FX’s American Crime Story
Season 2, Episode 3: “A Random Killing”
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Written by Tom Rob Smith
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Manhunt” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “House by the Lake” – click here
May 1997 in Toronto, Canada. Marilyn Miglin (Judith Light) is CHSN with a presenter (Nicola Lambo) helping to hawk her new fragrance. “Perfume is about our bodies talking to each other without words,” she tells the viewers. Later at the airport, she calls her husband Lee (Mike Farrell), who’s meant to be picking her up. She has to cab back home. There, she finds quiet, she can’t find her husband. On her counter is an open can of Coca Cola and a melted ice cream carton. The neighbours happen by, so Marilyn tells them: “Something‘s wrong.” One of the neighbours checks the house, finding a knife sunk into a side of meat unwrapped from the fridge. Upstairs, the bathtub’s been used, a rim of dirt around the inside.
But where’s hubby? When a cop arrives he checks the garage. In the kitchen, Marilyn hears a scream confirming what she already suspects. We can already tell, as the audience, that this is leading to an Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) connection, too.
Skip back a week.
We’re in Chicago, Illinois where the Miglins are at a dinner with the governor. The happy couple seem, outwardly, to be the perfect pair, each of them proud to be married to the other. After dinner, Marilyn gives her husband an emphatic introduction, then he gives a speech in support of Governor Jim Edgar (Matt Miller). I already know where this is going – Mr. Miglin’s got a second life, one seemingly diametrically opposed to his existence as the “American Dream,” the good old boy, the straight white Anglo-Saxon capitalist. The unfortunate life of a man in the closet.
That night, Lee gets a call from none other than Cunanan. The young man’s coming to Chicago, he claims. Naturally, they’re making plans together. Ah, the secret life is coming to light gradually. Works out perfectly that Marilyn’s leaving the city for a couple days. But before she goes, she begins seeing that something with her husband is not quite right.
Lee’s caught somewhere between true desire and his Christian faith. He kneels before a picture of Jesus Christ, the cross, looking to repent. At the same time, Andrew turns up in Chicago and on the Miglins’ doorstep. The older man sits his young friend down, makes him a sandwich. They talk, Lee begins a bit of romance, and you know Cunanan is merely biding his time until the right moment to kill emerges. The married man’s infidelity is one thing, it’s also sad he has no idea with whom he’s spending the night.
It is clear that Lee has done this quite a few times. Obviously, the same goes for young Cunanan. However, things get more intense than the old guy’s likely usually used to, as “intellectual Andrew” gets into his strange tape obsession, tying his – so far – willing partner up. Some BDSM. But that becomes actual violence. The killer explains he’s going to murder him, dress him in ladies underwear, scatter gay porn everywhere. He wants to take Mr. Miglin down as disgracefully as possible. This boy has serious problems with power, fame, authority, and father figures. Lee dies a vicious, brutal death on the floor of his garage.
“You know disgrace isn‘t that bad. Once you settle into it.”
Back to the discovery of Lee’s corpse, a grisly scene. Just as Andrew said it would be, the old man is lying there with gay magazines around him, the underwear on his corpse. Inside, Marilyn’s fairly measured, tracking down everything that was robbed, from money to jewellery to clothes and more. This is when she hears about the porn left at the scene, though she passes it off, wanting the police to focus on finding her husband’s murderer. Still, she’s in shock, not quite dealing with the whole thing; yet. She’s dealing enough to push the narrative of “a random killing.”
The Jeep that Cunanan drove is found by an officer, the one already connected to the killing of a man named Jeff Trail. The cops are also trying to track the killer’s calls: he’s going towards New York, they believe. But can they actually get to him before he kills again? Well, we know the answer to that. Not to mention the press has hold of the story that the Miglin car phone – which Andrew’s using – is activated and being tracked. The serial killer hears this over the radio, so the police efforts have been thwarted.
Nevertheless, it does make their target paranoid. He’ll need a new vehicle, a familiar one to us that we’ve seen later in the timeline: the red truck he flees to after gunning down Versace. Andrew follows the current driver, then pulls a gun on the man to get the keys. He also takes the guy downstairs to lock him in, and he puts him on his eyes before blowing a hole through the back of his head. Ruthless.
Back on TV, Marilyn laments her husband being killed just for a car. She speaks of their strong love, their relationship. And of course this plays into the larger narrative, one which basically worked against the investigation. Because if Marilyn wasn’t so concerned about her image + the image of her husband, and people knew more of Cunanan, how the killer was targeting wealthy gay men, it might’ve been more obvious where he was heading/what he was doing/his ultimate, if not insane modus operandi. Instead, it took Versace’s death – the death of an openly gay man – for everyone to realise, all because of stigma against gay men, and everything wrapped up in that. So, so tragic.
This second season is really doing some fascinating work. The first was a spectacular examination of race, through the lens of the O.J. Simpson trial. Here, via the death of Versace and the crimes of Cunanan, we’re getting an equally compelling look at certain gay issues in a time when being openly gay still wasn’t accepted widely, certainly not in the entertainment industry(etc) in America.
“House by the Lake” is next week. Can’t get enough of Season 2.