“Stories don’t just stop,” says Fletcher Chace (Brendan Fraser) in the tenth and final-for-now episode of Trust. It’s an acknowledgment that doesn’t necessarily surface in a typical season, or even series, finale. Plenty of prestige dramas are fine with some degree of ambiguity, both as a means of drama and keeping viewers on the hook, should the opportunity for further seasons arise. But even future seasons of Trust probably wouldn’t follow many of these characters from this particular chapter of Getty drama, so this episode is concerned with the aftermath of the kidnapping, as it reverberates out across the (real-life) characters’ lives – “Consequences,” as Chace scrawls on screen to give the episode its title, but not necessarily the tying of all loose ends.
Maybe it’s appropriate that Trust comes to an end with an anticlimax by design, as well as an in-episode warning that this anticlimax can’t really (or won’t) work as a proper ending. Spoilers, of sorts, were always available for the broad arc of this season via Wikipedia or your news-summary source of choice, and, moreover, the show doesn’t seem to have turned into the kind of culture-world nailbiter that somehow alchemizes yesterday’s headlines into a must-see event. Trust was hyped as Danny Boyle’s foray into series television, and indeed I often reviewed it as such even when Boyle wasn’t directing, but well before “White Car In A Snowstorm,” last week’s episode that ended with Little Paul returned to his mother Gail, the show had ceased to really feel like Boyle’s baby, despite taking some interesting narrative risks.
It’s also appropriate that, in a lot of ways, “Consequences” is a more interesting episode than the more classically suspenseful “White Car” (that episode, as well as its predecessor, were not reviewed here when regular coverage of Trust was cut off; I’ll get into them briefly in wrapping up the series proper today). “Consequences” gets its juice in part from a recapturing of an energy that one of the earliest and best (and Boyle-directed) episodes used, and in part out of the odd spectacle of the show circling back to some stylistic tics it intentionally avoided using throughout the series. Fraser returning to the role of the wry narrator is an undeniably enjoyable device, just as it was way back in “Lone Star,” and is a neat callback to that episode, picking up a conversation that had been left dangling weeks ago. But it also feels, at times, like too little, too late. A show about the Getty family narrated by the (in this telling, anyway) somewhat minor figure of Fletcher Chace might have offered a distinctive point of view. That’s obviously not what Boyle and Simon Beaufoy had in mind for the full series, but using the device occasionally, instead of as a clear one-off, makes it feel like maybe they kinda wished they did.
Even so, Trust is smart to realize that none of the dangling story threads, such as they are, really warrant their own episodes; based on “In The Name Of The Father,” the episode that took place mostly at a Catholic confirmation party, following the disarray of the kidnappers from Calabria after Getty cancels the ransom meeting, the show could have easily spun out any number of minor stories into their own episodes. In theory, I love that kind of attention to detail, that willingness to take a few steps away from (if not outright avoid) the chapter-by-chapter structure of modern cable drama. But, on the other, “In The Name Of The Father” was a boring-ass episode and one of the clearest signs that this mini-series could have been even mini-er—at six episodes or so, Trust might have been a real corker. (I’d say it might have been even better as a feature film, but, you know, the Ridley Scott movie can try to make a liar out of me, as I still prefer this series to the movie; not nothing, from a movie partisan like me. But I do think a proper Danny Boyle movie made from this material might have been better than either the show or Scott’s film.) So the fragmentary nature of “Consequences” makes sense in the context of this sometimes exciting, often meandering series.
The main fragment the episode addresses is Little Paul confessing to planning his own kidnapping, a heartbreaker for his mom Gail, who has spent so much of the series fighting so hard to get him back. There are two different things at work here that make this story less compelling than it might be. One has plagued the series from the start, or however long it took any given viewer to realize that Little Paul is not all that interesting as a person. The other has always been there, but took a little longer to emerge: The notion that the youngest Getty did, in fact, stage his own kidnapping.
