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Series / The Assassination of Gianni Versace

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The Assassination of Gianni Versace is the second season of the Ryan Murphy-produced true crime docudrama anthology series American Crime Story, aired by FX in 2018.

Adapted from the non-fiction book Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U. S. History by Maureen Orth, it covers the titular murder —and ensuring fallout— of famous fashion designer Gianni Versace (Édgar Ramírez) by Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) in 1997.

Also starring on the show are Penélope Cruz as Versace's sister Donatella, Giovanni Cirfiera as their brother Santo, Ricky Martin as Gianni's lover Antonio D'Amico, Mike Farrell as fellow Cunanan victim Lee Miglin, Max Greenfield as Ronnie, Annaleigh Ashford as Elizabeth Cote, Finn Wittrock as Jeff Trail, Jon Jon Briones as Modesto Cunanan, Judith Light as Marilyn Miglin, Dascha Polanco as Det. Lori Wieder and Jay R. Ferguson as FBI Agent Evans.


The Assassination of Gianni Versace contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: In flashbacks, it's shown that while Modesto Cunanan pampered Andrew, he was neglectful towards his older children and physically and emotionally abusive towards his wife. It's also heavily implied that Modesto molested Andrew at one point, which was not confirmed in real life (though he was rumored to have been molested by a priest).
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Andrew Cunanan and his parents are more attractive on the show than they were in real life. The real Donatella Versace was also often derided for her appearance even before her plastic surgery, whereas in the show she's played by the beautiful Penelope Cruz.
  • Adult Child: Andrew refuses to get a job or an education, preferring to just leech off of others and whines when he doesn't get his way or doesn't get the privileges he wants, often making him look like a child going into a tantrum when denied a new toy. He even smashes a carton of ice cream his mother got simply because it wasn't the right brand. note 
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  • Age Lift: In the show, Lizzie is several years older than Andrew and met him at a party. In real life, she met him when she was his underclassman in school.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: William Reese, Andrew's fourth victim is depicted Pleading for his life before Andrew executes him mid-sentence.
  • Armored Closet Gay: One of Cunanan's victims Lee Miglin is portrayed as a closeted gay man married to a woman. Downplayed with Jeff Trail who is out to his sister and friends but not his parents or at work (and must adehere to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy during his time in the navy).
  • Ate His Gun: In the final episode, with the police and FBI closing in on him, Andrew commits suicide by swallowing a gun.
  • Back to Front: The series opens with Versace's murder and then flashes backward to show how Cunanan began his road to the crime, including earlier murders. Thus, each episode takes place before the previous one. There are some exceptions, where Jeff's Day in the Limelight episode features him meeting Andrew for the first time in the same episode where their friendship permanently degrades, while subsequent episodes show them still as best friends.
  • Beauty Inversion: Downplayed. While Versace was an attractive man, Edgar Ramirez - also a very attractive man - is made to look older with gray hair and a slightly dowdier appearance than in real life.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Andrew is desperate for fame and attention, and he can't stop himself from grinning and reveling in the notoriety when he sees confirmation of Versace's death on television. In the finale, however, he quickly realizes that the new media scrutiny has trapped him in the area, and he's forced to hide out in a houseboat, unable to get food or supplies and enduring a ceaseless parade of television coverage of his friends and family; an interview with David's father is the breaking point, and he finally rushes to turn off the many televisions he had playing during his stay.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Andrew kills David Madson and William Reese with bullets to the head.
  • Broken Pedestal: Somewhat downplayed as Andrew's father was a con man who left the family high and dry when he was about to be busted, selling the house and emptying the accounts weeks earlier and leaving them with nothing. Despite that, Andrew refuses to accept his father could just up and leave them like that but tracking his father to the Philippines forces him to see the truth.
  • Cast Full of Gay: Among the leading characters anyway, specifically Gianni, Cunanan, and D'Amico.
  • Consummate Liar: Andrew for sure. He does it constantly, making up stories about working on movie sets, meeting famous people, even where he comes from and his past. They shift about to the point he can't keep them straight but then claims to not be tripping over his lies. It all comes up when one victim just sighs "you can't do it, can you? You can't turn it off."
