t flip out when he found out about them. This being a show with “assassination” in the title and us knowing that Cunanan had already killed several men by the time he showed up in Miami, we know where this is headed. But that doesn’t make the brutal violence — amidst Madson’s minimalist and industrial apartment — any less shocking.

The entire episode is an exercise in eeriness. Cunanan’s calm approach to his latest killing is all the more shocking as it’s laced with the inherent threat that only his love of David will stop him from causing more havoc. And so the two men flee Minneapolis to potentially start anew, with the young architect vacillating between fearing for his life and fearing having to face the life he’s just left behind.

As he did with Miglin, Cunanan talks with David about the homophobia that riddles their lives. “They’ve always hated us. You’re. A. FAG,” he spews at the man he professes to love, all the while blackmailing him into running away with him to Mexico where they’ll start a new life together. The delusion of normalcy would be hilarious were it not also so terrifying. In Cunanan’s worldview, killing for love and besmirching a world that already hates you for who you are is the only way to move forward.

“All you need is love” is turned into a serial killer-in-the-making’s motto. Except, as he finds out while out on the road with David, it’s hard to earn that love, even from a young man who’s had to wrestle with his own shameful demons. Echoing the question Cunanan asked Miglin before he killed him (is he more scared of death than of the scandal that was sure to erupt when they found him next to gay porn mags?), David asks himself whether he was afraid of the disgrace, the shame of the messy, bloody scene he’d left behind in his apartment. For a show driven by murder, The Assassination of Gianni Versace is squarely focused on the way dirty secrets and shameful desires fuel the deadliest of American crimes.

This Week’s MVP:

Cody Fern as David Madson in ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.’ Photo by Ray Mickshaw. Courtesy of FX

Fern as David Madson is a revelation. Where the show has done well by showcasing A-list talent hitting it out of the park — Penelope Cruz as Donatella! Ricky Martin as Antonio! Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace! Judith Light as Marilyn Miglin! — I was happily surprised to see producer Ryan Murphy go with this mostly unknown Aussie actor for such a pivotal role. Madson is, at this point in the story, the key to Cunanan’s violence and you can see the exact moment when whatever love Cunanan had for the wealthy, beautiful architect sours enough for him to pull the trigger.

Where these past two episodes (the best of the series so far) have plunged us deeper into Cunanan’s psyche, giving us a fuller picture of what drove him to such barbaric violence, I can’t wait back to dive back into the world of Versace next week. I miss its gaudy style, its popping colors, its delicious accents, and its speedo-clad men. I need more Edgar! I need more Penelope! I need more Ricky! I especially want more of Orange is the New Black’s Dascha Polanco’s no-nonsense Miami cop.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story airs Wednesdays on FX at 10 p.m.

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