The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Recap: Season 2, Episode 3, “A Random Killing”

If it wasn’t clear from its first two episodes, the third episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story made it official: despite putting the fashion designer’s name in its title, this Ryan Murphy-produced series is actually more interested in Versace’s assassin: Andrew Cunanan. Played by Darren Criss, this seductive serial killer is a fascinating character. He’s both charming and terrifying in equal respects. But he remains a cipher. You’re still left wondering, what’s guiding his killing spree? (By the time he got to Miami, he’d already killed 4 other men).

Episode three offered a few answers, though motivations remain murky as we flash back to May 1997 — months before Versace was gunned down in Miami Beach — where Marilyn Miglin (Who’s the Boss?’s Judith Light) finds her husband, Chicago tycoon Lee Miglin (Mike Farrell), dead in their home. Yes, that means this entire hour is entirely devoid of our fave trio of star performers. No balding Edgar Ramirez as Gianni. No pitch-black-haired Ricky Martin as his partner Antonio. And, sadly, no bleach-blond Penelope Cruz as Donatella.

Instead, we open with Marilyn hawking her perfume on the Home Shopping Network, unaware that her husband was at that very moment entertaining Cunanan in their home. The meeting, as tabloids and newspapers alike reported at the time, ended in a gruesome murder that stained the reputation of the esteemed Miglin. This is no clean or simple murder: Cunanan is savage in his treatment of Lee, using duct tape, a screwdriver, cables, and even a bag of cement to torture and eventually kill him. As he tells him in a fit of fury, he wants everyone to see him disgraced, wants everyone to know that Lee was a sissy, that he had built Chicago with a limp wrist.

Judith Light as Marilyn Miglin. Photo by Matt Dinerstein. Courtesy of FX

Just as with the last two episodes, though, the central concern of Murphy’s show seems to be the extent to which constructs like the closet and wider systemic homophobia helped and fueled Cunanan’s killings. While we may not (yet) know exactly why this predatory escort targets wealthier and most often closeted gay men (like the hapless guy in the hotel room in episode 2), his rage at Lee’s success and picture-perfect heteronormative family suggests there’s a level of self-hatred at work here, laced with envy no doubt.

But if the murder was tinged with a dizzying sense of denial wrapped in seduction — Cunanan loves nothing more than to be adored, to be looked at and admired — the investigation into Miglin’s death and Marilyn’s reaction to it show the other side of it. Playing the dutiful wife in a mask of garish makeup, Light breathes life to a woman who may have known about her husband’s indiscretions but is too invested in the reputation they’d build together to admit that the death was anything other than the result of a burglary gone wrong. Yes, even with the knowledge that the body was found next to gay pornographic magazines. This culture of silence handicaps the investigation but also exemplifies how much of late 90s gay identity politics were still a game of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a weakness that Cunanan knew all too well how to exploit.

This Week’s MVP:

If this has to be the Cunanan show, at least Murphy and company landed on a performer as talented as Darren Criss. The former Glee star imbues the devilish serial killer with just the right amount of crazy. Whether ingratiating himself to Versace in the pilot while talking of his family’s Italian lineage or suddenly berating Lee for wanting to impress him with plans for the (sadly never built) Miglin-Beitler Skyneedle which would’ve been the highest building in the world, Criss hints at the darkness within Cunanan. More importantly, as the makers of the show have been quick to point out, the actor is half-Filipino, just as the character he portrays — a bit of kismet casting that keeps that bit of Cunanan’s heritage front and center.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story airs Wednesdays on FX.