The second episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace begins with a series of small scenes following Versace’s diagnosis of HIV; the impact on him, on those around him, and the familial strife that surrounds the great man. Versace (Edgar Ramírez) is clearly terrified as he looks upon the ravaged bodies of young men in their hospital beds, hiding himself behind a pulled up hood and sunglasses. He recounts the death of his older sister when he was young, how he always believed until that point that, “If you get sick, you can always get better”. Now, he is face to face with something that resists most of what medicine can throw at it; something that may be an unbeatable foe. He is a man confronting his own mortality.
His sister, Donatella (Penolope Cruz) blames Versace’s long-time partner, Antonio (Ricky Martin), and the lifestyle, she says he brought her brother into. Donatella is not capable of believing that Versace may have enjoyed the company of other men alongside Antonio — it must be something he felt forced to do in order to keep his long-term love at his side. Donatella places her brother on an Olympus-high pedestal, only believing the best things about him, foisting anything she finds undesirable onto the actions of others. To her, Gianni is a pure soul, too kind and loving to say no. For Donatella, Antonio has taken advantage of her brother’s boundless love and now, she perceives this to be the result.
Gianni pushes and emphasizes the importance of family and unity, telling Antonio and Donatella, clutching their hands in his, “I need us to be a family, I cannot do this if we’re not.” We are given an insight into the past, as if Versace were speaking from beyond, seeing how things may fracture if this familial turmoil goes unaddressed.This is all given an added weight and sadness because we know exactly how Versace will meet his end, and we have seen from the previous episode that Donatella will move quickly to margianlise and malign Antonio within hours of her brother’s death. This is not to paint Donatella as an unfeeling monster; she is simply a person trying to exercise control and apportion blame where she feels it should be. Donatella is so fiercely protective of her brother — his person, legacy and image — that she will go against his wishes if she thinks that is what is needed, that love is not always giving someone what they want, but sometimes protecting them from themselves. We see the depth and extent of Donatella’s love, as she dresses Versace in his final suit, his body lying silent in his casket. She gently, lovingly secures his tie, his cuff-links, holding his hand and stroking his hair. She is overcome with grief, seeing to her brother’s final appearance and cremation. She and Gianni’s brother, Santo depart with Gianni’s ashes, taking them back to Italy. It is just the two of them, Antonio not present.
Donatella has dismissed her brother’s pleas to remain strong and together, earlier informing the grieving Antonio, “He is gone, Antonio. There is no need for us to pretend anymore.”
*Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) — two months before Versace’s murder — is making his way from South Carolina to Miami. He belts out ‘Gloria’ by Laura Branigan, shouting the lines from his car window.
Cunanan, looking for a room in a twenty-nine-dollar-a-night motel, wraps the elderly receptionist around his little finger in a matter of seconds. He is charming and verbose, filling her head with stories of his having been born in France, and how he is a fashion student hoping to talk with “Mr. Versace”. He then sets about scouting out the designer’s residence and living his true itinerant, criminal life. Andrew strikes up a relationship with a fellow resident of the hotel, Ronnie (Max Greenfield). Ronnie is soft-spoken, submissive and a nice person. When with Ronnie, Andrew vacillates between his usual outrageous lies and some aspects of his true self. Because Ronnie is an ex-escort like Andrew, and doesn’t question his wild assertions, they share some kind of perceived bond — whether real or not for Andrew is up for debate — and Cunanan allows some of his inner self to leak out. He tells Ronnie, speaking of Versace’s creations and empire, “I see the man behind it — a great creator — the man I could have been.” Andrew views himself as imbued with the same talent and capacity for greatness as Versace, but that has somehow been denied to him.
Straight after this scene, we see Andrew picking up an older man for paid sex. This man tells Andrew, “I can be submissive”, to which Andrew replies, “You have no idea”. Proceeding to utterly terrify the man through his extreme actions, we again get that chilly feeling of observing someone who has no idea just how much danger they are in. Cunanan flips the script of the vulnerable sex worker, and places himself in total control. Andrew does these things because he needs money, but also because he relishes the control he has; the control over a person, over whether this person lives or dies, over their fear. After this encounter, the man dare not turn his back on Andrew. After Cunanan leaves, the man tries to call the police but cannot bring himself to do it — because of the stigma, the fear and, perhaps, the perceived shame of becoming a victim — that he has been a victim of something he can’t even articulate.
