BBC crime drama The Assassination of Gianni Versace took a particularly tragic turn in episode four, returning to the very beginning of murderer Andrew Cunanan’s killing spree.
- Who is Andrew Cunanan? Why did he kill Gianni Versace?
- Separating fact from fiction in The Assassination of Gianni Versace
After watching him murder his final three victims – Versace, Lee Miglin and cemetery worker William Reese – in cold blood in the previous three episodes, episode four sees Cunanan undergo an emotional journey as he builds towards the murder of his former lover David Madson.
It’s the first time we see Cunanan seemingly emotionally attached to anyone, and provides some insight into his motives and the downward spiral that leads to the murder of the fashion designer.
Who is Jeffrey Trail?
We get very little insight into the character of Cunanan’s first murder victim; presumably that is coming in the next episode, with the series retroactively exploring Cunanan’s murders.
But, for the record, Jeff Trail, a former naval officer, was a friend of the murderer’s from his days in San Diego. According to a New York Times report from July 1997, Cunanan told friends shortly before leaving for Minnesota that he was flying to Minnesota to “settle some business” with an old friend.
The report goes on to suggest that the two had been romantically linked, but this was denied by Trail’s family.
Cunanan’s motives are clearer than ever
For the first time in the series, the murders Cunanan commits appear to have a clear motive. The episode opens with Versace’s assassin pummelling his first victim – his friend Jeffrey Trail – to death with a hammer in front of David Madson, who is frozen in fear.
A brief conversation between Trail and Madson suggests that Cunanan, who was in love with Madson, had found out that they had been sleeping together, and that Cunanan had killed him out of jealousy – thinking that somehow he and Madson would be able to build a life together with Trail out of the way.
As the episode unfolds, however, Cunanan begins to realise that his ex is never going to love him back, and that Madson is likely to run away at the first opportunity. He appears to realise this as he sits watching real-life musician Aimee Mann perform a cover of the Cars’ 80s anthem ‘Drive’.
Elsewhere in the series, there had been suggestions that his killings were a result of his craving notoriety (the day after he kills Versace, he picks up a copy of every newspaper to read the reports), but the murders that kicked off his spree appear more emotionally motivated.
Why didn’t David Madson escape?
The episode is particularly excruciating because we know exactly where it’s going. David Madson fails to escape Cunanan despite several opportunities on their road trip.
It is worth noting that this is one of the areas where the writers have had to embellish the most, as very little is known about what transpired in those days in late April and early May in Minnesota after Andrew Cunanan arrived to visit Madson and Trail.
“We know there was this murder, and then we know they were in a car together, and we know that David begged for his life at the end,” American Crime Story executive producer Brad Simpson told Vanity Fair, “but we had to fill in what might have happened during that time.”
A report by Newsweek in July 1997 stated, “Madson’s role remains hard to figure out. He apparently made no effort to leave; neighbours saw the two men walking Madson’s dog the day after Trail’s murder.”
The drama itself suggests that he was motivated purely by fear.
The killer’s misdirection
The show’s writers have been detailing repeated errors by the police, many of which may have resulted from stereotyping and a lack of understanding of gay life. In episode four, Andrew Cunanan throws the police off his scent by placing sex toys and gay porn magazines out on Madson’s bed before they flee, leading the police to assume that some sort of sex act had gone wrong.
The police later tell Madson’s parents ominously, “I can tell you with certainty, there’s a great deal you don’t know about your son”.
This continues the drama’s exploration into gay politics of the era, following the allusions to the AIDS crisis, and the police’s aggressive questioning Versace’s lover Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin) about his sex life on the day of the murder.
Where are Donatella and Gianni Versace?
For the second episode in a row, two of the series’ most prominent figures, as played by Penelope Cruz and Edgar Ramirez respectively, are nowhere to be seen, as the show continues to delve deeper into the life of the fashion designer’s killer.
Have we seen the last of the show’s glamorous duo? As has become increasingly clear, the show isn’t really about Versace. Oscar-winning Cruz and beautiful Miami beach scenes have give way to something far more cold and brutal…
The Assassination of Gianni Versace airs Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC2