‘Trust’ Season Finale Captures Oil Tycoon Increasingly Alone With His Midas Touch

The kidnappers have been paid off, the young heir rejects his trust money and J. Paul Getty is left as alone as King Midas. Thus ends the first season of FX’s “Trust.” Beginning as an opulent portrait of decadent power then turning into a thriller/drama, the show used the famous 1973 kidnapping of Getty’s grandson to examine the morals and effects of limitless wealth. Now we are in the aftermath as the foundations of the Getty fortress begin to quake under the weight of the oil baron’s big schemes. It is an epilogue essentially, with some questions left hovering in the air, but nonetheless fascinating.

A restless calm now hangs over the Getty empire.  J. Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson) has been released from captivity by his Italian kidnappers after his grandfather, J. Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland) finally agreed to fork over a cool 2 million dollars for his release. Now Paul is focused on marrying his girlfriend, even after taking the bold step of disinheriting himself from his grandfather’s fortune. Trying to make sense of it all is Paul’s mother, Gail Getty (Hilary Swank), who can’t help but still love her son even when he hints the whole kidnapping might have been his idea, it simply spiraled out of control. Meanwhile the Italian kidnappers reap their rewards. This is particularly true of Primo (Luca Marinelli), begins taking care of any snitches so he can start investing the money in lucrative, mafia-backed enterprises. Kidnapping saga over, Getty himself is now fully focused on opening his grand project in California, an immense museum, modeled after a Roman villa, which will hold priceless artifacts for visitors to gasp at, while of course praising him.

For nine episodes it has been slightly difficult for “Trust” to fully deliver on the promise of its debauched series premiere. Praised for its visual style and energy, directed by co-creator Danny Boyle, it was a riveting portrait of a monster’s inner world. Getty as played by Sutherland is a virtual Roman emperor, living with great power which he wields to satisfy his whims. Even when his grandson is kidnapped he balks at the idea of simply giving up any money. He worships power, both in himself and as a concept. The show went beyond Ridley Scott’s 2017 thriller “All the Money in the World,” which recounted the Getty kidnapping in a condensed form, because here the panorama widened to become a richer portrait of the oil tycoon. Yet as the series progressed it was never boring, but sometimes stylistically uneven. The character of James Fletcher Chace (Brendan Fraser), ex-CIA man turned aide to the Gettys during the kidnapping ordeal, returns in the finale to provide a detached, sarcastic commentary that is funny, bringing an original, satirical tone to the show. But this character was vastly underused, and disappeared for the last couple of episodes before suddenly reappearing again to offer narration. In attempting to stretch out the kidnapping saga, some episodes would border on boring, such as an episode dedicated entirely to a Catholic confirmation party. There is also the gamble of hinting at Paul being behind the kidnapping, and even having the idea of cutting off his own ear. This is a dicey move for a show based on real life, and it should stay more coherent in order to make the gamble worth it.

Still, visually this has proven to be an immersive, distinctive show, with a dominating performance by Donald Sutherland. In the finale it becomes clear “Trust” was never really about the kidnapping of Paul by Italian thugs, but about Getty and what he represented. He tries to muscle the British Museum into selling him the Elgin Marbles for a billion dollars, boasting, “I am money, I can do whatever I want.” But not everything has a price and he can only sulk when the offer is rejected. He essentially tells his daughter-in-law where her baby will go for boarding school, only to be reminded that he made her sign a legal contract rejecting any claim to Getty perks. Slowly but surely the titan becomes caged in by his own world. He tries to block the flow of time by undergoing skin treatments to look younger, observing himself in the mirror like a godlike specimen. A darkly hilarious scene happens when Getty anxiously awaits the first reviews of his villa museum (which you can visit today), and they all slam his pretensions.

All of the finale features a melancholic air, momentarily broken by Chace’s fourth wall-breaking comments. Paul seems content getting married, holding a small ceremony which only his mother and an uncle attend. But with cryptic flashes it becomes clear not everything will end happily, as we see Paul later incapacitated in a wheelchair from drug use. Even his father, J. Paul Getty Jr. (Michael Esper), is fooled into entering a rehab facility for his own little habits. Getty himself is reduced to a pitiful figure. In a surreal scene evoking Midas, he sits at a table, distressed that everything he touches starts turning into gold. The only winner seems to be Primo, who uses his money to open a port operation, which Chace’s narration informs us, quickly becomes a key drug trafficking route. The killer revelation: Seen from above the port is shaped like an ear (Ridley must be dying for having missed that visual detail).

Will there be a “Trust” season 2? Danny Boyle claims he has a three season plan, while other writers have hinted the show could go back in time to Getty’s rise in the 1930s. It would indeed be wise to shift the timeline, as season one ends with a fitting epilogue to a story that feels more than complete. Of course, the thing about the halls of power is that great stories are always lurking in every corner. Oh how the mighty fall, and oh how we love to watch.

Trust” season one finale aired May 27 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.