Though the “real” facts on this still seem pretty watery, Trust has taken it as a given that Li’l Getty was the guy who came up with this plot, even if he spiraled way out of his control—which is fine. But because this isn’t a dramatic revelation to the audience, Gail’s betrayal doesn’t feel quite as vivid as it should. It makes sense on paper: She was so deathly worried about her son, thinking she might never see him again, and it turned out to be his own fault. But his confession doesn’t seem like a full rebuke of her worry. He really was in danger. He really did lose an ear (though per “Name Of The Father,” that’s supposedly his idea, too). He really did come close to death. What does it really matter if he screwed up months earlier? Trust doesn’t really try to answer that question; fair enough. But it makes for a vaguely unsatisfying end to both Gail’s story and Little Paul’s, after any number of episodes that featured Gail but never quite felt like they defined her as a person outside of her husband and son.
In any event, Gail and Little Paul are not the only characters facing consequences, though they’re probably the ones who most clearly realize it. There’s some time exploring a parallel “kidnapping,” as the elder Getty calls his paying a “ransom” for the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon. He’s willing to pony up half a billion dollars to a museum to liberate them—a sum many times greater, of course, than what he was willing to pay for his grandson’s life. “Consequences” has a pretty damning scene for Getty’s son Paul, too; one of the most low-key chilling moments has him angrily taking a stand against attending Little Paul’s wedding, coming with it the realization that his angry stand against his father’s ransom agreement wasn’t enough for him, wasn’t the key to his happiness, and that he’ll be raging against someone or another for the rest of his life. His girlfriend tricks him into a rehab clinic, and we see glimpses of his son’s future, descending into drug abuse, just like his old man. The oldest man, of course, is Donald Sutherland’s J. Paul Getty, who is also seen visiting his baby son, only to be rebuffed by the mother, who doesn’t want her kid having any part of the Getty dynasty. The show leaves Getty in a very Boyle-ish hallucinatory scene where everything he touches literally turns to gold, leaving him unable to eat or drink or do much of anything. He is alone. All three of the Getty men, the show hints, wind up alone.
The sometimes-impressionistic images, often unburdened with direct explanation of what will happen to everyone involved, are offered from woozy, canted, sometimes super-distorted angles by director Susanna White, who helmed both this episode and “White Car.” She also directed the British spy thriller Our Kind Of Traitor, working with cinematography Anthony Dod Mantle, who has shot most of Boyle’s recent films (fingers crossed he gets to do the next Bond!). Trust remains a visually distinctive show even without Boyle, and has done a nice job spotlighting the varied but coherent talents of directors like White and Dawn Shadforth. A tighter version might have been one of the best miniseries of the year.
What’s most surprising about the Trust finale is that while Fraser’s Chace insists that stories don’t just stop at convenient places, this one ultimately doesn’t feel like it has a lot of other places to go anyway, even without following all of the Getty family to their literal ends. The figurative scene of Getty’s empty house of finery turning to gold around him, hard and inedible and suffocating, more than suffices. As such, it both proves Chace’s point (the end of a kidnapping is not the end of the story for everyone involved) and undercuts it (really, do you care much about what happens next to any of these people?).
The real ending is supplied by Fraser, and it’s a neat gambit to end a Getty show on an image of a polite, observant employee quietly realizing he needs to reconnect with his son. But it’s not a particularly rich or complex lesson from a character who, we realize, might have had more charm than depth all along. “Charm” isn’t what I’d call what Trust had, but it’s a similar situation: A show made with a lot of skill and intelligence, but ultimately may not have been complex enough to require ten whole episodes.
- Best episodes of Trust: “Lone Star” (Episode 2), “That’s All Folks” (Episode 4), “Silenzio” (Episode 5).
- Worst episodes of Trust: “John, Chapter 11” (Episode 6) and “In The Name Of The Father” (Episode 8), though only “Father” would dip below a B-minus for me.
- MVP: Despite my misgivings for the way the show returns to his character, Brendan Fraser! Welcome back.
- Though my completionist tendencies were unsatisfied by skipping episodes 8 and 9, I’m honestly not sure if I would have had anything all that insightful to say about them that I didn’t say in this review.
- Thanks very much to anyone following along with this series! Though the comment threads here were not voluminous, I really enjoyed reading them and chatting with the few, the proud, the ambivalent-but-generally-engaged Trust fans.