Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 5 of Patrick Melrose. Not seen Episode 5 yet? Catch up with our spoiler-free review of Episode 1.
At Last tells you all you need to know about the finale of Patrick Melrose, a closing chapter that sees our antihero finally reach a sense of closure. In just five hours, it’s remarkable how extensive the emotional gamut we’ve experienced has been, as Sky’s drama (based on the novels by Edward St Aubyn) has whisked us from 1960s France to, ultimately, 2005. It’s been a lifetime of extremes, from addictive indulgences and agonising withdrawal to painful abuse and heart-wrenching trauma.
We join Melrose in London, as the wealthy son of an abusive father buries his late mother. Eleanor, who begged Patrick to help her commit suicide last episode, is eventually allowed to be brought to Switzerland, where her son is conflicted by her apparent decision to change her mind at the last minute. It’s perhaps no wonder that Patrick has turned to the bottle and pills so often, with two such guardians failing to look after him – but it’s certainly no surprise that, following Mary’s ultimatum, Patrick and his wife have separated before this episode begins.
Anna Madeley remains superb as the stalwart, stable rock in Patrick’s life, compassionate enough to support him even at his mother’s funeral, but smart and strong enough to shove him out of her and their sons’ home when his alcholism spirals even further out of control. Benedict Cumberbatch, meanwhile, comes full circle as Melrose, sinking his teeth into a character with deep-seated issues, a nuanced note of sympathy and a still-amusing line in acerbic insults. We see him in rehab, where he snorts derisively at other people’s tales of woe – a performance so convincing that when he ends up humbly returning to the group, after walking out, that his tearful acceptance of their encouraging applause is genuinely moving. We see him convulsing and twitching in the back of a car, as his body fails without heroin. And we see him sober, struggling to maintain his restrained composure in the face of all the familiar people from the past who turn up for the memorial.
There’s the odious Nicholas Pratt (Pip Torrens, milking it for all he’s worth as the now elderly toff), there’s the hilariously hippy Annette (Eileen Walsh), partner of the notably absent Seamus, and there’s Jessica Raine’s Julia, loyal to the last even after their mutually destructive fling helped to pull apart both of their lives. By the time Patrick has to deliver a eulogy, he’s so torn between punching Pratt, mocking Annette and pining for Julia that he simply cannot move beyond writing a question mark on his notes – the sight of him breaking down mid-speech is the stuff of drama textbooks, but feels movingly real.
That’s testament to David Nicholls’ script, which remains both low-key and melodramatic, and Edward Berger’s intimate direction. But it’s also testament to Jennifer Jason Leigh, who makes a powerful impact in her final scenes. She’s so good in the flashbacks that we get that it’s hard to remember it’s the same woman underneath the aged make-up, but the poignant pain and shared repression of Eleanor and her son grabs you by the heartstrings. We watch as a younger Patrick approaches his mum to tell her that his father had raped him. She pauses, then says two simple words: “Me too.”
It’s a revelation that’s shocking, yet shockingly unsurprising, and it leaves the grown-up Patrick both swimming in grief and loss, but also harbouring rage at the woman who failed to protect him from what happened. Furniture gets smashed, people get shouted at and waitresses get chatted up, as Patrick goes round and round in a vicious circle of trying to reconcile the Eleanor others remember with the woman he knew. But Cumberbatch’s performance is understated to the last, as we see him pick himself slowly after hitting rock bottom – a dizzying fall from a wealthy high that has turned him into a working adult, working to accept his life. It’s a striking contrast to the fate of Nicholas, who has a heart attack apparently brought on by his own rant about young people, poor people and the changing face of society; it’s a satisfying farewell to a loathsome human being, one who highlights just how much Patrick has outgrown his father and his poisonous circle.
Squeezing in such dramatic transformations – and such a finite example of a generation fading into the past before the present can move on – into just five hours risks feeling rushed or contrived, but Patrick Melrose is too earnestly performed and too subtly written for that to distract from the catharsis on display. And so we see Melrose invited to dinner by Mary and the kids, leaving his apartment – walking straight, for once – through a front door bathed in an optimistic white light. A masterclass in condensed, classy storytelling, Patrick Melrose concludes with a satisfying final note of hope, as Blur’s Tender plays in the background. At Last, the programme sighs. If only it lasted a little longer.
Patrick Melrose is on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also watch Patrick Melrose online on NOW TV, which gives live and on-demand streaming access to Sky’s main TV channels, including FOX UK (Legion) and Sky Atlantic (Westworld, Billions), for £7.99 a month – with no contract and a 7-day free trial.