American Crime Story Ascent Review

This week’s American Crime Story review takes a look at the latest episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, “Ascent.” Spoilers follow.

american crime story ascent


The two intertwined plotlines on this week’s American Crime Story involve future serial killer Andrew Cunanan and future fashion designer Donatella Versace both coming into their own, in very different ways.

Andrew has yet to fully blossom into the master con-man we know he is. Instead, he’s working a dead-end job at a pharmacy. He’s miserable with his life, and while he likes to tell lies – he brags that he’s finishing up his PhD, which isn’t even close to true – he hasn’t quite caught on to the fact that he can talk his way into a comfortable life. Instead, he pines for it. And he returns home to his fragile, emotionally unstable mother and grows furious when he sees she’s purchased non-brand ice cream instead of Häagen-Dazs.

“Why do you have to get so upset?” his mother asks.

“Because I want the best!” Andrew yells.

Donatella, meanwhile, is trying to come with the terms that Versace could die from his ear cancer. She’s not ready for the company to be left in her hands; not ready to lose her brother so soon. It seems her instinct is to ignore things and hope it will all work out, but Versace clearly doesn’t agree. He’s all but accepted that he’s going to die, and he wants Donatella to prepare for his death, and to prepare for her future in the spotlight. The tragedy is, of course, that later Versace will beat the cancer, but die anyway.

For now, though, he’s alive, and he’s not in the best of moods. Dealing with his illness is affecting him emotionally, which leads him to fly off the handle and berate Donatella for having others sketch her dress designs instead of doing it herself.

“What do you want from me?” Donatella asks.

“I want everything,” Versace yells.

versace episode 7

If They Could See Me Now 

From these two setups springs the events of the episode. Donatella learns to find confidence in her dress designs, going so far as to model the dress herself at a gala. Andrew, in turn, learns to use his own unique brand of confidence to “sell himself.”

At one point, Andrew ends up at an escort service, but the cold woman who runs it doesn’t seem very impressed. When he says he’s Asian American, the escort service owner quickly replies: “Gay men don’t want Asians.” No matter what Andrew says, the escort service owner remains nonplussed. Undeterred, Andrew goes out on the hunt.

His journey takes him to a play, where he meets three older gay men: Norman, Lincoln and Gallow. We know from last week’s episode that Andrew will eventually end up with Norman, but first he strikes up a (paid) relationship with Lincoln. Andrew will basically be on-call to Lincoln for a weekly allowance.

This is, in theory, what Andrew wanted – disposable income for no real work. Yet Andrew doesn’t have the mindset to be a kept-man, and before long, he’s discovered David at a fancy restaurant. Andrew is clearly taken with this young, shy man, but we know from previous episodes that it’s merely an infatuation rather than actual romantic feelings, and we also know it will end tragically, with David shot dead in the tall grass by the side of a river.

For now, though, David is alive, and appears to be taken with Andrew. He opens up, and tells Andrew a story about unpopular girl he was friends with in high school. David told this girl that one day, he would be a successful architect and build a house they could live in together. Later, when he finally told her he was gay, she was so upset she never spoke to him again.

Andrew’s wooing of David backfires: when Lincoln learns Andrew is spending his weekly allowance on other men, he cuts Andrew off. Looking for new companionship, Lincoln cruises a gay bar and picks up a strange, twitchy young man named Kevin. Kevin insists that he’s not gay, that he merely goes to the gay bar so that men will buy him drinks. Yet he agrees to come home with Lincoln, which leads to a shocking act of violence. Seemingly unprovoked in any real way, Kevin brutally bludgeons Lincoln to death – just as Andrew is coming through the door.

After witnessing the murder, Andrew is shaken, yet he also tells Kevin, “You should run.” Perhaps here, the seed has been planted in Andrew’s mind. Here is the impetus of Andrew’s future murder-spree; the germ of the idea. It’s like an infestation suddenly in his brain, festering until the day he finally decided to murder Jeff Trail.

The other thing Andrew learns from this event: the murder of gay men isn’t a top priority for law enforcement. Later, talking with Norman, the two discuss how blase the cops are about investigating Lincoln’s murder. Here, too, perhaps is the realization that colors Andrew’s future actions. He can kill other gay men if need be, and possibly get away with it, simply because the police won’t really care.

His meal ticket dead, Andrew decides to charm Norman into the same deal he had with Lincoln. And here, we see the first signs of the Andrew we’ve come to know from the future. He turns on the charm, and repurposes David’s childhood story about the unpopular girl to win over Norman.

It works.

Soon, Andrew is leaving his frantic mother behind – after “accidentally” fracturing her shoulder blade in a tussle – and moving into a huge, seaside home with Norman.

At the big, new house Andrew and Norman are moving into, Andrew stands on the terrace overlooking the ocean and says, “If they could see me now.”

“Who?” Norman asks.


Donatella, meanwhile, has learned to embrace the spotlight. Wearing the dress she designed has increased attention in the Versace brand, and she gathers her staff around to tell them about Versace’s illness, and how she’ll be taking over the company in his absence. We can almost hear her think, “If they could see me now…”

Ascent Andrew Norman


I hate to say this, especially since I’ve enjoyed so much of the season, but American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace is spinning its wheels at this point. I continue to think the backwards-moving narrative was a mistake, and it’s cost the show some serious momentum.

Yes, it’s interesting to learn more about Andrew in reverse. And yes, the way the show has flipped the narrative from being about a murder to rather being about how the murder (or rather, murders) happened is clever. But the side-effect of this approach is a show slowly running out of steam.

This week’s episode gave Penélope Cruz a chance to step back into the spotlight, and Cruz does good work here, but Donatella, and even Versace himself, both seem almost out-of-place at this point. We’ve spent so much time with Andrew that when the Versace storyline pops up, it unbalances things a bit.

Darren Criss remains the show’s MVP, and the actor has a lot of fun this week discovering who Andrew is, or rather, who Andrew is turning into. I also really enjoy Michael Nouri‘s performance as the sophisticated, calm Norman, who clearly knows Andrew is trouble but is willing to take a chance on getting involved with him anyway. 

Next week, we’ll go even further back in time and learn about Andrew’s destructive, emotionally manipulative father. These events won’t exonerate Andrew, but they will go a long way towards explaining who he is.

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