American Crime Story
This is going to be less of a recap and more of a “For Your Consideration” ad for Judith Light. Give her all the Emmys. Give her every last one: Supporting Actress in What Used to Be Called a Mini-series, Guest Actress in Anything More Than 30 Minutes and Less Than Two Hours, Best Reality Television Show Host Who Is Not RuPaul. She has earned every single one of them in her turn as Home Shopping Network perfume maven Marilyn Miglin. (Here is the real-life Marilyn, for those of you who have never ordered anything through a television screen.)
The episode starts with Marilyn walking into her Chicago townhouse (which is decorated much like the TownHouse, New York’s historic gay piano bar, which should have been a clue) and she instantly knows that something is wrong. There is ice cream melting on the counter and a ham hock with a knife stuck in the middle of it on her husband’s desk. The mood is creepy as she enlists the help of some friendly neighbors to investigate the house. The scariest thing, though, isn’t that the house is empty and something obviously disturbing happened. The scariest thing is that the Miglins have a weird chapel in their basement, complete with a sectional. Why would someone need to sit on a sectional in his own home crypt? I guess to repent for his closeted homosexuality.
Anyway, Marilyn sits at the kitchen counter, clacking her nails in a way that’s reserved for tense television dramas and female villains in children’s movies. Eventually her neighbor finds her husband Lee’s body in the garage. “I knew it,” she whispers, sending shivers down my spine and getting awards nominations like quarters coming out of a slot machine. God, Judith Light is so good.
This episode is oddly structured, however. It’s clear that the series is moving backward, starting with the titular assassination and then finding out how the fashion designer and his spree killer got to that fateful moment. It’s also simultaneously following the manhunt for Andrew Cunanan both before and after Versace’s murder. In that way, each episode is a little bit like a whirlpool, going both forward and backward intermittently. Lee Miglin gets the same treatment as Gianni Versace, stringing the details of his encounter with Andrew out over the course of the hour while simultaneously showing the aftermath. Miglin is this episode’s Versace and there’s no Versace at all. (Ricky Martin’s bare ass was definitely missed.)
The other weird thing is that we see Andrew kill Lee before we find out why he wants to do it in the first place. We see Andrew as a menace who terrorizes a man in his own home, as a total monster. But there needs to be more to the story than that, right? Anyway, Andrew shows up to meet Lee while Marilyn is out of town and Lee has a sense of foreboding about his favorite sex worker calling him out of the blue and telling him he’s going to stop by the house.
The two have a less-than-entertaining evening, where Andrew skulks around the house, asking Lee about his plans. Lee shows him the drawings for the Sky Needle, what he hoped would be the tallest building in the world, and Andrew gets upset that Lee doesn’t want to have his name on it. He can’t imagine anyone doing anything for a reason other than getting recognition. He knows he wants to leave his mark on the world, but he’s just not sure how he’s going to do it.
“I’m not like most escorts. I’m not like most anybody. I could almost be, a husband. Or a partner. I really could, almost,” he tells Lee, as if he’s asking for a ring. As if he’s asking for legitimacy and the entrée into polite society that he’s always craved but been denied. This is where things get murky, though. I’m just assuming these things because we don’t know enough about Andrew or his motivations to know for sure.
Finally, Andrew tapes Lee’s head up in duct tape just like he did his john in Miami in last week’s episode. This seemed like a specific kink for that john, but it’s actually something Andrew likes to do, something that gets him off. “You’re so dominant out there and so pathetic in here. But you like being pathetic, don’t you?” he asks Lee while lording over him. Is it that Lee likes to be pathetic or that Andrew likes to be dominant? That he likes to be in control over these rich men who pay him for sex?
Andrew’s ultimate anger seems to be a coupling of Lee not wanting to marry him and Lee wanting to stay in the closet. Maybe he thinks that if Lee came out, he could get what he wants, or maybe it’s his perverted idea of a political statement. Andrew thinks that men who aren’t brave enough to live life honestly should be punished. We know this because he threatens Lee by telling him that his body will be found in women’s underwear, surrounded by gay-porn magazines. Or maybe this is meant to be the ultimate humiliation, outing his secret lover to the world.
That plan is thwarted when the police, obviously in the Miglin family’s back pocket thanks to their years of donations, refuse to disclose any details about the murder. “He won’t steal my good name. Our good name,” Marilyn says. “We worked too hard to make that good name, and we made it together.” Marilyn is still clutching onto the illusion that her husband was faithful, good, and, most of all, straight.
Through this swirl of story, we learn all about Lee and Marilyn’s marriage and how they helped each other become moguls and prominent residents of Chicago society. They even had kids together, and Marilyn thought that they were truly partners. She had no idea that he was hiring hustlers on all of his business trips. Or did she? Was that “I knew it” less about the body and more that something weird was going on with Lee all along?
Marilyn continues to insist that her husband was killed so that his car could be stolen, and that it was a random act of violence. Ironically, the random act of violence happens later, when Andrew figures out he’s being tracked by the gigantic Zack Morris cell phone in Lee’s car. He finds a red pickup somewhere in South Carolina, follows the driver home, and shoots him point blank in the head while he pleads for his life. That is the “random killing” of the episode’s title, not the plotted-out bashing of Lee Miglin’s head with a sack of concrete.
This episode really digs into the conflicted emotions and motivations of all the people affected by these crimes. It’s as much about Marilyn Miglin as it is about anyone else, and how her life was forever altered because of all of these men, many of whom she never even met. Just like last year’s O.J. chapter, ACS is at its best when it’s trying to find the humanity in everyone, even the most despicable of creatures.
The episode started with Marilyn, so it’s fitting that it ends with her too, as she publicly mourns her husband’s death to sell pheromone perfume on national television. She tells a story: When she started her broadcasting career, a friend told her to “think of the little red light as the man you love.” She stares into the little red light of the camera and closes her eyes. With that, chills rushed throughout my body, and Emmys erupted from the sky like a blizzard that had been building for weeks.