The bad news: there’s no new episode of American Crime Story: Versace this week. Good news: we still have episode five, entitled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to talk about.
More good news: Gianni Versace is finally back, even if most of the episode takes place even further back in the past. Seriously, I was under the impression that most of this season was going to be about the relationship between Versace and Andrew, but that doesn’t look to be the case anymore. Oh, well.
The message that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hits the audience with relates back to the idea of homosexuality — what does it mean to come out as gay? Is it easier for some people? Harder? Or is it just different?
We start with Versace arguing with Donatella about coming out. Versace’s scheduled an interview with Advocate magazine in which he plans to reveal his secret, which Donatella says is a bad idea. It’ll hurt their brand, after all, and the world isn’t ready for this kind of announcement.
Versace, with Antonio at his side (who may or may not have his own motives here, as he’s been called Gianni’s assistant for the past 13 years and wants to make a name for himself), still plans to go forward with it though, despite Donatella’s dissatisfaction.
Then we go back in time, before the murder of Jeff Trail — a move that seems odd at the time, but eventually makes sense by the end of the episode.
Andrew is booking a flight to Minneapolis to see his two best friends — Jeff and David. He’s low on money, injecting heroin into his toes and lives in a pretty empty and sad living space. But we do see an important, albeit, hidden image: a collage of Gianni Versace, with the Advocate interview at the heart of it.
At the airport, David and Jeff are reluctantly waiting for him. Neither of them is particularly happy to see Andrew — especially Jeff, who thinks Andrew is a creep after he “accidentally” sent a postcard to Jeff’s dad that tried to out him as gay. Yet, both of them owe Andrew in some way, so they’re more or less forced to show up.
That doesn’t mean they plan to be around the whole weekend, though. Jeff is letting Andrew stay in his apartment, while he plans to stay at his sister’s (who is pregnant and due any day now). The less he has to interact with Andrew the better.
Instead, Andrew goes home with David. David doesn’t particularly care for Andrew either, but he’s at least sympathetic towards him. At least, he is initially. That feeling doesn’t last too long when Andrew to gives him a $10,000 watch and proposes — something David has no interest in accepting. To make matters worse, Andrew won’t even take no for an answer. He tells him to think it over for the weekend, assuming David will change his mind in that time.
The situation goes downhill from there. David takes Andrew along with him to a polka club that night to meet up with one of his co-workers. David introduces Andrew as a friend, only for Andrew to get offended and re-introduce himself as a lover. After hearing Andrew make up a bunch of lies about what he does for a living, David can’t take it anymore: he tells him flat-out that he will never marry him.
Andrew heads back to Jeff’s house in a saddened glaze, unsure of how to react or what he’ll do next. He starts poking around Jeff’s belongings, only to find his Navy uniform. He takes it out, puts on the hat and then finds a hidden VHS tape at the bottom of it.
Putting it in, we see a news report that’s covering the topic of homosexuals in the military. All of the witnesses are anonymous, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the blackened shadow we hear speaking in the video is Jeff.
Then we go to ANOTHER flashback, two years earlier when Jeff is in the Navy. We first see Jeff break up a fight in which a sailor is being mercilessly beaten for being gay. Later that night the same thing happens again — the sailor is being attacked, and Jeff saves his life.
Jeff brings the sailor into the bathroom to look at his injuries. He tries to offer him some advice (just leave, he says), but winds up just silently comforting him. And, of course, that’s right when someone walks into the room and sees him.
The two aren’t beaten to death right there, thankfully. Instead, the man that saw him tries to intimidate Jeff the next day. He says that a gay sailor is going to identify all the other homosexuals on board by revealing what tattoos they have (the sailor doesn’t actually know their names, in this story).
Jeff just so happens to have a tattoo on his leg. After unsuccessfully trying to remove it with a knife (a scene that made me want to vomit), Jeff decides to give up and hang himself in the bathroom.
After gasping for air for a few minutes, he changes his mind just in time. Instead, he decides to try something else — he’ll embrace it.
He heads off to a gay bar, clearly out-of-place and uncomfortable. Yet, that’s where he happens to run into Andrew, and suddenly we realize what Jeff meant when he said he owed Andrew. The two hit it off that night (Andrew once again proves he’s perfectly capable of being friendly and charming when he so pleases), and Jeff suddenly feels a lot better about himself.
Better enough to where he agrees to do this anonymous interview for CBS, talking about his experiences as a gay man in the military. We then cut back-and-forth between the Jeff interview and the Versace interview with Advocate, showing the difficulty that different figures in different lines of work have in coming out as gay.
Cut back to the day of Jeff’s murder. Jeff walks in on Andrew, still in his apartment. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that Andrew touched his uniform, and Jeff rightfully freaks out. After arguing for a bit, which ends with Jeff saying “No one wants your love,” Andrew leaves to head back to David’s place.
We know the rest from there, seen in the previous episode. However, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hits us with one last heartbreaking moment. We end this week’s edition of Versace in Jeff’s house, seeing his Navy uniform laying out on the bed. We hear the phone ringing again and again — his sister has gone into labor, and his parents are calling to tell him to come on down to the hospital.
Too bad the apartment is empty and we know the truth: Jeff (and David) are dead.