'American Crime Story' Review: 'Descent' Begins The Downward Spiral

This week's American Crime Story review takes a look at the latest episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, "Descent." Spoilers follow.

1996, La Jolla

It's a full year before Andrew Cunanan's killing spree, and now we're going to start to learn what makes him tick. The Assassination of Gianni Versace's backwards narrative has kept Andrew mostly a mystery to us, but this week's episode, "Descent", reveals one of the tipping points that would lead him to murder.Andrew is living at a gorgeous mansion in La Jolla, California. The first moments of the episode show him pulling up to the estate and later diving into a pool. How can Andrew afford all this? The answer is, he can't. This is actually the home of a wealthy man named Norman. Later, the house will be swarming with people – it's Andrew's birthday, and Norman is throwing him a party.To Andrew, the party is an opportunity to win over David – a man he will eventually murder. His relationship with Norman isn't sexual, he insists; he merely lives with Norman out of necessity. What he really wants is to be with David. Maybe. "David is a future," he says. "And up until now I've only dated the past."The fact of the matter is, Andrew doesn't know what he wants. But he thinks being in a relationship with David will somehow magically solve his problems. Yet when David arrives at the party, things don't go according to plan. Jeff, another of Andrew's future victims, is at the party as well, and Andrew attempts to stage a scene – he gives Jeff an expensive gift – new shoes – and then asks Jeff to give them back to Andrew as a birthday gift, in front of everyone. When Jeff questions the reasoning behind this, Andrew's answer is blunt and to the point: "I want to seem loved."Perhaps this is the curse of Andrew Cunanan: not so much to want love, but rather to have the appearance of being loved. And when Andrew doesn't get what he wants, he proceeds to spend the rest of the episode burning every single bridge he has. The party doesn't go as planned – Andrew can barely get any time with David alone, and David and Jeff proceed to hit it off immediately, much to Andrew's annoyance. Lee Miglin, yet another future victim, shows up as well, and tries to get Andrew alone, also to Andrew's annoyance. As far as Andrew sees it, his perfect day has been ruined, and his only way to deal with this is by lashing out.

“This World Has Wasted Me’

Long after the party ends, Andrew unveils a "list of requirements" he wants from Norman, including more money, a new car, and being written in Norman's will as his sole heir. This attempt at emotional extortion backfires, and Norman calmly reveals he knows everything about Andrew, and that Andrew has be lying to him – and everyone else – about his background for years. After refusing to Andrew's demands, Andrew storms out, assuming Norman will demand he comes back.It doesn't happen.And things only get worse for Andrew from here. He torches his friendship with Jeff by trying to out Jeff to his parents. Then he torches any chance he has with David with an elaborate, expensive, foolhardy getaway: Andrew calls David and tells him he's paid for an expensive trip for the both of them. David seems hesitant, but agrees to come along.During the getaway, Andrew takes David clothes shopping; "I want you to dress like the man you're going to be." Here, he's literally trying to make David into his ideal partner, regardless of what David thinks.Later, during a romantic dinner that's anything but romantic, David says, "Andrew, I'm not the one." Desperate, Andrew insists, "You are the one." David, trying to be kind, says he came on the trip because he wanted to see if he and Andrew could take the next step, but feels like it won't work because he doesn't really "know" Andrew. He wants Andrew to be honest with him. Andrew agrees to "tell the truth", but when he starts talking about his parents, David can tell Andrew is still lying. Weary of it all, David gives up and says he's tired, effectively closing the door on any real relationship with Andrew.From here, Andrew spirals deeper and deeper into a pit of despair. His drug use increases, and after shooting up crystal meth, he proceeds to have a red-tinted fantasy/hallucination where Gianni Versace is measuring him for a suit. "This world has wasted me," Andrew tells Versace with a flat, dead voice. "While it has turned you...into a star." When Andrew asks what the difference is between himself and Versace, the Versace hallucination replies, "I'm loved."The lowest moment for Andrew comes when he attempts, and fails, to break back into Norman's house. With nowhere left to go, Andrew pays a visit to his mother, in a truly unnerving scene that provides our first real clue as to why Andrew is the way he is.His mother, Mary Ann, is clearly emotionally and mentally unwell, and she proceeds to babble on almost incoherently the entire time Andrew is there. When Andrew lets his guard down and confesses to his mother that he's unhappy, she doesn't seem to hear him at all. He is truly, entirely cut off now – no one seems to be listening to him anymore. No one is buying the bullshit he's sold so convincingly all his life. Before long, he'll head to Minneapolis, and his killing spree will begin.


After the previous American Crime Story episode "Don't Ask Don't Tell", "Descent" is a bit of a disappointment. This was probably inevitable – "Don't Ask..." was the best episode of the entire season so far, and now that we're going back even further in time – to a full year before Andrew's murders begin – the show has run dry of big, shocking moments. Instead, The Assassination of Gianni Versace is settling into a sad, somber groove in which he begins to slowly reveal Andrew's history.There's a problem with this: we've spent so much time watching Andrew do terrible, destructive things that it's nearly impossible to muster up any sympathy for him at this point. Yes, getting a glimpse of Andrew's nerve-wracking mother provides some insight into Andrew as a person, but it might be too little too late.

Director Gwyneth Horder-Payton keeps the episode moving along briskly, and some stylistic flourishes – a fast camera push-in on Andrew's face at the party, signifying him realizing he's losing control; the red-tinted drug hallucination with Versace – stand-out.

Darren Criss continues to impress with his layered, frantic performance. Some of the best moments of this episode revolve around Criss showing Andrew's often pathetic desperation – during the party, when he senses David not paying enough attention to him, he attempts to stage a big, flashy scene that doesn't go according to plan. Watching Criss portray Andrew's panicked desperation at that moment is remarkable.Actress Joanna Adler lays it on a bit too thick as Andrew's mother Mary Ann. I understand that this is a tough balancing act – the character shows up seemingly out of nowhere with only a few minutes left in the episode, and Adler has to get across how damaged this individual is in short period of time. Still, Adler goes way too big in these scenes, portraying Mary Ann as someone so unstable that it's hard to believe she's able to survive on her own without being hospitalized.Adler fairs a bit better in next week's episode. Next week, American Crime Story travels even further back into Andrew's history, and shows us his humble, tragic origins.