    • This seems to run in the family. Flashbacks show that Andrew's father Modesto was a con man.
  • A Day in the Limelight: "Don't Ask Don't Tell" focuses on Jeff Trail's life and experiences, with Andrew playing a comparatively small role in the episode.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The bulk of the series takes place during the nineties, when gay relationships were still largely frowned upon, and thus the police aren't terribly sympathetic when they question Antonio about Gianni's sex life.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The series posits that Cunanan was driven by envy of other, more successful gay men.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Played straight with Cunanan, but inverted with others. As the series is mostly in reverse order, most characters are killed off in their first appearance and developed in subsequent episodes.
  • Driven to Suicide: In the finale, facing the prospect of losing everything because of Donatella's machinations, Antonio tries to kill himself by downing a whole plate of pills, but he is found by a maid and saved from dying.
    • Jeff considers suicide when he comes at an impasse between his sexuality and the military's policy on homosexuality, but ultimately decides against it.
  • Eye Scream: Andrew kills David by shooting him in his right eye.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Zig-zagged and subverted. Andrew seems to believe he truly loves David, but his possessiveness, violent jealousy and inability to express intimacy in a genuine way is troubling. He likes Jeff and considers him his best friend, but uses him when trying to impress David and sends a potentially damaging postcard to Jeff's parents (who are unaware of his sexuality) to get back at a perceived slight. Liz seems to be one of his only real friends, but he uses her for her wealth and resources (and seems attracted to her husband). He seems to care about his mother and feels guilty about hurting her and her getting dragged into his crimes, but her mothering annoys him and he has no qualms about throwing a tantrum when she doesn't do what he wants. At times it seems like Andrew does desire love, but has no way of properly showing it — or, in the case of an old "unimpressive" boyfriend, settling for less than excessive privileges.
  • Extreme Doormat: Andrew smashes a carton of ice cream his mother got him simply because it wasn't the brand he wanted. She's upset for only a few seconds, and when he tells her to get the right brand next time, she blandly agrees.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father:
    • Andrew's dad discouraged him from becoming a novelist, convinced that there was no money to be had in it.
    • Subverted in the case of Gianni. In sharp contrast to Andrew, Gianni's mother encouraged him when she found out that he wanted to be a dressmaker like her. However, she herself is a straight example; she wanted to be a doctor and her father wouldn't allow it (hence her support for her son's chosen path).
  • Foil: Both Lee Miglin and Versace are this to Andrew Cunanan. Both of them became successful and beloved through hard work despite coming from nothing (a possibility Modesto dismissed as fairy tale) and touched the lives of others through expression of their passion (as in the case of Versace) or through quiet acts of generosity (Miglin). On the other hand, Andrew never put in the effort to work hard or get an education, preferring to get ahead by manipulating others or getting privileges, and his only way of trying to get closer to others is by bragging about an imaginary life and lavishing them with food and gifts he can't afford.
  • Foreshadowing: In Donatella's last scene, she looks into a mirror and sees a distorted image of herself that resembles how she will look in the present day, after several rounds of plastic surgery.
  • Freudian Excuse: The series posits that Andrew's upbringing played a role in his behavior — his father spoiled and pampered him, telling him that he was special and to make a lot of money and be important rather than follow his dreams and talents. Later, after Modesto's criminal dealings are discovered, he imparts on Andrew that Hard Work Hardly Works and the only way to get ahead in life is by cheating, stealing and manipulating others, which Andrew ends up doing despite having the potential and talent to get ahead in life. There's also the implication that Andrew was sexually abused as a child, either by his father or by a priest (or both).
  • Friend Versus Lover: Donatella, Versace's sister and best friend, spars with Antonio over him until an exasperated Versace forces them to get along as he deals with his illness.
