FX’s American Crime Story
Season 2, Episode 4: “House by the Lake”
Directed by Daniel Minahan
Written by Tom Rob Smith
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “A Random Killing” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” – click here
April 27th, 1997; a week before Lee Miglin is killed by Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). In Minnesota, architect David Madson (Cody Fern) and Andrew are dealing with what seems like a rough weekend. Cunanan’s eerie, watching his friend in the shower before Jeffrey Trail (Finn Wittrock) turns up at the door. There’s a huge tension between the friends, but the addition of Jeff makes things all the worse. We find out that Cunanan asked David to marry him, the so-called “man of his dreams.” But, obviously, the architect said no. Because he and Jeff are lovers, though secretly. Trail came over because Andrew took his gun.
None of that matters now: Trail is Cunanan’s initial victim, beaten brutally to death, bloody on the floor of Madson’s apartment with a hammer. The killer doesn’t murder the architect, which unfortunately makes them unwilling – at least on David’s part – partners for the time being; particularly after Cunanan makes him paranoid he’ll be seen as an accomplice. Mostly it’s because there’s a gun involved.
Such an intensely creepy opener for this episode! Lord. The score is haunting, as well.
Cunanan keeps pushing David into a space of fear, telling him “they‘ve always hated us” reinforcing the idea that being a “fag” makes them easy targets for the police (he isn’t wrong; truth to manipulate). It’s very clear part of the serial killer’s problems stem from self hatred. He frequently uses the word fag when he himself is a gay man, so there’s evidently a part of his psyche that’s warped due to his own self perceptions re: his homosexuality. So sad. Serial killers are ill from the start, they’re not just shaped by life experience(s). However, nature and nurture sometimes combine to make an especially toxic mix, which is the case for Andrew. Between his own fucked up mind and American society, he was doomed.
After the body’s stowed in a rug David wants to walk the dog, so he and Andrew go together. Gets quite tense while they’re in the elevator with a neighbour. All the while there’s that gun threatening more violence, not easy for the architect to simply call out for help. David makes the killer promise nobody else will get hurt. He further tries to talk his way out of the situation, hoping that he might somehow manage to suggest the right plan. Yet nothing works.
More trouble: the architect missed work and never called. This sends a co-worker to his door with the landlady. They knock to no answer. When the landlady opens the door the dog runs free and inside are the blood spatters and smears over the floor and the walls. No sign of David or Cunanan; they’re already in the car, heading out on the road, on the run.
Later, detectives get to the apartment building and the women fill them in on what’s been happening. David is well-liked, successful, and has lots of friends. Nobody knows immediately what could’ve went down. The detectives go in for a preliminary look around the apartment. There was no robbery, no forced entry, only the bloody clothes and hammer, a bunch of porn and poppers and some BDSM gear. The cops figure the sex + “extreme stuff” went wrong and David was killed.
Well, after a bit, David’s co-worker remembers Mr. Cunanan being a recent house guest at the apartment. The cops also figure out the architect isn’t the dead one rolled up in the carpet. On top of everything, they’re technically in the apartment illegally, which sends them back to get a warrant thinking David’s willingly gone with Andrew.
On the road, Andrew brings up Lee Miglin’s name, claiming he worked on a “couple projects” with him. The lies are endless. He says they’ll be able to get some cash from him to get them to Mexico. This bring us to another lie, that Cunanan’s been “moving product” over the border for years. He makes it sound like a vacation, whereas Madson realises his life is, effectively, over. He also wonders how everything will affect his family.
“The shame of it all; is that what I‘m running from?”
The cops go back to the apartment with their warrant and start in on forensics. They soon discover the body belongs to Trail. Detectives go visit Madson’s mother and father to tell them what’s occurred at the apartment, as well as make the mention David held many secrets.
At a bar off the highway, David tries making an escape in the bathroom, as Andrew’s busy listening to a woman play guitar and crying. Except Madson decides not to run after all, going back to the table with the killer. Despite Cunanan’s hideousness he is hurting, lonely, scared, and part of that is inextricably linked to his sexuality. Quick cut to a flashback of David when he came out to his father; dad doesn’t respond exactly how the son hoped, but still loves his boy.
David wakes and can’t find Andrew. He almost runs off, before the killer returns from the woods with his gun. They go to a diner to eat, chatting about when they first met in San Francisco. Soon it turns into a confrontation about Andrew’s lies, putting his nebulous identity at risk, and putting him on edge.
“You can‘t do it, can you?”
“I can‘t what?”
On the road again things go sour. Cunanan begins getting crazy, he pulls David out by the water off the highway and points a gun at him. The architect begs for his life, saying they’ll go on to Chicago and after that more adventuring. None of it convinces the just-budding serial killer. When David tries running he’s shot to death. The second victim of Cunanan.
What a fantastic episode. Really brings out more of the central issues to this season and the all around situation culminating in Versace’s killing. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is next time. Surely, judging by the title, we’ll get more of an exploration into the themes/issues surrounding homosexuality which played a part in Cunanan’s fragile headspace.