In July 1997 Andrew Cunanan (played by Darren Criss) murdered world famous fashion designer, Gianni Versace (played by Edgar Ramirez) outside Versace’s Miami mansion, sparking a nation wide manhunt. This murder and the events that preceeded it are the topic of the second season of American Crime Story.
While the first season of American Crime Story was very focused on the OJ Simpson court case and how the American justice system can be manipulated by lawyers and the media, this season is much more about what makes a murderer.
Working backwards from Versace’s murder to Cunanan’s childhood, this season explores what happens when the American dream goes wrong and a person’s belief in what they deserve diverts significantly from reality.
There are a number of themes at play here. First is Cunanan’s mental health. A lot of his behaviour suggests that he might have suffered from bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder, exaccerbated by childhood that he left him disconnected from his family. This leads into the theme of family because it is such a big part of who Versace is and his connection to his sister, Donatella (played by Penelope Cruz) and mother is essential to his success. At the same time his lifelong partner, Antonio (played by Ricky Martin) is rejected and ostracized by Donatella.
There is also a strong thread about sexuality and self-acceptance. Cunanan and Versace were both gay and struggled with this element of their lives. Versace more with public perception and the potential impact on his business. Cunanan more with conflicted feelings of self-loathing while simultaneously taking advantage of other gay men. I was left wondering if there was more societal acceptance of queerness at the time if Cunanan would have been less successful in his predatory behaviour.
The decision to work backwards is intriguing, as is getting to know the major players in Cunanan’s life and his victims. The whole series is bathed in candy colours and opulence which reflects Versace’s aesthetic as well as the life Cunanan believes he deserves. It is an exceptional use of colour and ensures that it looks significantly different from the first season. Criss gives an outstanding performance and it truly feels like he has thrown himself completely into the role. Ramirez is also really compelling. I found Cruz’s performance distracting but I am not sure if that’s more because the real Donatella was distracting too.
Overall I think I liked the OJ season slightly more but this is a great addition to the anthology and very much worth a watch.