  • Gold Digger: Despite the fact that Antonio has been with Versace with fifteen years and sincerely loves him, Donatella still harbors some suspicion that he's just a taker and with Versace for what he can provide.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: When Andrew calls Modesto a liar and a thief, Modesto fires back that there's simply no way to get ahead in America without lying and cheating, which was why he resorted to preying on the vulnerable to make money. However, it's clear that people like Versace and Lee Miglin came from the same place Modesto did but were capable of hard work, passion, talent and charisma, whereas he had none. This seems to make a big impression on Andrew, who otherwise has the capability and potential to be successful on his own talents and merits; even with escorting, he successfully gains the attention of several older, wealthy men after just one night, after an escorting agency refuses to give him a chance.
  • Hope Spot: "House by the Lake" ends with David apparently managing to seek shelter from Andrew's bullets and reuniting with his father. It's then revealed that this is a hallucination; David took a bullet to chest and is now flat on his back, with Andrew preparing to deliver a kill shot.
    • As an in-universe villainous Hope Spot, Andrew calls his father for help after he realizes he's trapped with the FBI hot on his trail. Modesto promises to come and rescue him the next day, and Andrew prepares to escape, only to realize Modesto hasn't arrived and is instead bragging about selling movie rights of the story to reporters.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: At the root of Andrew's madness is his desire to be somebody important.
  • Implausible Deniability: When Andrew presses Norman for more money, Norman calmly reveals he has already checked out Andrew's past and knows his entire history. He openly talks of it and to every note, Andrew states "that's not true" as if somehow thinking that will sway a man who quite obviously has had him investigated thoroughly. It happens a few more times as even when the proof of his lies is thrown into his face, Andrew will insist they're not true.
    • It looks like Andrew gets this from his dad. After he flees the country just before being busted for fraud, he insists to Andrew he has "millions out of reach." The fact he's saying this while hiding out in the crummy home of his brother just emphasizes how he already ran through all the cash he stole.
  • Jerkass: Modesto Cunanan is a terrible father, an abusive husband, and a manipulative worker who preys on the elderly. When he's about to be brought to justice, he flees the country and leaves his abandoned family destitute before losing all of the money he absconded with, and giving his son a "The Reason You Suck" Speech after the latter tracks and dresses him down. Later, after Andrew's killing spree, he's plotting ways to profit off of interviews and lies to a panicky Andrew about coming to rescue him before making a public statement that not only dismisses his son's homosexuality as an offensive rumor, but also falsely claims that Andrew permitted him to sell his life story.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Donatella is very critical of Gianni publicly coming out as gay in a magazine interview - but she rationally cites that the resulting discrimination could seriously harm their brand name, and their hundreds of employees who depend on him would be out of a job (and citing times this ruined the careers of past designers). She believes he's being naively optimistic, pointing out that he's rich and lives in a mansion, isolated from the heavy discrimination gay people still face at the time.
    • After one of his patrons is murdered by a man he picked up in a gay bar, Andrew mocks the "gay panic" defense that the killer will inevitably claim and the police will accept.note 
  • Lighter and Softer: In real life, Andrew, presumably on purpose, violently threw his mother against the wall and dislocated her shoulder, as the two were arguing about Andrew's recent admission of his homosexuality. In the series, the incident is seemingly portrayed as an accident, and one that occurred over something much more trivial – Andrew getting annoyed by Mary Anne's insistence that she come along with him to Italy while he "works" for Versace, and the incident causes him genuine guilt and remorse, especially after she covers for him at the doctor's. The show also omits a number of other red flags about Andrew's physically abusive behavior towards friends.
  • Likes Older Men: Andrew prefers targeting older men. It's left ambiguous if this is because he feels he has more in common with them or because they're more likely to be in the closet or desperate, and thus easier for him to con.
  • Morality Pet: Liz seems to be one of Andrew's few genuine friends, and they drift apart in tandem with Andrew's Sanity Slippage.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Cunanan is shown to be a chronic liar, telling people all sorts of stories about his past depending on the situation.
  • My Beloved Smother: Mary Anne Cunanan is portrayed as a frighteningly overindulgent mother, to the point that when Andrew shows up at her place coming down off of a drug binge, she insists on bathing him as if he were still a child.
    Mary Anne: You don't smell like you. I'll wash you until you smell like you again.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Andrew accidentally breaks the arm of his mother (who he saw physically and verbally abused by his father during his childhood) during an argument, one of the few times he's genuinely remorseful about hurting another person, and breaks down in tears at the doctor's office after she covers up for him.
