'American Crime Story: Versace' Finale Is a Warning About How a Killer Is Made

Star Darren Criss and writer Tom Rob Smith speak with THR about the final moments of killer Andrew Cunanan's life and the themes of the second season of the FX anthology.
Courtesy of FX

[This story contains spoilers from the season finale of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.]

While the weeks after the premiere of FX's The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story illustrated the path that took Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) on a killing spree across the U.S., Wednesday's season finale returned to the death of the famed fashion designer and the aftermath of his murder as Cunanan spent his frantic final days before killing himself on a Miami houseboat.

The episode brought back many of the series' all-star guest roster — Judith Light as widow Marilyn Miglin, Max Greenfield as Cunanan's junkie friend Ronnie, Annaleigh Ashford as Cunanan's oldest friend Elizabeth Cote, Jon Jon Briones and Joanna P. Adler as Cunanan's parents — to show how all of the series' major players were coping with Cunanan's crimes.

Miglin, on business in nearby Tampa, was hoping her husband's killer would be caught. Adler's Mary Ann was dumbstruck that her son was responsible for such heinous crimes, Cote pleaded for the return of her kind-hearted friend, and Briones' Modesto, whom Cunanan called in a desperate haze after realizing he wouldn't be able to escape the cops, told his son he'd help him but then gave an interview on the news about a potential movie instead.

Much of the hour-plus episode featured Cunanan becoming increasingly more emotional and hopeless as he took shelter on a houseboat, watching Gianni's (Edgar Ramirez) Italian funeral on television and reminiscing about his time with the designer. "What if you had a dream your whole life that you were special, but no one believed it," Cunanan asked. Versace responded that it wasn't about potential, it was about following through.

Penelope Cruz and Ricky Martin returned as Versace's grieving sister, Donatella, and partner, Antonio D'Amico, respectively, for emotional scenes coming to terms with Versace's death. And, after Cunanan ultimately shot himself, a final scene juxtaposing Cunanan's unremarkable final resting place and lack of mourners with Versace's opulent mausoleum and Donatella's palpable grief.

For viewers surprised that Versace himself was present in so few of the series' nine episodes, writer Tom Rob Smith tells The Hollywood Reporter that it was not his intention to tell Versace's story.

"We were upfront about the source material," he explains. "We were never doing a biopic of Versace, because that's this amazing success story. We were always doing a crime story, and the crime story is Cunanan. And what is interesting in relation to the crime story is the symbolism of Versace. What he represents, how he overcame everything that Andrew failed to overcome: homophobia and relative poverty. All the things that made Versace a success compared to things that made Cunanan destructive."

The finale, Smith explains, is "bringing together all of these people that were destroyed and damaged by Andrew, and really exploring what it is to lose someone. I think this is one of the few stories where the victim's loss is at the center of this piece — this hole that was created by Andrew."

While Cunanan's final moments were largely fictional, since the killer was holed up in Miami alone, Criss tells THR that he first thought that Cunanan's suicide was largely an act of desperation. But after speaking with Smith about it, he realized that the decision was very deliberate.

"This is a guy who could have gone to court," Criss says."He could have stretched it out forever. He could have been Charles Manson. If he was looking for fame and notoriety then he could have stuck with that. He could have been incarcerated and continued to be on magazines for the rest of his life.

He adds, "This is a guy who has curated his entire life's story very specifically, to the T. His backstory, what his parents did. Different people knew different versions of him because he was very specific of how his image would appear and what his story was. So I think he must have come to a point where he realized that if he were  incarcerated, that narrative would be taken away from him and the only way to control or almost canonize his notoriety and infamy would be to take his own life."

The season also touched on the internalized homophobia within law enforcement at the time that potentially hindered the investigation of Cunanan's other murders before Versace — David Madson, Jeff Trail, Lee Miglin, William Reese — but Smith tells THR the way the homophobia affected Cunanan was also incredibly destructive.

"Ultimately the homophobia, I think, is much more about Andrew's homophobia — the way it beat him as a person and the way he soaked up everything, rather than it just being a personified police officer doing it," he says.

But the juxtaposition between the two men from similar backgrounds who grew up to do vastly different things with their latent potential is what the finale ultimately drove home.

"You can't just say Andrew was beaten by society. Other people overcame the things that he didn't," Smith says. "You're contrasting, I think, two very different people who have many similarities in the beginning and why one person was full of love and created so much — Versace and this genius — with one person who became such a monster. That, to me, is one of the central shapes of the story."

What did you think of the Versace finale? Sound off in the comments section, below.  Click here for all the details (so far) about season three of American Crime Story.

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