I have to be honest and note that I felt this episode was a little bit of a structural mess — with the caveat that it’s still remarkably well-acted, and “a little bit of a structural mess” for this program is the equivalent of giving a kid on the honor roll a B+. It’s still something to be proud of, but that kid might be a little irritated that you didn’t just hand over the A-. Yet again, I think the problem in part stems from something we’ve talked about at length — namely, that this show is about Andrew Cunanan, and not Gianni Versace, but the title means there’s a narrative requirement to check in on Versace every now and then, even when it feels a little ham-handed. This week, there is a parallel drawn between Versace coming out to The Advocate, and Andrew’s victim Jeff (who is so well portrayed by Finn Wittrock) speaking to 48 Hours about the question of gays in the military, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. While the scenes between Versace and Donatella are very well-acted (if weirdly blocked; half the time, Gianni walks into a room, sits at a table, does nothing, then gets up and walks to another table, and I honestly think it’s to show off the sets), they felt like unnecessary, if interesting, bookends to the REAL story in this episode, which is how Andrew knew Jeff Trail and David Madson, and why he eventually killed Jeff. You could have cut both Versace scenes out of this episode without it impacting the narrative thrust of the story, and to me the parallels felt a little clonky, even though I found them independently compelling.
I also highly recommend Vulture’s fact-checking of each episode, especially for episodes like this one, where I often wondered how much was fact and how much was supposition. It seems that everyone in real life is still in the dark about why Andrew hated Jeff Trail as much as he did, or what happened between them — because everyone who knew the answer died, I suppose. And the scenes that are supposed to elucidate this do seem a little flabby. Jeff and Andrew’s confrontations felt like they were written without The Powers That Be having actually made a creative decision about why Jeff is really so mad at Andrew in the first place, and why Andrew actually chose to kill him. Last week, I assumed Andrew killed Jeff because he knew Jeff and David were hooking up and he was jealous, but that doesn’t seem to be the case; this episode sort of implies that he just kills him because they have a big fight and Jeff hates him for vague reasons. I mean: Andrew is hate-able and also tried to “accidentally” out him, and is also a creepy person who wears other people’s dress whites; there are MANY legitimate reasons for Jeff to hate him. But the actual scene of their confrontation felt like strangely unspecific to me. Certainly, Jeff is miserable not being in the military anymore but his blaming Andrew for that seemed like a narrative stretch for that character, who comes across as a hugely kind, decent, and conflicted person. I think that’s the main stumbling block of this show — there is so much we don’t, and can’t know, that the story-telling by nature turns a little vague.
Alson: This was the episode were I really realized that they actually are telling the story backward and it felt a little confusing; my theory is that, in retrospect, this will prove to be the one episode where that conceit is a little bumpy (it worked well in previous episodes, I thought). It was hard for me, on occasion, to hold in my head where, exactly, we were in time and how much we were jumping around; there are flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, and it was somewhat dizzying.
Other thoughts, before we look at some visuals: Finn Wittrock, as I mentioned, was amazingly good in this episode, and Jeff Trail’s story broke my heart. I found the scenes of his suicide attempt, and his attempt to remove his own tattoo, as painful to watch as anything I’ve seen on TV in a long time; he is heartrending in this. Cody Fern, who plays David, is also excellent in this episode (although last week was more of an acting tour de force for him, naturally). And Darren Criss is just great. He is so chilling in that scene wherein he’s going through Jeff’s stuff and puts on his dress whites; it says something that it’s just terrifying to watch him put on a hat and watch a video tape. I don’t know that this show is getting as much buzz as The People Vs. OJ Simpson — what has? — but I hope the acting is recognized, because it’s really superb.