Judith Light's powerful performance dominates a chilling episode of American Crime Story.
We always know when something isn't quite right, don't we? It's that finely-tuned Spidey Sense, the one that makes you feel unfailingly correct when you look at a close friend and say, "I can tell something's bothering you, might as well just tell me now." We've all learned how to listen to it, and we usually know when we had the chance to but didn't. It's that exact feeling that starts to nibble at the bottom of Marilyn Miglin's thoughts at the beginning of the latest installment of American Crime Story, and it follows her all the way from an HSN appearance in Toronto to the Chicago home she shares with her real estate developer husband, where his body will be found by a neighbor.
"A Random Killing" continues to work its way backwards from the titular July, 1997 murder, tracing Andrew Cunanan's killing spree back to the death of Lee Miglin (Mike Farrell). One can't help but wonder how long that feeling had been nibbling away at Marilyn Miglin's brain, as it quickly becomes clear that their union isn't as perfect as it's thought to be. The episode introduces us to Judith Light's Marilyn Miglin as she delivers an adulatory speech about her husband, referring to him as "the American Dream, personified." As soon as the two arrive home, though, Marilyn passive-aggressively points out that Lee can't even remember details about one of their much-recounted early, formative memories together.
The Miglins love each other, but they struggle deeply with the distance between what that love looks like and what it's supposed to look like.
Self-reflection plays a central role in "A Random Killing," from the way many characters are frequently shot in front of reflective surfaces, to the way both Lee and Marilyn have moments in which their public facade is dismantled to make way for a much more sobering inner truth. For Lee, it's his disintegration at the altar — his insistence on presenting as a devout, faith-led pillar of the community is so desperate that it's led to his installation of an in-house place of worship. For Marilyn it's the moment she realizes the finality with which she has lost her self-image of a successful woman in a traditional, nuclear family. The difference, of course, lies in their reaction to these moments. While Lee gives into the truth, Marilyn stifles it, insisting to the world that her husband's death was, indeed, a random killing.
Andrew is chaos personified, in this episode — he's a supporting player for the entire first half, serving only to impact The Lee and Marilyn Miglin Story, before exiting and returning only enough to set up his trajectory moving forward. Instead, the thematic heft of this hour belongs with Lee and Martha, Andrew's dismantling of their lives and everything they cherish further depicting the fallout of his short but brutal killing spree. Here, he's forced Marilyn to confront the parts of her life that she seems to have long-denied existed. Why would she ask such a gently needling question of Lee, if she didn't have at least some inkling that their marriage was dead in the water? To lose her successful marriage and successful family would be to lose her successful wife — so rather than discuss details that might lead to the solving of her husband's murder, Marilyn talks up her son's minor acting accomplishments to the detective on the scene.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace has been a study in denial. Andrew, denied any real way of visualizing or actualizing his own identity, has snapped to the point of making it his mission to dismantle and destroy the successful ones that he sees around him, from Miglin to Versace: nobody can be allowed to be comfortable in their own skin around Andrew, even if that comfort comes with a great inner conflict. He denies Versace his life, and Lee his legacy — their partners, in turn, are denied the stability their lives once knew.
"A Random Killing" slows things down a bit, dividing its hour up into neat segments: the first half takes us up to Lee's murder, while the third quarter shows Judith's reaction to it and the fourth sets up Andrew's trajectory immediately following it. Having stolen Lee's Lexus, Andrew makes his way East until the news somehow gets ahold of the fact that the authorities are able to track Andrew's location via Lee's cell phone. This prompts Andrew to fell his next victim and grab the guy's pickup truck on the way out, making his way towards Florida and we all know what else.
Oh, and also...
- Gwyneth Horder-Payton directed the absolute pants off this episode, keeping American Crime Story one of the most visually appealing shows on TV right now.
- The tape-mask thing is both a creepy recurring visual and a real-life detail from the actual murder scene.
- Horder-Payton's direction in that garage sequence was just brutally restrained and painfully beautiful.