The best episodes of Trust so far haven’t really trafficked in ensemble drama, despite the impressiveness of the ensemble cast at the show’s disposal, a potent mix of stars and unfamiliar-to-U.S. faces. The series-best installments (“Lone Star” and last week’s “Silenzio”) aren’t just solo shows or two-handers, and they do make some use of the show’s ensemble. But they also drill down into a specific character or situation a little more than the checking-in-with-four-or-five-subplots-of-eight-total rhythm of the typical prestige cable drama. Splicing this carefully constructed, deliberately paced approach with more traditional ensemble check-ins can really slow the pace, even in the cross-cut subplots have some thematic unity. So if last week was an example of how a lengthy series can take some productive detours that don’t necessarily move the plot along in the most expedient fashion, this week’s “John, Chapter 11” is an example of how 10 hours of show can leave a lot of extra time to fill, and that can be a drag, even if that time is filled with a fair amount of craft.
That is to say: About half of this episode consists of characters reacting to a death that hasn’t actually happened. We last saw Little Paul facing down the barrel of a shotgun, face splattered with his captor-turned-friend’s blood. This episode opens with the discovery of a burnt body on a beach, intercut with Gail’s memories of her son as a baby. It’s not unheard of to toggle between glimpses of a character’s life and moments of his death (or in this case, moments not long after his supposed death), but as an Italian man emerges from a swim to discover the body and Gail runs through her memories with a distinctly (some might say obviously) home-movie texture, new series director Jonathan Van Tulleken (on hand for this episode and the next one) weaves the images together with enough poetic flow to put us into Gail’s headspace.
Of course, it doesn’t take knowledge of the Getty case to know that the corpse on the beach isn’t Paul’s; all you really need to know is that this is episode six of 10. That’s also not to say that there’s no drama in knowing that Paul isn’t actually dead. But, again, nearly half of this episode consists of charting characters’ reactions to a death that hasn’t taken place. It’s kind of a neat idea, and it also isn’t especially surprising or insightful. Paul’s mother turns inward with grief. His grandfather turns more inward than we’re used to seeing, at least, and gets closer to brief that usual. His father turns outward, blaming his own father for his son’s demise while turning to hard drugs to numb his own pain (or possibly just using his son as an excuse).
These scenes do allow for Donald Sutherland to play some uncharacteristically reflective and sympathetic moments for the Getty patriarch, showing some genuine (if not exactly self-examining) remorse over his grandson’s perceived death, and musing that his own birth was considered “scant replacement for a baby girl” that his family lost prior to his conception. Seeing Gail’s home-movie-meets-Tree Of Life memories of Paul gives some weight to her feelings, too, but ultimately we don’t learn much about Gail during “John, Chapter 11” than we didn’t already know.
Her memories are, at least, the catalyst for declaring Paul un-dead. Flipping through these mental fragments, she recalls that while the corpse in question may have been wearing Paul’s shoes (or favored shoe style), the real Paul very rarely wore shoes if he could avoid it. Kind of a flimsy lead, granted, but it gets her to investigate, and find out that no, Paul is not yet a goner. Then the episode basically switches over to a series of reactions to him being alive.
Before the plot kicks back in, Van Tulleken does get in some bracing filmmaking during what feels otherwise a bit like downtime. He’s more reliant on canted angles, especially during wide shots, to create visual interest, but he has some more innovative tricks up his sleeve, like a chilling series of self-interrupting repeated shots that make it unclear whether the elder Paul’s drug use is happening in a binge or on a bender. There’s also a harrowing re-introduction to the non-dead Paul, who wakes suddenly from a nightmare about his recapturing via Primo, filling in a few gaps both on a story level and on a Paul’s-mental-well-being level.
Anyway, in the last section of the episode, Getty finds out that his grandson isn’t dead, and sets out for Rome. For all the silence, confusion, and miscommunication between the kidnappers and the Getty family, it proves weirdly easy for Getty to summon a meeting with at least some of the associated kidnappers, something I’m not sure if the show expects us to take as a sign of just how uninterested Getty was in actually taking care of this, or kind of a surreal example of Getty’s power and pull. It has the presumably unintentional effect of making long stretches of previous episodes feel a little pointless in retrospect, though.
Getty negotiates (or as he says it, “nego-si-ates”) his way to a $5 million ransom. But he then takes some advice about his potential disowning of his family to his shriveled, embittered heart, and reveals to his own associates that he expects his son Paul to actually pay the ransom in question. This twist feels, however momentarily, like a sitcom, of all things. That’s not a complete knock on the show; it specifically feels like an Arrested Development episode where matters seem to resolve but a family member’s cunning, greed, or stubbornness will essentially undo everything that’s just been tied up, and that’s not a bad bit of TV to evoke. But on less complimentary terms, it’s reminiscent of one of those second-season Arrested episodes where which Bluth kid is in charge of the company rotates merrily, pointlessly, and constantly. Agreeing to a $5 million ransom and then asking someone who clearly doesn’t have the money to pay it is a total Bluth move. So maybe it turns out the Bluths were just ripping off the Getty family all along? However it shakes out, it leaves this week’s episode feeling a little like a well-wrought, often interesting, semi-pointless burn.
- This Week In All The Money: I’m getting worse at this check-in. I vaguely remember Ridley Scott’s movie having some moment where Getty wants his fuck-up son to (impossibly) take care of the ransom, but there’s way more emphasis on Little Paul’s mangled ear than there is on any corpse misidentification. This might be one area where the movie’s more condensed version makes more dramatic sense.
- Van Tulleken’s claim to a total lack of fame: He wrote and directed a segment of the notoriously terrible comedy anthology feature Movie 43. I totally paid to see Movie 43 in a theater but I have almost no recollection of Van Tulleken’s “Machine Kids” segment, apparently a fake PSA about kids trapped in machines (like, inside arcade claw machines? Dishwashers? I really don’t know). This might be a good sign as I remember that horrible Hugh Jackman-with-testicles-on-his-chin “sketch” vividly. (I do also vaguely recall that a handful of Movie 43 sketches were actually kind of funny. Not “build a feature around this” funny, mind, but not quite testicles-on-chin terrible.)
- Brendan Fraser gets kind of a mini-sequel to his “Lone Star” episode with a little anecdote combining his answer to a mafia flunkie’s question with old footage of both football and the Vietnam War. Cool but at the same time contributing to the episode’s slightly grab-baggy feel.
- Is it weird that Donald Sutherland and especially Hilary Swank have only played supporting roles in most of the episodes so far? I mean, they’ve both had plenty to do, but enough characters have gotten large chunks of episodes devoted to them that it feels weird to not yet have a spotlight episode for Swank, especially given how heavily she figures into this one’s bits of plot. Maybe it’s still to come? But I’m getting the odd feeling that she won’t get a Fraser-style semi-solo episode at all.