Patrick Melrose ended on a note of resilient, brilliant defiance. The story of the man – the abused drug and booze addict played to perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch – finished up where it had begun. In a funeral parlour.
Lying in the coffin this time was Patrick’s mother Eleanor, the woman who had failed to protect him from his monstrous father David. In a final act of maternal betrayal, she had disinherited her son.
“She knew, she must have known …even unconsciously,” shouts Patrick at his estranged wife as he flees the event, unable to deliver his eulogy. Earlier tributes had mentioned Eleanor’s “childlike” qualities, and he was swallowed up by grief and tears because – obviously – she didn’t look after the child he once was. She must have known about the abuse.
Late Patrick is a man who has been through it all: drink, drugs, a failed marriage, an unsatisfying affair with his friend Julia (Jessica Raine). This final episode saw him a psychiatric ward, scornful at first, later helped by the treatment. Which seems to partly explain why he can at least get some understanding of what his mother and father did to him – and even feel compassion for them. People who do damage are damaged people.
Edward St Aubyn’s novels, and this mind-blowingly brilliant dramatisation, never flinch from either the truth of what happened to the protagonist, nor the emotional complexity of its causes and effects.
The storytelling achieves this partly through its mastery of savage irony. For instance, when David’s old Etonian friend Nicolas Pratt tells Patrick at the wake, “What a pity David isn’t here to enjoy your sons”, we see the awfulness of that suggestion given what David did to Patrick. Perhaps Nicholas is riling him on some level? Or maybe he is just trying to say the right thing? The point is that there is no single truth in this story, no pat conclusions to be drawn.
With irony comes a scabrousness too, and the storytelling revels in the collision of the various worlds occasioned by the funeral and the party, at the Pall Mall club Nicholas sniffily says he is “not acquainted with”. His punishment is to have wacky New Ager Annette (Eileen Walsh) offloaded onto him at every possible opportunity – simply hilarious.
But even the New Age idiots have a few wise words. Annette’s message of love is hardly the worst thing to say, even from a movement that has persuaded a guilty old woman to hand over her castle in France. And it is Annette who is with Nicholas at the end, travelling with him via ambulance following what turned out to be his fatal heart attack.
That message of love is what we’re left with as Patrick faces the fact that the last of his parents’ circle is gone. As he thanks Annette for offering “another point of view”, she replies: “Often it is those who deserve the most blame often deserve the most compassion.” Hardly wacky. And, in the context of everything we have seen, remarkably kind.
Patrick is faced with many choices. He can call the waitress Helene he had picked up at the funeral wake – or he can take his wife’s offer of dinner with her and their children.
“I’ve decided I’m bored of ghosts and want to see people instead,” he says, before we return for one last time to the house in France and the abusive Dad.
“It’s wrong, you’re wrong,” he asserts to his terrifying father. “Nobody should so that to anybody else.”
It’s unclear if the young Patrick really said this; those words have almost been his catchphrase throughout the drama. Or is it what he always longed to say?
In some ways, it doesn’t matter. Either way, it was a triumphant moment, and the clarity of its reasoning was what stayed with us. Patrick chooses choses the dinner. The sound of Blur’s Tender rings in our ears as the credits roll, telling us that “love is the greatest thing”. This is the greatest TV.
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news