Entertainment » Television

Recapping 'Versace': Episode 5, 'Don't Ask Don't Tell'

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Feb 15, 2018

After two straight weeks of no titular Versace, the fifth episode "The Assassination of Gianni Versace" called "Don't Ask Don't Tell," again directed by Daniel Minahan and written by Tom Rob Smith, opens up with a tense scene featuring the designer, his sister Donatella (Penelope Cruz) and partner Antonio D'Amico (Ricky Martin), arguing whether on Gianni (Edgar Ramirez) should come out as gay to the public.

The scene highlights what the show pointed at earlier in the season - the rift between Antonio and Donatella over the designer's love and attention. In the scene, Donatella warns that Gianni publicly coming would hurt the business as they're opening stories in countries that have laws against homosexuality and that stars would no longer wear Versace clothes.

"At least we'd still have Elton," Gianni jokes.

The title of the episode, "Don't Ask Don't Tell," refers to the Clinton era policy of the same name that barred gay military members from openly serving and its theme is about the dangers of the closet. The episode mostly focuses on 28-year-old Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock), who was the first murder victim of Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), and was directly impacted by "DADT."

Opening with the pressures of Gianni not being able to live an open life as a gay man underscores Jeff's heartbreaking story.

The episode also goes even further back in time, before Andrew murdered his friends, Jeff and David Madson (Cody Fern), which we saw last week in "House by the Lake." It's a bit jarring that we saw the two characters brutally murdered last week and now we're getting their backstory. It can also be difficult to keep facts in line as the story unfolds, especially for viewers who are not familiar with Andrew's story.


Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace and Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace in a scene from "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story." Photo credit: Ray Mickshaw/FX

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" also shows Andrew's drug addiction - the first time we see him here, he's injecting heroin into his foot. We also see that both David and Jeff are fed up with Andrew, who shows up in Minneapolis unannounced. Andrew is in love with David, who is basically tolerating him, and gives him an expensive watch, asking him to marry him. When David takes Andrew to a polka theme bar where his coworkers are partying, Andrew spews his lies, claiming his building sets to the movie "Titanic" in Mexico. Later, on the dance floor, David tries to tell Andrew that they can't get married.

"Even if we could, we can't," David says, referring to the country's then-ban on same-sex marriage.

After breaking it off with Andrew, Andrew ends up staying at Jeff's empty apartment. Jeff, who now works at a propane delivery company, is staying with his pregnant sister, who tells him he should come out to their parents. As he rummages through Jeff's home, Andrew puts on his Navy outfit, finds Jeff's gun, and puts on a VHS tape. The tape is a news report about gay people serving in the military.

"I don't think faggots should serve in the military for their own safety," says a military person in the video.

Another military member says they're afraid of gay men more than war.

The report then shifts it an anonymous gay man, who turns out to be Jeff.

"A majority of gays in the military are closeted and will always be closeted," Jeff, whose face is blacked out, says in the report. Jeff's voice catches Andrew's attention, who loads the gun and starts to point it at the TV that shows Jeff.

"What about you?" the reporter asks Jeff.


Finn Wittrock as Jeffrey Trail, Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan in a scene from "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story." Photo credit: Ray Mickshaw/FX

"I cant' help feeling by talking to you it's the end of my career. But maybe my career actually died a long time ago," he continues. "Because they know. I saved a sailor's life once.

"He was being beaten to death for being gay," Jeff adds. "If I hadn't stopped them... no one would have suspected me. I did a good thing and I can't tell you how many times I've dreamt about taking that moment back and letting him die."

The episode then delves deeper into Jeff's military life, where is seen saving the beaten soldier and comforting him. Winnrock is excellent here, working with Minahan 's direction and Smith's writing, nailing what it must have felt like to be paranoid in being discovered as gay. The paranoia and self-hate get too much for Jeff at one point. He puts on his navy suit and attempts to hang himself, but doesn't go through with it.

The episode cuts back to when Jeff first meets Andrew at a gay bar. Here, Andrew is poised, cool and completely charming, listening to Jeff tell his story of being a closeted military member. Later on, a less charismatic Andrew is stern with Jeff, telling him that he should leave the military over its anti-gay policy.

Later the episode does something incredibly dynamic, cutting between Jeff's anonymous interview and Gianni and Antonio speaking with The Advocate, where Versace comes out as a gay man. They are both harrowing moments that explore how being in the closet have limited the aspirations of gay men, who were not allowed to live freely and be themselves.

The end of the episode returns to April 1997 on the morning of Jeff's murder, which took place last week. Jeff returns to his apartment to find it torn apart by Andrew and the two argue. Andrew says the military never cared about him because he's gay and had to serve while closeted. Jeff blames Andrew for how his life ended up - leaving the military as a high-ranking official and working at a propane company.

"I want my life back as a soldier," Jeff says.

"They don't want you. I wanted you," Andrew says.

"I don't know you I don't know what you stand for or who you are. You're a liar. You have no honor," Jeff says.

That sets off Andrew, who lays into Jeff.


Finn Wittrock as Jeffrey Trail in a scene from "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story." Photo credit: Ray Mickshaw/FX

"Oh please, you're not in the Navy anymore sweetie," he says. "You're a washed up queer in a shitty job in a shitty condo bitching about how you could have been someone."

Andrew says he "saved" Jeff, who says Andrew "destroyed him" and that he wishes he never met Andrew.

"I loved you," Andrew says as he calmly touches Jeff. Jeff pushes him away and screams, "No one wants your love!"

Andrew says nothing and leaves Jeff's home with his gun in his bag, heading to David's home. The two make plans to talk about Andrew "getting help" for later that night - when Andrew kills Jeff and runs away with David.

Once Jeff discovers his gun is missing, he calls Andrew at David's home and tells him he's coming to get it but that he's "done" with him. The episode then replays the moments leading up to Jeff's murder from last week, when David opens the door for Jeff. This time, we see things from Andrew's perspective, where he grabs the hammer and waits by the door to strike Jeff. It's a chilling and intense scene that gives Andrew's murder another dimension a disturbing, depressing layer.

In what might be the most tragic and devastating moment in the entirety of "The Assassination of Gianna Versace," the episode then cuts to Jeff's sister giving birth. The camera pans over Jeff's empty apartment as his parents leave several messages on his answering machine.

"Hey, Jeff. It's mom. Where are you... It's mom again, your sister delivered a beautiful baby girl."

"We'll see you soon, we love you. Bye," Jeff's father says as the episode closes on a shot of Jeff's navy hat.

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