This stylish episode of Trust opens high above sea level with a snow-covered pay phone in the Italian mountains. It’s a great shot, tracking back through the white landscape through a car windshield into the vehicle that holds Gail Getty and James Fletcher Chace. “It’ll ring,” he says. He also reveals something he hasn’t before: He has a 12-year-old son. Gail is shocked, but Chace is all business. “It’s about your son, not mine,” he tells her.
John Paul Getty III’s ear is traveling through the Italian post, but it gets caught up in Naples during a postal-worker strike, which means Primo has to break into an office and retrieve the package. Apparently, he succeeds because they cut to the office of Il Messaggero, where a receptionist opens the package and is understandably horrified. There’s a human ear inside and a lock of red hair. Meanwhile, we see that the boy born with that ear is clinging to life. It doesn’t help that he’s still in a Calabrian cave, being tended to by the local veterinarian, who is worried that his patient has a faint heartbeat.
Chace comes to Gail’s door, and Paul’s mother knows the ear came from her son even without definitive proof. John Paul seems baffled by the decision, noting that a finger at least comes with a print. He’s always the cold businessman. Gail tells her former father-in-law that she’s certain the ear belongs to his grandson and implores him to finally do something to help. He casts off the blame for this horrendous mutilation on Junior, who refused to let his father profit from the kidnapping of his son. John Paul has become more and more hateable with every episode of Trust.
The hateable apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree as Junior moans and whines about not knowing for sure if it’s Paul’s ear when Gail comes to him for help. He refuses to sign, pointing out that going into debt with his father can destroy you. He’ll end up like his brother, stabbing himself with a BBQ fork in the garage. He won’t sign a deal with the devil. Although, as any parent will tell you, there’s a bit of Getty selfishness here too. Most fathers would sign any deal to get their son back alive, no matter what. So while John Paul is outright awful, Junior is on the spectrum as well.
Having been failed by the Getty men again, Gail goes to an ambassador for help. She even tries going all the way to Richard Nixon, who had a few other things on his mind in late 1973. She drafts several letters to Nixon, just trying to get it right. We even get a shot of Nixon receiving the letter as he watches reports about his imminent downfall on the news.
The letter works! Nixon calls John Paul Getty and offers to help him with the protests in Wyoming that are costing Getty Oil a fortune. But first, they’ll need to get Paul back. His son’s pain, a mother’s worry, his own grandson’s body part: These things couldn’t do it. It took a call from the president and the promise of profit. John Paul Getty goes and apologizes to his son, telling him that he’ll pay half the ransom and the trust will pay the other half, to be repaid interest-free. But, of course, John Paul is annoyed that his own son didn’t negotiate a better deal. Penelope tells John Paul that she’s leaving. She’s done with his atrocious behavior. Not long after, his pregnant girlfriend takes off too. Everyone is leaving the old man, but it’s all a negotiation or a contract to him.
Time for the exchange. Primo decides that he wants to it to be an impressive event. He’s always a showman. The money will be put in white suitcases and Gail must drive a white car. They must also go high enough into the Italian mountains that there’ll be snow. It will be all white. Gail and Chace almost run out of gas on the way to the exchange, but they have enough money to get some locals to help them fuel up and get there.
Gail and Chace are in a snowstorm at night when two masked men come out with guns. There’s no Paul in sight. Chace disarms one and Gail comes at them with the righteous fury of a mother. She knows they won’t release him if they have the money. Fifty, the middle man for all the negotiations, has an idea. He takes off his mask and tells her his real name. “You don’t get the boy alive, you go to the police and say my name,” he says. Would that be good enough for you? Feels a little sketchy. Nevertheless, she gives them the money and Primo takes it back to the cave, making it rain.
And we’re back to the opening shot, panning in on the phone instead of panning out. Gail is still worried it won’t ring. Chace gives Gail a speech about faith that allows Brendan Fraser a nice moment, even if it’s a bit overwritten. And they wait. As Primo basically argues to save Paul’s life so they can run this scheme again, Gail and Chace wait. Think about it: Primo’s greed may have saved Paul’s life. The phone rings.
Gail rushes to answer and a car speeds through the night with Paul. At first, even after they open the door, Paul can’t get out. He’s in shock. They leave him in the cold. In an ironic twist, he seeks help at a Getty Oil station, but the worker closes the gate on him. He stumbles down the street, and Gail and Chace turn the corner to see him. A boy hears his mother call his name again. They hug and cry. And we finally get a few photos of the real players for the first time in Trust, including one of John Paul Getty III with no ear.
• The characterization of Penelope Kitson as the only one who would stand up to John Paul Getty is somewhat true, but he ended up leaving her the most money in his will when he passed in 1976.
• Speaking of Penelope, it’s interesting to compare her arc with Bullimore, who saw love flee in the middle of the night when his gardener love interest left. These people are damaged merely by being in Getty’s sphere of influence. Normal human emotion is smothered in this world.
• Is this Hilary Swank’s best episode yet? If it wasn’t set already, this one likely locked down an Emmy nomination.
• “White Car in a Snowstorm” was directed by Susanna White, who also helmed Parade’s End and Jane Eyre, along with episodes of Billions and Masters of Sex.
• Other than some classical beats, two music cues this week you may want to seek out: “Oh Nero Nero” by Cosimo Monteleone in the opening credits, and “Chissa Chi Sei” by Raffaella Carra in the club when Fifty comes to Primo with the new deal.