If you know anything of the history of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, you’ll know what’s coming this week; but nothing will prepare you for the intensity of this episode, which contrasts pastoral beauty with unbelievable brutality.
Negotiations between the Getty family and the Calabrian mafia have broken down, largely due to the intransigence of Getty Sr and the paralysis of his son Paul; John Paul III, the kidnapped teenager, will obviously become the sacrificial lamb caught in the middle.
Indeed, the slaughter of a lamb forms a heavily symbolic opener; the implication for JP3’s fate is obvious, though what we don’t know at the time is the significance of the role of young Francesco.
Stunningly evocative mountain and village scenes put us right in Godfather II territory; it’s the confirmation day of Leonardo’s son Francesco, and he’s determined that nothing should go wrong; but of course Primo returns with JP3 in the car boot, the ransom arrangements having failed.
Primo and even Salvatore are inclined to cut their losses and kill the boy; but Leonardo argues that they have made such profound promises to the villagers, that they can’t afford to let go of the opportunity.
JP3 is slung into a damp cave, while Francesco goes through his confirmation beautifully staged scene redolent with spiritual, familial and social significance. Here is the heart of the hypocrisy of the Calabrians, their ability to pay lip-service to religion and family, while committing every sin going, and destroying the families of others. Mea maxima culpa, indeed.
Someone, though, has to break the bad news to Salvatore; no-one wants to do it, on the principle that he might shoot the messenger. Leonardo (a beautifully observed study in desperation by Francesco Colella) goes pale when Salvatore presents Francesco with a dagger; to him, it’s a symbol that there’s no escape from the family business of blood and revenge. He wants better for Francesco.
Leonardo’s wife is confronted by the mother of Angelo, who of course was killed for helping John Paul to escape; will the same fate befall Francesco? The villagers’ dance becomes a dance of death, Primo, Leonardo and ‘Fifty’ all trying to avoid the inevitable confrontation with Salvatore.
When the truth comes out, he does indeed go ballistic and threaten to kill the lot of them, arming himself with a Walther P38, which presumably he took off a dead German in the war.
Roberto, meanwhile, has wandered into the hills, found John Paul conveniently unguarded, and bonded with him; and is tempted to help him escape? John Paul, fearful that this might get Francisco killed, comes up with the idea of him cutting Paul’s ear off to send to the Getty family, keeping hopes of a ransom agreement alive.
It’s a tough watch, this scene, and not at all softened to spare the sensibilities of the audience. Once the deed is done, everyone’s fate is sealed; Francesco’s, as much as anyone’s. Now blood is on his hands too, and the family tradition will go on.
Another terrific episode, none the worse for turning focus from the Getty family to the Calabrians; if we know the motivations of one, we must also understand the other. Blood calls for blood, and now, with the ransom deal back on the agenda, both families may be able to get what they want.
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