On ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace,’ Gianni Weighs the Consequences of Coming Out Publicly


The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Recap: Season 2, Episode 5, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

We continue moving back in time, leaving Gianni’s assassination further behind as we’re given the context behind two infamous interviews. On the one hand, Versace (Edgar Ramirez) gears up to face a reporter from gay magazine The Advocate to finally come out publicly — much to the dismay of his sister, the ever business-driven Donatella (Penelope Cruz). On the other, a young closeted navy officer participates in a CBS news segment about “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Only, we’ve met the officer before. His name is Jeff Trail. He’s played by Finn Wittrock. We’ve already seen how he died at the hands of Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), bludgeoned with a hammer at the home of Minneapolis architect David Madson (Cody Fern), whose own death we saw in last week’s episode.

The episode, aptly titled “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is very much focused on Jeff: we see his stint in the navy (where he saved a fellow officer from getting beaten up for being gay), witness his first meeting with Andrew (at a gay bar where they hit it off), and later still get a chance to relive the ill-fated weekend before he showed up at David’s apartment. Further expanding its examination of the culture of silence that fueled much of the still-rampant homophobia in the 90s, this latest episode connects Jeff’s own experience in the navy with Versace’s own desire to be more open about his private life.

But where Jeff finds an unlikely cheerleader in Andrew, who actually thinks the former navy officer should be brave and show his face on the CBS News segment (he chose instead to have his face be obscured to keep his identity safe), Gianni only finds pushback from the one person he’s always trusted when it comes to his label’s PR: Donatella. To her, coming out so publicly will spell disaster for their brand. She’s worried about how many people will be put off by his admission, how many investors will flee their company, and how women across the world will see the Versace style differently. “You live in isolation, surrounded by beauty and kindness,” she tells him. “You’ve forgotten how ugly the world can be.” Nevertheless, Gianni is resolute. It helps that Antonio (Ricky Martin) has emboldened him to be braver, especially after his near-death experience with the unnamed illness from a few episodes back. He wants to be as bold as his clothes. “Is the brand of Versace braver than the man?” he asks his sister, finally making her relent and understand better why getting this off his chest, with his partner of more than a decade in tow, is so important to him.

This Week’s MVP: Donatella’s jacket.

‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.’ Photo by Ray Mickshaw. Courtesy of FX
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Okay, Murphy-staple Wittrock (you may know him as the tighty whitey-wearing serial killer in American Horror Story: Freakshow) astounds in this episode playing the troubled Navy officer with wounded sincerity, but we have to give the costume designer of this show her due. Lou Eyrich has won three Emmys already for working on Murphy’s American Horror Story franchise. But she is doing just as fabulous work in this fashion-heavy show. Everything from Cunanan’s penchant for tight briefs to Versace’s bold satin shirts shows how the costumes (both off-the-rack and high-fashion) help to tell the story while also being downright amazing. Though truly, when you’re outfitting Penelope as Donatella and Edgar as Gianni — the Versace siblings are as colorful a pair as one can find — you really can’t go wrong.

Better yet, they truly help inform character. Donatella’s jacket, after all, is both warm yet imposing. It’s a working woman’s blazer that dares you to call it tacky (that pink! those butterflies! the gold pattern!) It’s ostentatious while also being understated, the kind of piece you can see her picking out of her closet almost absent-mindedly. But with those sleeves rolled up and those big, gold pieces of jewelry adorning her, we get to see Cruz-as-Donatella as the kind of no-nonsense style icon she’s always been, always having business in mind even while styling herself as she were about to be in a lavish editorial spread about female executives shattering glass ceilings.

With the show skipping back and forth in time, at times leaving its titular Versace assassination behind, we’re curious where Murphy and his team take us next week when we travel to San Diego for a Cunanan birthday celebration.