American Crime Story Recaps S2E6: Descent

by thethreepennyguignol

The world owes Andrew Cunanan. And he’s here to collect.

Well, that’s what he believes, anyway, in this week’s of American Crime Story, Descent. The episode revolves around Andrew in the year before the murders, as he attempts to hold is rapidly-deteriorating web of lies together, and watches his life fall apart in the process.

First off, let’s just be blunt about it and say that the best thing about this episode was the direction. Gwyneth Horder-Payton dominates (as she did in her previous episode) with a fifty minutes that’s the most stylistically striking out of a season full of unforgettable style; from the rush of bloody red that fills the frame as Andrew shoots up to the frames-within-frames that cut Andrew off from the rest of the world to the side-profiles for half-truths, this is a masterpiece in ambitious, plot-serving direction and it deserves all the credit in the world.

This week’s episode is completely based around Andrew, now that his murders are out of the way, and allows Darren Criss to really get his teeth into the character for the first time in a while. The running theme that ties the sprawling story together is this notion that people specifically and the world at large owes something to Andrew – whether it’s his older lover owing him for the time he spent with him, Jeff Trail for the lovers he brought him, or David Madson for the love Andrew feels for him, Andrew is certain that he is the one to whom the debt it owed. His entitlement – to time, to affection, to money, to success – is a chilling reminder of what it will bloom into in the following months.

We’ve seen him trying to grope back control with his murders, but first he must lose it, and that’s what we’re getting here.

The best scene in this episode comes in the form of an existential mind journey (and you know I’m a sucker for an existential mind journey) as Andrew, tweaking on crystal, finds himself lost in a fantasy of Gianni Versace fitting him for a suit. His obsession with Versace has already been underlined, with pictures of the designer scattered on the walls to his scant apartment, but here it’s obvious – even in his head, the designer is better than him, more than him, despite Andrew’s certainty that he is owed the same success as him. But fantasy-Versace points out that he has one thing that Andrew believes he doesn’t – Gianni is loved, where Andrew has been cast aside by David Madson (after a brilliant scene between a returning Cody Fern and Criss as Madson sweetly unpicks his mistruths), as well as his older lover. He’s tried to manafacture the kind of love he wants – from Trail, as Andrew gives him a pair of shoes to give to Andrew as a birthday present, and from David, as he tries to all but bribe him into loving him – and it hasn’t worked. He’s alone. And so he goes to the last place he found love that didn’t question his endless cavalcade of lies – his mother.

His mother doesn’t feature much in the episode, just in the last act, but it’s maybe the most telling part of the whole show to date: his mother, a woman with clear mental health problems herself, adores Andrew, is glad to see him, and outrightly believes and boasts about the lies he spins about designing costumes for opera houses across the world. As Andrew sweats and tweaks and withdraws, she worships him with the wild-eyed certainty that no-one else has for him any more, and it still isn’t enough. Because he knows that he doesn’t have the life he wants. He’s not a success, he can’t get the men he wants, he can’t build his life out of lies and be truly happy, no matter how hard he tries and how big and unwieldy his lies become. He’s a broiling pot of resentment, to the world at large and himself in particular, for not delivering on what he feels like he was promised, a poisonous mix that we’re only just beginning to see unstitch him at the seams.

If you haven’t guessed already, I’ve been finding this season of ACS just a fascinating character study; not only is it phenomenally acted (both Finn Wittrock as Trail and Mike Farrell as Miglin return to put in performances as good as their respective episodes), but it is committed to unwinding how someone like this is allowed to come to be – both with regards to the law enforcement that didn’t do enough to stop him, and the bubbling external and internal factors that pushed Andrew towards the claiming of the debts he was so certain the world owed to him. Like all great true crime stories, ACS is interested in the why and not the how or what, and it’s the exceptional skill with which this season is telling that story that elevates it out of the ordinary and into something impossibly perfect. We’re on a serious roll here, and I can’t wait to see what the show does with the last third of the season.

If you enjoyed this review and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon or checking out the recaps of UnREAL that I started earlier this week!

(header image courtesy of Slash Film)