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Fashion, homophobia and tragedy: quite the ingredients for an ‘American Crime Story’

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The second season of FX giant Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime Story” premiered on Jan. 17, its nine episodes intending to bring viewers into the late fashion designer Gianni Versace’s mansion and its surroundings in Miami Beach in the 1990s.

Its subtitle, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” already evokes fear, which complements the dramatically unsettling atmosphere of the first two episodes so far.

Following in the footsteps of the critically acclaimed “The People v OJ Simpson,” this season literally begins with Versace (Edgar Ramirez) being shot on the steps of his mansion by mysterious serial killer, Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) on July 15, 1997.

Immediately, Ryan Murphy’s conscious direction highlights the contrast between the two doomed figures.

Versace is enveloped by his sheer opulence, beautifully-tiled swimming pool and fashion designs, while Cunanan carries a mere backpack, simplistic civilian clothing and the fateful gun.

As the episodes wind down, familiar faces like fellow designer and Gianni’s sister, Donatella Versace (Penélope Cruz) and Gianni’s partner, Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin) appear.

What makes Versace’s downfall far more complex than a simple runaway homicide is that Cunanan is revealed to have killed several men before, he had penetrated the gay nightclub scene in Miami Beach shortly before committing the famous murder, and the FBI is shown to be somewhat inept at capturing him.

The viewer uncomfortably has to watch Cunanan creepily meet up with gay—both closeted and out, of varying ages—men, while left wondering how this is connected to Versace in the end. And yet, that’s the point.

To this day, the public does not know why Cunanan murdered at all. This, hence, contributes to the overall disquieting nature of the show so far.

Ramirez instantly does an impeccable job at coaxing the audience into sympathizing with him, as he’d been happy living with D’Amico.

His almost teddy bear-like disposition further makes his murder very tragic as he seemed very intent on expanding his company and strengthening his personal relationship.

What makes him so likable is how humble he acts, as he often brings up his childhood, his designing family background and his time in Italy.

On the other hand, Criss, already known by young fans for once playing teenage dream Blaine Anderson from “Glee” (2010-2015), seems determined to take on a more dramatic role here, as if wanting to prove he can be more than a fanfiction-inspiring teen idol.

While his acting was a little uneven during the first episode, he starts to hold his own in the second.

His performance yields a doomed gypsy, who travels across the country, murdering several men but his disturbingly blank expressions bring up the idea that he is searching for a purpose in life.

The purpose, however, could be infamy as he’s shown creepily smiling when coming across newspaper front covers of Versace’s murder—and even having the audacity to buy all the copies in one scene, as if to congratulate himself.

Perhaps the show wants to confront the idea that he should not just be seen as an insane serial killer.

It could become more psychologically intriguing if it delves into his past, his previous murders and him coming to terms with his sexuality.

Cruz, despite having few scenes so far, always attracts eyeballs any time she appears as Donatella onscreen, her somber visage and convincing Italian accent combining to create quite the grieving figure.

Instead of just sobbing and pacing impatiently, her character becomes multifaceted when she reveals she does not respect Gianni’s lover, D’Amico.

This clash between Gianni’s two closest figures should show up again in future episodes, to prove that Versace’s life was not always trouble-free.

Ricky Martin as D’Amico, however, needs more time in the spotlight to showcase his acting abilities as it still is not convincing lately.

In his defense, there’s only so much Martin can do besides crying and grieving for Gianni for now, given the plot.

The show also confronts homophobia in the 1990s, detailed by the judgmental looks of the FBI, how closely knit the gay community is in nightclubs and bars, and the consequences of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the background.

Murphy has directly addressed this in multiple interviews while promoting the project and this issue further raises the stakes for the season’s characters.

“I’ve done nothing my whole life,” a dejected Cunanan says in episode two, chronologically before shooting Versace. “That’s the truth.”

Cunanan would later accomplish quite a feat though: successfully murdering multiple individuals, and evading the FBI who’d named him as one of their “Most Wanted.”

And while that captivated the American public in 1997 and would make for great television in 2018, it’s hardly something to be proud of.

But under Ryan Murphy’s evidently superb direction and his brilliant casting decisions, this season seems already determined to remind viewers that even wealth can’t hide from a gun.

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