When you’re telling a story in long form, you need to pace yourself. With any drama there’s always a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s the classic three-act structure. If your story is a work of fiction, you can add spice and intrigue and, well, whatever you want. You need to keep the audience rapt until the dramatic final scene. If your story is based on reality, though? Well, you need to be smart with how you tell it. Especially if that story is really just ‘a very famous man got shot’.
American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace is, as we know by now, told backwards. But consider how it would have played out were they to have relayed the story in a more traditional way, in chronological order. The final instalment, episode 9, would feature the shooting. Requiring some 400 minutes of build-up to the main event, and with Andrew Cunanan’s murders being bunched together in a spree, the audience would have to wait some five episodes to see their first murder. That’s some leap of faith that’s required.
So, sensibly, The Assassination of Gianni Versace opted for a reverse narrative style that allowed us to get the money ‘shot’ nice and early. The only downside to toploading a nine-episode run? There’s a very real chance that things will start to tail off a little towards the end. And, for the first time here in episode 7, ‘Ascent’, that’s exactly what we’re faced with.
In one way this lack of any real story is quite useful. We see Cunanan helpless and pathetic and understand his ‘social climbing at any cost’ mentality and where it comes from. But for a show that’s brought us murder, plotting, style, tension and real verve, this week’s was – dare we say it – just a wee bit dull.
Even the episode’s highlights lack any real punch. Sure, we see how Andrew seduced David in San Francisco and how he came to meet Norman. But we already know the details from earlier weeks. That said, there is some solace to be taken from occasional details. David’s childhood tale of a promise made to a bullied friend was touching. And when Andrew steals the memory for his own purposes later on, repurposing it for personal gain, he sullies such a sweet thing in a way that only a truly damaged sociopath can.
Again, we have to applaud Darren Criss’ performance here. At once he makes Cunanan a dead-eyed narcissist and a vulnerable kid. A spoiled brat at home with his mother and a charming socialite while out for an evening at the theatre in the company of older gentlemen.
For a few weeks now we’ve complained that The Assassination of Gianni Versace was lacking the ‘Gianni Versace’ part. This week we were treated to a healthy dose of the man – although ‘healthy’ may be the wrong word, given that we see the fashion designer struggling with what seems to be HIV, something Versace’s family have always disputed. He debuts a daring new dress with his sister Donatella as his model, as part of a symbolic ‘handover of the business’, it seems.
As touching as this should be, it just lacks any real drama. Again, there is one sweet moment, when the two sit down to design a dress together. But the lack of scope in the episode and the rather ropey set design left us cold.
There are two episodes left. We’re still yet to really see what Andrew Cunanan’s motive was for killing Versace, if there even was one. Plus, of course, we still – when we go back to the future – have the manhunt. Here’s hoping episodes 8 and 9 pick up and this was just a minor blip to an otherwise gripping crime drama.
Our hunch? This was a six-part series stretched a little too far.
Did you tune in for The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 7? Let us know in the comments below!