The series premiere of Danny Boyle’s highly anticipated Trust is an introduction to its two main characters: John Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland) and his grandson John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson). The elder Getty is one of the richest men in the world, someone mentioned in the same breath as the Rockefellers and the Kennedys. “The House of Getty” is designed to draw us into his world of excess: John Paul has a harem of women, 17 bedrooms, decadent taste, precise routines, and disdain for almost everyone around him, especially the branches of his family tree. Within this world of privilege, a saga of crime, betrayal, and sin will unfold over ten episodes, anchored by the tight direction of an Oscar-winning filmmaker and his phenomenal cast.
Trust opens not with oil or money but flowers. A young man, who we will learn is the grandson of J. Paul Getty, is running through the flowers. Cut to a shot of the Hollywood sign, altered to tell us that it’s 1973, as “Money” by Pink Floyd plays over a tracking shot of beautiful people on a lavish estate. As a party band sings the hit, George Getty II is freaking out in his garage. He’s flailing around, and ultimately grabs a barbecue fork to stab himself in the chest. It’s later revealed that he had a number of drugs in his system that might have killed him anyway, but the official death was suicide by grilling item.
That’s not news that someone as image-conscious as John Paul Getty wants revealed to the world. Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy use these early scenes to illustrate what’s important to the most powerful Getty: It’s not the death of his 43-year-old son that matters, so much as what it means to his reputation. As he sits around a table with a bunch of women, quoting King Lear and complaining about an increase in cost of his daily paper by a tuppence, we learn about John Paul’s priorities. We also learn that a woman named Teresa is coming soon. Is she a fifth member of the harem? Finally, John Paul gives a cynical eulogy, referring to his son’s suicide as an accident. This is a family that covers up their drama.
We meet other disappointing men from the Getty family as the patriarch glowers in his room. Who could possibly inherit this company one day? John Paul Getty Jr. (Michael Esper) believes he can do it, but he has a history of drug abuse that has placed him on his father’s eternal shit list. Just as Junior announces that he’s been clean for over eight months, John Paul Getty III marches into this emotional maelstrom in a jean jacket and a shirt with stars on it. He shoves food into his mouth as the one-percenters gasp. John Paul introduces his “grandson” to applause as Junior drives off, realizing he has lost his opportunity.
(Note: With three characters named John Paul Getty, let’s refer to Donald Sutherland’s head of the Getty empire as “John Paul,” his son as “Junior,” and the grandson as “Paul.” Hope that clears it up.)
Paul is in the kitchen, warming up after getting caught in a cloudburst trying to chase after his father. He wanders the house, looking at its riches, as his grandad gets worked up while someone reads erotic fiction. Eww. Paul even hears John Paul trying to have sex with one of his girlfriends, but he can’t maintain his erection. Age, grief, and disappointment will do that to a man. Meanwhile, Paul skulks around the house, even grabbing something to take with him when he leaves. When he wakes in the morning, he discovers that the butler, Bullimore, has taken his bag. Bullimore decides not to rat out Paul, not to protect him but his master.
Later that day, Paul is playing with a dog when he stumbles into a meeting with John Paul and hears talk of the Elgin fragments, part of the remains of the Parthenon. John Paul is impressed that Paul knows what they are. Hardly anyone in his life is impressed by him anymore, and he likes that his grandkid still can be. Just watch the look on his face when Paul says, “You’re the coolest dude.” But is Paul really complimenting his grandpa, or is he just buttering him up?
Either way, the pair helicopters out to an oil rig owned by the Gettys. Paul impresses his grandpa even more with his knowledge of oil history, and it allows the old man to monologue a bit about the decline of Western Civilization. Royal succession is gone and democracy and human rights have destroyed the American culture. Oil makes the world go round — and it even gets Paul’s underwear to the store so he can buy it. John Paul then flowcharts the Getty “money spider” for his grandson, mostly so us viewers can understand how their world works. (The condensed version: One of the richest men in the world pays no taxes because every piece of profit goes into another venture.) And then Paul reveals why he’s really there: He needs $6,000 to pay some people he owes. (For the record, that’s about $33,000 when adjusted for inflation.) After handling some business on the home front, John Paul agrees to give his grandson the money if he works for six months on an oil rig. But Paul may need the money more quickly, as a hurried call to Rome reveals.
At an event shortly thereafter, John Paul handles two things. First, he introduces his harem to Teresa, who is not a fifth mistress but a mountain lion. Even more deadly is how John Paul treats his son, revealing at a massive dinner table that Paul will take over the empire and not his first namesake. Junior is furious, and he decides to destroy his son’s chance at happiness, revealing to his father that Paul has appeared in Playmen magazine and that he’d just use any money earned to support a drug habit.
All this drama hasn’t impacted John Paul’s need for sex, and he has a doctor inject his penis with a drug so he can get the job done. This leads to the instantly GIF-able “I am magnificent” moment, as he turns to his wife Belinda and reveals his member. As grandpa puts his, uh, magnificence to use, Paul writes a letter in his room and Bullimore comes into report the bad news. Paul will leave in the morning. There will be no job. There will be no money. Bullimore even breaks his stolid demeanor to warn the boy, “Leave this place and never ever come back.”
One week later in Rome, the hammer comes down on Paul. He seems happy and free. He kisses a beautiful stranger. Then he sees some surly men watching him. He runs. They chase. He gets to a fountain and washes his face. The best shot in the episode unfolds next, as Paul comments on how this fountain has been spitting water for hundreds of years. The men walk up behind him and hand him a hood. “Here we go,” he says, and places it on his head.
• A few great music cues this week other than “Money”: “The Jean Genie” by David Bowie and “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent in the final scenes in Rome, “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones as Paul makes his entrance, and “La Gazza Ladra: Overture” as the guests arrive at the Teresa Party.
• Did George actually stab himself with a barbecue fork? It doesn’t appear that he did, although Forbes reported in 1986 that he died of a “probable suicide from an overdose of assorted pills.” It’s interesting that the New York Times reported in 1973 that he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Perhaps the cover-up aspect is true.
• Did John Paul actually have a harem? Apparently, yes. From a Forbes article: “After his fifth failed marriage, with as many children, J. Paul Getty dedicated his amorous and sentimental life to a fixed repertoire of lovers and mistresses, whom he would pit against each other using what many claim was the most important thing for him: money.”
• Did Paul actually appear in a magazine called Playmen? According to Time, it’s sort of true: The Italian magazine paid to run the photos after Paul’s kidnapping as the story gathered steam.