  • Naturalized Name: Andrew's dad Modesto adopts the name "Pete" in a bid to obscure his Filipino background.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: In the finale, Donatella talks about how Gianni called her on the morning of his death to bug her about her upcoming fashion show, and how she was so annoyed that she hung up on him and refused to answer when he called again half an hour later, missing her last chance to speak to her brother.
  • Never My Fault: During his fight with Andrew when he visits him in Manila, Modesto shows no remorse about the dishonest tactics he used to get rich, and shows no accountability for Andrew having turned out to be a Manchild through his pampering and favoritism, a young man who lacks the skills and values to become a success as an adult.
  • Nice Guy: David is sweet and well-liked, and unable to hurt animals — or stand up to Andrew until it's too late.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Inverted. At the end of each episode there is a disclaimer saying how most of the series is speculation.
  • Oh, Crap!: In the finale, Cunanan learns that his shooting of Gianni Versace has finally earned him the FBI's attention. He is completely unprepared for the sudden onslaught of scrutiny.
  • Parental Favoritism: Andrew's dad Modesto favors him over his older brother and sister, to the point of giving him the master bedroom in their new house and buying him a car just because he got into a very exclusive school.
  • Pet the Dog: Subverted. Though Andrew has moments that appear to be selfless displays of friendship, such as buying expensive dinners or hooking friends up with new lovers, he inevitably uses these gestures as ammunition for manipulation in later arguments.
  • Playing Gertrude:
    • Edgar Ramirez is roughly ten years younger here (at the time of filming) than Gianni was at the time of his death.
    • Cody Fern, who plays David Madson, was 28-years-old at the time of filming, five years younger than Madson was when he was murdered.
  • Police are Useless: A major theme of the series is the strained relationship between law enforcement and the LGBTQ community, with the indifference to outright homophobia of police and FBI agents investigating the case leading them to not take Cunanan's murders seriously, or failing to outreach to gay men either to warn them or enlist their help. Even when investigators do take the case seriously, the lack of coordination between different jurisdictions (see Poor Communication Kills for a glaring example) prevents them from sharing information and arresting Cunanan before he kills his next victim.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The FBI arrive at the scene to tell how Cunanan is a suspect in the death due to various murders. The Miami cops ask why they weren't informed and it turns out there are hundreds of "wanted" posters of Cunanan right in one agent's car, they just hadn't gotten around to handing them out yet.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In the finale, Ronnie chews out the FBI agents for expecting the gay community to help them catch Cunanan when they've ignored violence against gay people for years.
    • Andrew himself is on the receiving end from both his own father and David Madson, The former who mocks Andrew for his weak-willed nature, and the latter who calls out Cunanan on his parasitic lifestyle.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Andrew likes to impose himself on other people. He ingratiates himself with Gianni by barging on his table and then talking incessantly until Gianni becomes curious enough to invite him to stick around. He tries to win over David by plying him with expensive gifts so that David feels compelled to keep putting up with him.
  • The Resenter: Sort of implied that Andrew resents older rich gay men who managed to build successful careers by remaining closeted. He blames his lack of opportunities in life on being gay - but he's really just a shiftless psychopath with a taste for the finer things and no desire to do actual work for them. His hypocrisy is gradually revealed in later episodes when he's openly living with a wealthy older gay man who isn't closeted at all, but still resents his success even as he mooches off him. The same episode has Andrew claim he has a Ph D, only for his partner to call this out as bullshit because he discovered that Andrew simply dropped out of college. Andrew doesn't even bother to claim discrimination as an excuse in response, he just childishly protests that "It was boring!"
  • Rewatch Bonus: Andrew really does tell David the truth after the latter asks him to be honest for once, However, it still sounds like such a lie and the viewer hasn't seen the flashback episode of Andrew's life yet, so they and David don't believe him.
  • Sanity Slippage: Cunanan, though deceitful and entitled from the beginning, is nonetheless shown to be capable of empathy and sincere attachments to people earlier in his life. A variety of things - discovering his father's career as a conman, various romantic disappointments, his inability to find either a stable job or a lover willing to support him, and his increased drug use - combined to drive him over the edge, to the point where Cunanan becomes an outright sociopath.