We are then thrown into a confrontation between Versace and Donatella before the start of Gianni’s latest show. Versace extols the virtues of life and joy, a passion reborn from the battle he is winning against his illness. Donatella pushes for thinner models — the dark and the extreme. She prods Versace with talk of front covers and other upcoming designers, intimating that people are no longer saying that Versace is the future. Gianni responds by laying out his vision for proud, strong clothes for proud, strong women; an exaltation of life and the joys therein. Versace doesn’t care about pursuing and snatching at the popular, he will define it in his own way and on his own terms.
As the show ends to rapturous applause, Dontella smiles and claps with everyone else. She desires only to see her brother at his best, even if that means contradicting him and pushing him.
Back at their hotel, Andrew and Ronnie obtain and smoke some crack together. Ronnie lays out his idea for returning to his once-vocation as a florist, opening up a kiosk, and positing that he and Andrew might run it together. It’s a gentle dream, one that Ronnie doesn’t know is impossible with a person like Andrew. Cunanan emerges from the bathroom, some realization coming over him whilst under the influence, and he confesses to Ronnie and the mirror he stares into, “I’ve done nothing my whole life.” We are given insight into Andrew’s creaking, unsteady mind as he perceives an ultimate truth about himself — having a dark moment of the soul — the truth that he is ready to abandon himself to the abyss, totally. Andrew is a man of a thousand personalities and stories, and his psyche is now straining under the weight of all that accumulated bullshit. He is embracing his true self, that of killer and destroyer, because there truly isn’t anything else to be.
Cunanan witnesses a Donatella wannabe (played by the actual Donatella Versace) trying to gain entry to the Versace household. Andrew sprints back to his hotel, his clothes becoming ever more grimy and degraded, and pulls his handgun from beneath the bed. He proceeds to rip down all of the obsessive data he has collected on Gianni — articles, photographs, newspaper articles — just as he will erase the man’s very existence. Is it anger that motivates Andrew? Hatred for the person he wants to be? The desire to be intimately ingrained in Versace’s life, any way he can be? Perhaps it is akin to Mark David Chapman’s supposed motivations for the killing of John Lennon — worship that turned to hatred, implacable rage that an idol does not and cannot ever measure up to the idealized version we create for ourselves. And, in this case, the many idealized versions of Andrew that he himself cannot live up to. Andrew is now on a mission and his new “friend” Ronnie is to be left behind. Asking Andrew, “We were friends, it was real, right?” Andrew replies, “When someone asks you if we were friends, you’ll say no.” Andrew is already thinking of what will come to pass, the explosion of questions that will follow his actions. He doesn’t say they weren’t friends, but he doesn’t say they were. He simply tells Ronnie how he will answer, maintaining control and keeping the truth to himself.
The end of the episode brings Versace, Antonio and Andrew to the same place, a thumping nightclub. Antonio confides to Versace that he doesn’t want to share himself or Gianni with other men anymore, that he just wants their relationship to be them and them alone. The two men are finding a truth with one another — love that they wish to keep just for themselves and share together. Versace is at a point in life where he knows it is to be cherished and admired and lived. At the same time, Andrew is on the dance floor, talking to another young man, who asks Cunanan what he does for a living. Andrew underlines his abandonment of pretence and the effort of lying, letting the fictions spill out like bad blood. He responds to the enquiry, “I am a serial killer,” then laughing it off, continues. “I said, I’m a banker, a stockbroker, a shareholder. I’m a paperback writer, I’m a cop, I’m a naval officer, sometimes I’m a spy, I build movie sets in Mexico and skyscrapers in Chicago, I sell propane in Minneapolis, I import pineapples from the Philippines. You know, I’m the person least likely to be forgotten. I’m Andrew Cunanan.”