Photo: Philippe Antonello (FX)

Though Trust has jumped back and forth in time a bit, especially when it was initially gathering the (fictionalized) details of the Getty kidnapping in the first few episodes, it’s a little surprising that it’s taken until “Kodachrome,” the seventh episode of the series, to produce something that could reasonably be called a flashback episode. Plenty of the action still takes place in the show’s present tense, of course, but this is probably the most sustained treatment of the story as something vaguely Lost-y, where action in the present proceeds, informed by an ongoing flashback throughout the episode that takes up probably half or so of its screentime.

The subject of the flashback is J. Paul Getty Jr. (Michael Esper), son of the Getty patriarch and father of the kidnapping victim, who has mostly appeared as an underloved fuck-up in a family full of underloved fuck-ups. This episode’s flashback material centers mostly on the time that Paul was given a chance to run a major part of his father’s business, initially intended to be located in the Middle East for at least a few years, but switched at the last minute (seemingly because of a deceptively and uncharacteristically pleasant bit of Getty family interaction) to be based out of Rome, which also seems to be located directly under his father’s thumb. The mild surprise is that Paul doesn’t come across as feckless as he does earlier in the season; he really is willing to work hard and learn the ropes at his father’s company, but is handed an unwinnable situation where he’s expected both to make bold leadership decisions and defer to his father in all matters. Essentially, Paul, who is trying to provide for his wife Gail and their children, is expected to do exactly what his father would do in any given situation, and face disgruntled employees and/or a disappointed dad-boss if he doesn’t, and maybe at least one of the two anyway, even if he does.

This does some work to deepen Paul’s character—though like “little” Paul, there may be a limit on just how interesting this guy is going to be, yet another curse of living in the shadow of the more compelling and far less human Getty patriarch. As his frustration with his job builds, director Jonathan Van Tulleken brings out some of the episode’s most inventive tricks: subtitles that crumble and collapse as it becomes apparent that it doesn’t much matter what the just-fired Getty employee ranting at Paul is saying, and a shot that makes several 360-degree rotations as Paul rages through his office, with Gail and Little Paul appearing in the doorway and then excusing themselves again. These little stylistic touches are more interesting than the full Paul-messing-up scenes that surround it. 

“Kodachrome” doesn’t really need to get into boardroom frustration to show the kinds of cruel games the elder Getty plays, whether or not he even considers himself to be doing so, or even realizes he’s playing them. As portrayed in the flashbacks, Getty turns everything into a ruthlessly all-or-nothing proposition. Sutherland has rarely (in this series, anyway) looked more like the straight-up devil than in the early scene where he has a private talk with his son at a restaurant, enticing Paul as he talks about fulfilling the “appetites” he clearly shares with his old man (for women, for money, for fancy food; for whatever, really) and explaining that getting a lot will make you want it all.

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Of course, he doesn’t mention that his own tendency to want it all doesn’t really leave much for family. In a twisted way, it makes sense that, with both his son and his grandson and probably everyone else (like the woman he wants to spitefully leave one solitary dollar in his will), Getty tends to think in terms of awarding millions of dollars/massive power/enormous promotions, or cutting and shunning, with very little middle ground between the two.

It’s sink or swim, in other words, which is how another flashback scene proceeds: Little Paul, during the family’s brief moment of semi-togetherness, wants his grandfather to teach him how to swim. After minimal pressing, Getty obliges him by tossing him in the water with his clothes on and imploring his parents not to rescue him right away. At first, I honestly wasn’t sure if this scene unfolds with well-wrought inevitability or just predictability, because it seems obvious as soon as Getty asks his grandson if he can swim that this is how their moment together will end. That Getty is asking at all does feel like a dramatic shortcut, until you consider the chilling manipulation behind the manufactured nature of the question. Paul asks his grandfather to teach him to swim, but they’re only talking about it because Getty brought it up. That’s Getty’s family relationships in a nutshell: They always feel like part of an unwinnable game.

“Kodachrome” reflects on its characters’ past with a technique that’s a little hoary, if title-appropriate: In the present, as Getty gathers the agreed-upon $5 million in ransom, his son Paul despairs and throws on a bunch of home movies, mostly taken by Little Paul, who has a sometimes too-convenient 8mm-camera habit that just happens to capture key moments in his parents’ collapsing quasi-open marriage, as well as those fleeting moments where the Gettys behaved “like a proper family,” as Paul says. It’s Paul’s looks into the past that fuel the episode’s big present-day showdown, where Getty reveals the details of his insistence at the end of last week’s episode that Paul would be paying his son’s ransom. He will front the money to pay for Little Paul’s return, but it will come out of Paul Jr.’s trust, and Paul Jr. will have to pay back this “loan” with interest—in other words, Getty will generate income from his grandson’s kidnapping and his son’s ransom-paying. Paul, briefly grateful that his father appeared to be giving him something, flies into a rage and refuses the deal, possibly dooming his son and leading to the striking if heavy-handed image of Paul back in his home, weeping as an 8mm image of his father looms over him, and then burns out from a projector fire.

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The Getty family conflict gives “Kodachrome” an episodic focus the show doesn’t always commit to; save for a few mini-scenes with Little Paul and his minders, most of the episode serves the explicate the relationship between Paul and his father. But, as mentioned, learning more about Paul’s drug use, or how it cost his post-Gail love her life, or the motivations behind his status as an angry fuck-up, doesn’t necessarily make him more compelling in the long run; he’s just more empathetic. I’m starting to feel like Trust finds so much interest in its tangents because there’s sometimes a sort of Getty-appropriate hollowness at its center.

Stray observations:

  • Actually, more of an announcement: For any of you still reading Trust weekly episode reviews, I’m sorry to say this is the end of the A.V. Club’s regular coverage. I’ll be returning to review the finale in a few weeks, so we’re only missing a few episodes, which I’ll try to address briefly in my finale piece. Thanks for watching along and reading!

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