  • Sissy Villain: Cunanan is portrayed as more flamboyant than most of his victims.
  • The Sociopath: Andrew Cunanan, diagnosed as a psychopath in real life, and portrayed in this with creepy realism: he isn't a Hollywood Psychopath, moustache-twirling villain doing a Hannibal Lecter impression. Instead, he's outwardly cheerful and has learned how to con his way through life with glib, shallow charm. It's all a fake act, and the actor does a great job of showing the "flat affect" psychopaths have: he's always got a slight smile and soft purr to his voice, but he just learned it by rote and is doing it almost robotically, while his dead eyes are sizing up other people like an insect. Even when other people start to criticize him, he just doubles down on the "friendly" act - which only makes it sound jarringly more fake (i.e. such as when he's on the run with David after brutally killing Trail, and keep rambling off shallow pleasantries, undaunted.) Moreover, by the time his killing spree starts, Cunanan has moved on to heavier drugs known to result in increased violent behavior i.e. shooting up on crystal meth.
    • Played with in later episodes (which are the chronologically earliest scenes). Andrew's youth sees him as facing genuine heartbreak when a sugar daddy doesn't want a serious relationship, and Andrew rejects the money his boyfriend gives him, in contrast to his eventual days of being an entitled kept man. He's also sincerely disappointed and angered by his father screwing over the family and leaving them nothing, appears to be real friends with Liz and breaks down in tears of genuine remorse when he accidentally injures his mother, setting the idea that Andrew's descent into psychopathy was a gradual process, which real-life friends argued as well.
  • Soul-Sucking Retail Job: Subverted; Andrew's job at the drugstore might have been one of his healthier decisions, with a workload that he could handle and a boss who actually tried to look out for Andrew. Sadly, his ego wouldn't allow him to settle for working in retail, and he decided to become a male escort instead.
  • Technology Marches On: Invoked; When Versace is killed, one man takes a Polaroid photo of the corpse before it's taken away. He then tells reporters he has the only photo of Versace's body and "the bidding starts at $30,000." Today, there would have been hordes of people taking photos and videos with phones but this shows how in 1997, one lucky photo was all it took.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Andrew is pretty much the poster boy for toxic, unhealthy relationships. With his penchant for stealing, manipulation, and murder, everyone he meets is worse off for having met him.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In stark contrast to the OJ trial, there is little concrete record of the Versace investigation, and Cunanan's motives for his killing spree remain a mystery to this day. The show can thus mostly speculate on Cunanan's relationship with his victims based on secondhand testimony from friends and acquaintances (in particular, he was never proven to have known either Versace or Lee Miglin before killing them). Additionally, the surviving Versace family were outraged at what they saw as false claims of what actually happened.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Andrew quickly starts to lose it when he realizes the FBI are closing in on him.
    • In the midst of his Humiliation Conga in "Descent," Andrew breaks up with Norman with a haughty tantrum, only to come crawling back literally on his hands and knees and screaming for Norman to let him back in after his funds dry up.
  • Villain Protagonist: The series might as well be called "The Murders of Andrew Cunanan." When he's not killing people, Cunanan never fails to be a manipulative, lying piece of shit, though later episodes portray him with a modicum of sympathy.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In the finale, Marilyn Miglin tears into the FBI agents on Cunanan's case after learning that in the two months since her husband's death, the FBI has still not even found Cunanan.
  • Wicked Cultured: Andrew Cunanan has a taste for the finer things in life and feels entitled to them: expensive clothes, cars, vacations to Europe, etc. He pretends he has the lifestyle standards of a wealthy jet set/fashion designer type - but in reality he's none of these things. He just obsessively reads Vogue magazine and gives rants about choosing between fashion designs which he's probably never seen in real life, much less owned.
  • Yandere: In "House by the Lake", Andrew is portrayed as being obsessed with David Madsen, murdering Jeff Trail after growing suspicious that David was had hooked up with Jeff.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Modesto appears to have been cheating on his wife with the office secretary before he flees the country.


Example of: