Patrick Melrose Episode 2 was an unrelentingly bleak hour of television; a far cry, tonally, from the knockabout majesty of last week’s “Bad News”. This isn’t to say that “Never Mind” was any less compelling, any less beautifully shot, any less immaculately written or dedicatedly performed. But let’s just say that despite Never Mind being the first of Edward St Aubyn’s novels, I can see why the adaptation’s producers didn’t lead with it.
For one thing, it barely features Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the adult Patrick Melrose with terrifically well-observed enthusiasm and is seen in “Never Mind”, briefly, deliriously remembering the episode’s events in the throes of drug withdrawal. But the bulk of Patrick Melrose Episode 2 is devoted to a childhood holiday to the south of France, where Patrick’s father David (Hugo Weaving) and mother Eleanor (Jennifer Jason Leigh) hosted a gaggle of oddball characters at their house in Lacoste.
That house. It’s an idyllic sun-drenched manor, but has the plunging dimensions of a haunted mansion; corridors extending into shadows, and unspeakable evils roaming its halls. David is one of them, standing in an upstairs window clad in a dressing gown and slippers, terrorising those below with his glare. In one scene, Yvette, the housekeeper, rattles a tray of crockery in dutiful silence, fixed in place, trembling in terror. The rest of the family and the guests tiptoe across creaking floorboards, careful not to lure him from his perch.
Just as Cumberbatch stole the show last week, “Never Mind” belongs to Hugo Weaving, who occasionally allows a glimmer of conscience to flit across his snarling features. Vicious, toxic, and proudly abusive, he’s a monster, no doubt, but he’s terrifying because of whatever dregs of humanity he occasionally exhibits. While he enjoys tormenting those around him, particularly Patrick, whom he rapes, he sees his evil as purposeful. The most evil people always do.
Sebastian Maltz plays young Patrick, and is very good, but Patrick Melrose Episode 2 was less about the formation of its title character’s self-destructive appetites and more concerned with how wealth and privilege seep into the souls of all those who come into contact with such things. Stumbling along in a drugged-up stupor, Eleanor turns a blind eye to the goings-on; and Nicholas Pratt (Pip Torrens), David’s lecherous school friend, berates and humiliates his young girlfriend in an extended dinner table conversation which ranks right up there with the most insufferably brilliant television I’ve seen in quite some time. Eventually everyone but Nicholas gets up to leave. When the girlfriend tries to escape the manor with her bags, only to be forced into returning, she passes Eleanor outside both times, only half-conscious, chain smoking in the car. “It isn’t that easy, is it?” she says.