At the half-way stage, it looks to the Getty family as if the saga has come to an end; a burned body has been found, it’s presumed to be that of John Paul III, and Gail goes into shock. But the twists have nowhere near finished coming.
So far, it’s actually a lack of trust which has driven the story; Getty Sr doesn’t trust the mafia, they don’t trust him, and he doesn’t trust his family. The only true and constant trust in the tale is the relationship between Gail and her child John Paul, and even that has been sabotaged by her relationship with her odious boyfriend.
So when an early morning swimmer (the image makes us think of fictional Italian detective Salvo Montalbano) finds a cremated corpse on a beach, the natural assumption is that the kidnappers have disposed of John Paul III. Even Gail makes a mistake identifying the body, recognizing only John Paul’s shoes. Only we know that the body is actually that of reluctant kidnapper Angelo.
So where does that leave the family?
As Getty Sr poses for a Tussaud’s waxwork, we get a comedy turn from Tim Key, referencing Thunderbirds and The Beatles, a rare bit of outright humour.
Getty explains that he is the reincarnation of Emperor Hadrian, who is regarded by history as a benevolent dictator, capable of both generosity and cruelty, but overall driven by ambition – maybe Getty is right.
Whatever, he is genuinely grieved by the apparent death of John Paul, responsibility for which Penelope doesn’t hesitate to lay at his feet. John Paul made him laugh, and as he admits, no-one does that.
John Paul’s father, Paul Jr, falls into the embrace of druggie Pauline (Keirston Wareing), a pattern he’s evidently followed throughout his life.
Chace and Bullimore pursue doomed romances, Chace with a Roman floozy, Bullimore with the gardener. Chace is distracted by his duties, and Bullimore, if he is gay, certainly doesn’t want to confront it, so the relationship turns sour.
Getty’s concubine Belinda (Amanda Drew) fares no better; discovering she’s pregnant, she is told that she’s in breach of contract, and must get rid of the child, or go; in case we ever forgot that Getty Sr is a massive shit, here’s a reminder.
But when Gail rethinks her identification of the body, realising that John Paul never tied his shoelaces, Getty Sr is galvanised. Not only is his faith in his own judgement restored, but he also senses the opportunity to make a better deal, a prospect he evidently relishes.
In an atmospheric scene, Gail confronts middleman Fifty in the cinema, accusing the kidnappers of despicable inhumanity.
With a new deal on the table, Getty Sr actually flies to Rome, meets the capo Salvatore, and negotiates aided by Chace, and a strategically positioned Vietnam-era Huey helicopter gunship.
Getty and Salvatore, both believers in the ability of wealth to exert power, evidently feel in sympathy; Chace and the kidnappers agree that the rich aren’t like us. Eventually Getty and Salvatore, both businessmen, agree on the value of sentimentality – it’s about $5m.
Even Salvatore, though, thinks that Getty is unwise to give up on his sons. But then, he doesn’t know them like Getty does. As he stands in the ruins of Hadrian’s villa, does he feel his empire crumbling?
Hence Chace’s disbelieving look when Getty reveals that he relies on his son Paul to seal the deal.
While Gail celebrates with her family the news that John Paul Junior is still alive, we know that this can’t be the end of the family’s problem; somehow, things are still going to go horribly wrong.
Perhaps a mid-point breather in the plot, but still an opportunity for a beautifully observed series of vignettes of love, grief, anger, and betrayal – trust continues to surprise and delight, and if Donald Sutherland wasn’t already in the frame to win every award going for his portrayal of Getty Sr, this is the episode that should confirm his chances.