What Did Versace's Lifestyle Provoke In His Killer?
This week, an ugly exploration of individual, internalized and institutionalized homophobia hints at what may have unsettled Andrew Cunanan about Gianni Versace, the show's only happy character.
Photograph by Ray Mickshaw courtesy of FX.
Warning: spoilers ahead. Read last week's recap here.
In 1999, just two years after Andrew Cunanan’s cross-country killing spree, a cartoon spot ran regularly in between the videos on MTV. The spot showed Ricky Martin walking down the street, and every woman fainting at his feet. This was the summer of “La Vida Loca,” when the public had agreed to enter into a collective sexual delusion, a la Wham, about the pretty and flamboyant Latin singer and his perfect leather pants—never mind that no straight man had ever made a hot relationship with a daring woman sound so dreadful or exhausting, or so apt to end in copious jail time. The cartoon’s punch line is that one girl doesn’t faint at all: she shrugs. We see a frightened Ricky Martin, soaked in sweat, sit up in bed and scream. The whole scenario was, for the “definitely-heterosexual” pop lothario, a bad dream.
Even aged eleven, I remember thinking something seemed a little off; which is perhaps the reason why the spot has stuck with me since then, and why, when Martin finally came out more than ten years later, happy and a father to two children, I remember also thinking that it seemed like the end of a real-life nightmare. It seemed like a realized dream. This, and not the adulation of the women of the world, was what the private Martin had desired all those years: to be himself, and to be loved for being himself, and to be given full permission to love anybody that he felt like loving. It is funny to be waxing serious and thoughtful, now, about a man who once released a single with the lyric “up in the Himalaya/you know I wanna lay la”—but this is a year of curious turns. If you had said to me six months ago that in this, The Year of Our Lord Disick 2018, I would find myself in tears at a scene from a TV drama starring Ricky Martin, I would not have bought it. Times, as well as being full of change, are strange. Thank God there is a little wonder left in all this chaos. I am, frankly, ready for the Martinaissance.
Despite Gianni’s status as the victim of the series’ title, he seems happier, more at peace, than any other character.
The scene in question is a recreation of Gianni’s interview with the gay magazine Advocate in 1995, and is the lynchpin of the episode—emotionally, and perhaps conceptually—despite being fairly brief. At this point, Gianni and Antonio have been together thirteen years (as famous and unfamous couplings go, this is no minor innings). Ricky Martin, as Antonio, is patient and devoted, and heartbroken by the fact that he’s usually mistaken for Gianni’s personal assistant. Gianni, clearly smitten with Antonio, is keen to right this wrong. He asks the journalist if they can do the interview together, a united front; and the look the two men give each other is a look of such excruciating tenderness that it can’t help but be informed by something real. “The ups and downs,” said Martin in an interview in January with US Weekly, “the frustrations, the uncertainty, the fear of losing your career because you’re gay is something that is there… I’m a gay man that lived in the closet for many years. To see the process of Gianni actually coming out and sitting down in front of a journalist to talk about his reality is something that moved me in many ways.”
It moved me, too. This week, it struck me that despite Gianni’s status as the victim of the series’ title, he seems happier, more at peace, than any other character; he is beloved by both his lover and his (terrier-like, but basically protective) sister, and does not appear to feel the least discomfort over who he is. Unlike Jeff Trail, whose shame at being forced to leave the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is revealed to have informed his feelings on his sexuality, or David Madson, who obsessed over his father being disappointed in him for the fact that he was gay, Gianni says the phrase “I am a gay man” with about the same inflection as he might say “I was born in Reggio Calabria,” or “I adore a Greek Key trim.”
Every episode so far of The Assassination of Gianni Versace has been more unpleasant, and moreover more violent, than the last. This week, an ugly exploration of individual, internalized and institutionalized homophobia, is grimmer still. “You live in isolation, surrounded by beauty and kindness,” Penelope Cruz’s perfectly extraordinary-looking Donatella tells Gianni. “You have forgotten how ugly the world can be.” When she worries that his coming out as gay might cost the brand endorsements, he says—wryly and delightfully—“we’ll still have Elton.” Andrew Cunanan’s first victims have been closeted or down-low: we have yet to see what Gianni’s open lifestyle, opulent and unashamed, provokes in him. One has to guess it might be envy. Seeing Gianni and Antonio, in love and in the public eye, one cannot help but almost feel a pang of loss on Cunanan’s behalf—they make a then-brave thing look easy.