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Crime News

'American Crime Story' Versace Ep. 3 Explores The Secret Gay Lives Of Cunanan's Victims

Ryan Murphy is using Cunanan's viciousness to explore gay identity.

By Eric Shorey
The Gianni Versace Case, Explained

Episode three starts in May of 1997, a perfume salesperson on a home shopping network anxiously calls her husband from the airport. Crime aficionados will have recognized that her last name is shared with one of Cunanan's victims. She comes home to find melted ice cream on the kitchen table and an otherwise empty and undisturbed house. A neighbor investigates while the police are called. 

A scream.

"I knew it."

One week earlier in Chicago. Marilyn Miglin is giving some form of motivational speech and notes that "so often we are told that the American dream is dead," while espousing some boot-strap rhetoric about hard work and success. She describes Lee as "the perfect husband."

Murphy, once again without subtlety, is making a statement on gay life before the current social movement we find ourselves in: when good, kind people had to keep their sexualities hidden and sublimate their desires into shallow successes. But what gets pushed down doesn't stay buried forever, and Miglin's eventual death at the hands of a gay hustler named Andrew Cunanan is the veritable return of the repressed.

The love Mr. and Mrs. Miglin share isn't entirely fake, though, as love between many men on the down low and their partners often isn't.

Mrs. Miglin is heading out of town, giving Lee a chance for an apparently rare sexual rendezvous. He prays to God before the encounter: "I try. I try!"

Cunanan's viciousness appears when Miglin attempts to explain his achievements, with Andrew refusing to play along with Lee's charade of kindness and modesty.

"I'm in control now," says Andrew as he tapes Miglin's face and ties him up with electrical cord. Miglin can barely breathe. Andrew breaks his nose with a ferocious punch. "Here I am, this is me," he says.

Cunanan is threatening to humiliate Lee by killing him and leaving his body surrounded by gay porn, so the whole world discovers his secret.

"You know disgrace isn't that bad once you settle into it," says Andrew, clearly taking out his frustrations about his own life on his victim. Cunanan's venom seems to come from a long history of being forced to hate himself for being gay, and his desire to expose Miglin could be seen as a perverted reversal of his own internalized homophobia.

Marilyn is in some kind of dissociative state. She tells police to hunt for Lee's killer, but that she's uninterested in learning about his motives. Disavowal.

Police trace the car Cunanan was driving to a different stolen vehicle, connected to a totally different murder. Andrew visits a Versace store in New York City while detectives scramble.

Marilyn is falling apart, admitting to a detective that she loved Lee: "We had a fairy tale life. We didn't even fight. He didn't raise a finger. It was a robbery. And a random killing."

Aware that he's being tracked, Andrew steals a red truck after killing the owner.

On the home shopping network, Marilyn eulogizes Lee. A combination of sincerity and denial taints her goodbye.

Gwyneth Horder-Payton's excellent direction on episode 3 captures both the sadness and brutality of Cunanan and his victims. Her poignant use of silence and empty space helps underscore the themes of Murphy's show, which has abandoned the campy neons and excesses of the Versace palace for at least this one episode. Cunanan's malice is being used as a tool to explore LGBTQ identity and shame, and his victim's lives (their secret tragedies, their forbidden lusts) are made more meaningful through this lens.

[Photo: Screenshot]