American Crime Story Recaps S2E9: Alone

by thethreepennyguignol

This is going to sound really strange, given how much I’ve loved a lot of this season of American Crime Story, but, with the season finale behind us, I think the last nine episodes have told a story that ended more a failure than a success.

Now, bear with me here. I’m in no way saying that the character study episodes this season offered (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, A Random Killing, and Creator/Destroyer most notably) weren’t soaring achievements in their own rights. You can’t look at those hours of television and see anything but writers, directors, and actors at the top of their game, an example of what the true crime genre can be when it sets it’s mind to it: a chance to compassionately consider the victims of the people killers like Andrew Cunanan leave behind, and the way their deaths and, more importantly, lives tie into the world they lived in.

But that’s not what this season set out to do. If, back in episode one, ACS had stated their intent to tell Andrew Cunanan’s story and his story alone, then this would be a really solid finale, because that’s what it draws an end to. As far as Andrew’s story goes, I actually found this a really emotional episode to watch – despite his unarguable evil, watching him sob down the phone to his father and confront a vision of himself as a child, eventually bringing an end to the manhunt himself as he shoots himself through the head…there’s something about watching him reduced to this nearly fetal state of desperation that’s hard to watch. It’s a testament to Darren Criss’ exceptional performance and to the writing that has humanized Cunanan as much as it has held him responsible, and Criss’ take on Cunanan already has to be in high contention for every award going come the end of the year.

Judith Light also makes a reappearance, and is bloody marvelous as she was the first time around. Her part in the episode makes sense, as a representative of the many women left behind in Cunanan’s wake (Donatella Versace, Cunanan’s mother, his best friend Elizabeth, all of whom make up a significant part of the finale as a whole), and she does a good job drawing together some of the undercurrent themes of the season as a whole – demanding to know where the fuck the police had been looking since her husbands death, and how they could have allowed Cunanan to continue his rampage. Light, regal in purple, seems satisfied by the news of Cunanan’s death, but the pain is still sprawling and present in her eyes. It probably always will be.

But, no matter how good a finale that would have been for that show, this isn’t the one that we actually got. No, we got a show that frequently attempted to squeeze in what amounted to a C-plot about the Versace family – a show that tried to offer comment on the botched manhunt in Cunanan’s wake. And this final episode has to give us an end to those stories, too – the first couple of episodes were my least favourite of the season by far, and it’s those episodes that this finale forms the last part of.

Max Greenfield turns up again as Ronnie, Cunanan’s old roommate, and I sincerely do not remember him being anywhere near as bad as this in his initial appearance. That said, maybe it’s the writing here, as he has to deliver a really quite shockingly stilted monologue to the police about their homophobia affecting the investigation and their opinion of Andrew as a whole. It’s nowhere near wrong, but it’s just so on the nose that pretty painful. All we needed was Judith Light exhaustedly demanding “Where were you?” to get the point across, but the show, in a panic and realizing that it spent far too long kicking around and making up shit about David Madson, needs to put a pin in that and does so with a clunk.

And it has to put a pin in the story of the Versace family, too. Now, as I’ve said all along, there probably was a really compelling parallel to be drawn between both Gianni and Donatella and Andrew, but ACS just never quite found it. This episode spends a lot of time with Donatella and Antonio as they deal with the immediate aftermath of Gianni’s death, and despite some real commitment from Penelope Cruz and Ricky Martin, it just feels like a hurried bow on top of a lopsided package. The final sequence of the show, as Donatella goes to her brother’s ashes situated in their opulent family tomb, should be a stark contrast to Andrew’s anonymous grave lost amongst a corridor of thousands of them, the notable versus the forgotten, a notion that this episode leans on heavily.

But what is the show actually trying to say here? It’s this show that has brought Cunanan into popular consciousness – he’s no longer a forgotten gravestone, he’s Darren Criss’ breakthrough performance and the centre of one of the biggest TV shows of the year at a time when TV commands a well-respected place in the wider media landscape. Andrew Cunanan is a name again, thanks to this show, and it’s more than a little odd to me that they would end it by trying to draw on how forgotten he is. Especially when Gianni Versace, the man they held up as a contrast to that, has never really felt like a grounded presence on the show. You can draw a big, solemn, final image out of a character who was barely in the show at all.

So, no, as a whole, I think this season didn’t do what it set out to. Was there some amazing stuff in the meantime? For sure. I really can’t overstate how much I loved some of the character-centric episodes of the season, and I think they had really interesting things to say about homophobia and the uneasy relationship of the LGBT community with the wider world in the nineties. But, if this finale is meant to be an end to the stories they’ve been telling, I must have missed something. It might offer a satisfying final act to Andrew’s story, but it’s too little, too late, for everything else they set out to do.

Well, that’s us for this season of American Crime Story! What did you think of it? You can hit me up in the comments here, or over on Twitter if you prefer! Thanks for reading, as ever, and you can catch up on all the rest of this season’s reviews here if you’re interested. If you want more of that sweet recapping action, I also recap RiverdaleRiverdale and UnREAL. Finally, if you liked these reviews and want to see more stuff like them, please consider supporting me on Patreon!

(header image courtesy of Indiewire)