Now that we are exactly half-way through American Crime Story’s powerful “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” Episode 5 revealed to us tonight a new American Gay hero, in the first Cunanan murder victim, Jeffrey Trail. An Annapolis graduate and a lieutenant in the Navy, Ensign Trail saved a fellow effeminate sailor’s life as he was being queer bashed and nearly killed on their ship. And this brave act, outed Trail to the Navy brass, and the good Samaritan/savior had eventually to leave the Navy himself. He knew he was gay and couldn’t live with the closet the Navy, and society had forced him into. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the name of this episode and that era.
This series was back on track, after last week’s inexplicable, dreary Episode Four “The House by the Lake,” introducing us to mousy architectural student David Madson, Cunanan’s “great love of my life. I want to marry you.” Madson refuses him quite forcibly, and thus seals the fate of both himself and Trail. It’s a complicated story, and the genius creator of this series Bryan Murphy has taken two full-length hour and a half episodes to explain the inexplicable.
And I now feel that he and writer Tom Robb Smith have done an excellent job of untangling this real life mystery mess. Both Trail and Madson were rejecting Cunanan’s attempt to “start a new life” in Minneapolis. And we see him shooting up heroin BETWEEN HIS TOES, as he tries to con a one-way airline ticket to Minnesota, and succeeds. Do we need a ghost to come from the grave, Hamlet? To further explain his killing spree to us? He was AN ADDICT. And nobody wanted anything to do with him.He was totally alone, broke and rejected by those he loved most. And so he kills them…And starts on a killing spree that leaves five men dead, including fashion icon Gianni Versace, before he kills himself.The backwards-in-time way Murphy & co. have chosen to tell his story is just brilliant in my book, because the murder of Versace and those that preceded it, yes, need the amount of time(nine-to-ten episodes)to fully explain Cunanan’s horrific actions to the straight, mainstream audience that the FX channel reaches. Whereas we as gay people know EXACTLY what Cunanan was going through.
Even as recently as the 1990s, gay life was very,very different. It was one big closet, and coming out could kill you, as it certainly seems to have been the case with poor heroic Jeff Trail.
Murphy is allowing Trail and Madson, too, the respect and regard that they never got in the brief lifetimes, god knows. To know of them is to love them.
And Finn Wintrock’s strong performance as the seemingly perfect Naval career officer Jeff Trail, puts us right back up there with the stellar work of Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez and Ricky Martin. And future Emmy Winner Judith Light.
Cruz in a bright pink suit(mirroring Marilyn Miglin’s in Ep.3) has the astonishing task of being the homophobic voice in the House of Versace in Milan of the ’90s. And she does, seeming perfectly rational and perfectly hateful all at the same time. For a few scenes at the beginning of this episode, she becomes a blonde bombshell Cruella de Ville to her nice, loving brother Gianni.
He wants to come out to the Advocate magazine and tell the whole world that he is gay and Donatella/Cruella doesn’t want him to and thinks it will ruin their business. Which of course, it didn’t.And the series neatly juxtaposes Versace’s glamorous, open coming out in a luxurious surrounding, acknowledging his lover(Martin) by his side. While poor Jeffery Trail is only filmed in shadow with his voice distorted as he explains why he’s sorry he saved that fellow sailor’s gay life, and that coming out has basically ruined his own.
It’s a complex story, but an epic one, and one that must be told, and must be seen. There’s no Episode Six next week. We’ll have to wait two weeks for the next installment. Feb. 28.