Not one to pass up a good sense of wordplay, the second episode of FX’s Versace series is titled “Manhunt.” On the surface (and boy is this show delighted and seduced by glitzy, glistening surfaces!) this refers to the FBI’s literal manhunt for Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). One of America’s Most Wanted killers— even before he shot the Italian designer—Cunanan narrowly avoided being caught by the FBI in the days leading up to the infamous assassination that guaranteed we’d all know his name. But, as the show is focused on the way gay men nurture different kinds of intimacies with one another, the literal meaning of a man hunt is always there in the edges of every scene.
The FBI describes Cunanan as a predatory escort: every interaction he has simmers with a kind of inauthentic authenticity. He’s always calculating how well his lies are landing and how successful he’s being at passing himself off as whoever the person in front of him would like him to be. Since we get to see him alone, where he rehearses his lines in front of the mirror and indulges in off-kilter behavior (like, you know, covering his eyes and nose with duct tape before telling his newfound Miami friend that he’s going to take a shower now), we know there’s something off about him. But he’s charming to a fault, which is why he’s able to lure an older man to hire him and allow him to toy with autoerotic asphyxiation while Cunanan dances around to Philip Bailey and Phil Collins’ “Easy Lover.”
And if the episode is clearly most interested in Cunanan’s ability to seduce any and everyone around him, “Manhunt” also shows us the intimacy that bonded Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) and Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin). Despite what Gianni’s sister Donatella (Penelope Cruz) would have wanted, the two had found a way to live their lives in contradiction to what’s expected of a couple. No talk of kids or marriage or stability, things presumably Gianni wanted at one point. Instead, they had lots of fun, and often enjoyed inviting others into their bedroom. A point of contention between the two Versace siblings, the episode nevertheless suggests that days before the designer was killed, his beloved Antonio had finally decided to settle down:
“I don’t want this anymore,” he tells Gianni as they lounge by the pool. “I want you. I want to marry you.”
The response he gets is heartbreaking: “You can say it in the morning. But can you say it in the evening?” The hunt, both men know, calls out to Antonio once the sun goes down and he may not be able to let that go as easily as he’d like, even if it is what his lover would ultimately so want.
This Week’s MVP:
— American Crime Story FX (@ACSFX) January 7, 2018
Given she’s a graduate of the Almodóvar school of melodrama acting, it shouldn’t be surprising that Cruz is nailing her role as Gianni’s caring if abrasive sister. Here is the kind of larger-than-life woman whose mood swings, paired with her raspy voice and striking blonde hair, would easily make her a punchline (see, for example, Maya Rudolph’s hilarious take on Donatella on SNL). But the Spanish actress plays her like a livewire always on the verge of lashing out (out of grief, out of anger, out of jealousy); what gives her strength is also what threatens to undo her.
Seeing her go head to head against Gianni (days before he’s killed, over disagreements about their runway show) and Antonio (years before, when the free-wheeling promiscuous lifestyle he and Gianni were leading finally took a toll on the designer’s health) was just divine. We expect to see that moment when she yells “You’ve given him NOTHING!” at Antonio to become a go-to reaction gif. But she’s just as good in the quieter moments, like when she seethes silently at seeing her brother’s latest collection be a success despite her reservations about it, or later still when she all but loses it as his remains are cremated, her face a frozen mask of grief.
Update on Ricky’s speedo: it made the briefest of appearances. More importantly, we also got treated to a full-blown sex scene in the Versace bedroom (including a third!) where Martin wore nothing but a black pair of briefs which he soon got rid of.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story airs Wednesdays at 10pm on FX