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'American Crime Story' Episode 5 Unexpectedly Tackles Violence Against Gay Men In The Military
The characters' narratives highlight the heartache and violence of living in a world designed around queer persecution.
Episode five opens in Milan, Italy, in 1995. Gianni, Donatella and Antonio D'Amico debate whether it's right for Gianni to officially come out to the public. D'Amico claims he's been treated by the press as an assistant. Meanwhile, Donatella worries about the effects the announcement would have on publicity for the company.
"You have forgotten how ugly the world can be," she tells Gianni, who in turn stresses that being diagnosed with HIV, he feels emboldened to be honest with himself and the world.
Flash-forward to 1997, right before the events of episode four. Cunanan is seen injecting drugs while begging credit card companies to extend his limit so he can fly to Minneapolis. Cutouts of Gianni Versace are pasted to his wall, hinting at the formation of his obsession.
Trail, whom we know Andrew winds up murdering, reveals to a co-worker that he was in the military as an officer before making the decision to leave. He gets heated when asked more.
Trail and Madson are wary of Cunanan as they pick him up at the airport. They think of ways to avoid him while he's in town. Immediately upon arriving back at Madson's apartment, Andrew proposes. Madson is both confused and horrified. He attempts to decline, but Andrew persists.
Trail and his sister discuss a postcard Andrew "accidentally" sent to Trail's father, outing him. The sister pushes for him to actually inform his parents. Cunanan repeatedly humiliates Madson in public, telling mutual friends of their engagement. Madson loudly declines the proposal again.
The next day, Madson attempts to confront Andrew about his pattern of lying while offering him some financial help. Andrew says he's starting a new life in San Francisco and needs someone to share it with, while subtly accusing Madson of being in love with Trail.
Andrew stalks Madson that night and watches him rendezvous with another man. Andrew goes back to Trail's apartment and begins rummaging through his drawers, looking for something. Evidence to use against him? A piece of information to confirm his paranoia?
Andrew finds both a video on gay people in the military (which conspicuously features a thinly anonymized interview with Trail) and a gun. Trail recounts saving the life of a Navy man being beaten to death by his fellow soldiers for being gay. He wonders if coming to the rescue was the right move for his career.
Flash-back to two years prior, to the very incident Trail described. Trail is seen rescuing a smaller soldier from vicious beatings twice in a row. He consoles the soldier who begs for a reassignment. Another soldier sees the moment, and his suspicions are aroused.
Paranoia about sexuality at the military site is on high, with soldiers exchanging stories about men in bathrooms engaging in illicit encounters. Trail is visibly worried when a higher officer calls him in for a meeting, stressing the importance of codes of conduct.
Trail considers suicide. He cleans his garb and ties a noose with his belt. As he dangles from a bench, he changes his mind and unties himself.
Hours later, he's at a gay night club. And there's Andrew, sitting at the bar. Cunanan clocks that it's Trail's first time at a gay bar, and the two start drinking.
Back to Versace. He appears to be going through with his coming out despite Donatella's warnings. The scene is cross-cut with Trail's interview about gays hiding in the military. The two stories are parallel.
It goes back to 1997 again. Cunanan and Trail argue.
"I saved you," says Andrew.
"You destroyed me," replies Trail.
"I loved you," says Andrew.
"No one wants your love," Trail retorts.
Andrew leaves for Madson's place. Later that night, he'd go on to murder Trail with a hammer.
The extent to which Murphy has embellished the lives of Trail and Madson for the purposes of his narrative are unclear, although the basic facts do match up: Trail was, in fact, a Navy officer whose body was found in Madson's apartment. He did, in fact, give an anonymized interview on being gay in the Navy.
Trail's deep shame over his sexuality, like Madson and Miglin, was the source of his relationship with Cunanan — who, in Murphy's narrative, fed off his victims' melancholic regrets like a vampire. It would have been easier to depict Andrew as a purely manipulative monster, stalking wounded prey. Instead, Murphy shows him as desperate and drawn to the bleeding — not only out of a desire to manipulate and dominate, but also to end his loneliness.
Although the '90s are often seen as somewhat of a paragon of socially liberal progress, the cruelties of that decade are washed away in the waves of nostalgia from the past few years. Cunanan's narrative, however fictionalized it may be in Murphy's sociopathic love stories, highlight not only the immense nastiness foisted upon sexual minorities in our recent history, but also the heartache (and violence) of living in a world designed around queer persecution and forced isolation.