'Patrick Melrose' episode 4 review: 'Mother's Milk' combines elements of each of the past three episodes to tell an invigorating story

'Mother's Milk' sees Patrick revisiting his childhood summer home, but this time with his own family. Will his past demons come back to haunt him?


                            'Patrick Melrose' episode 4 review: 'Mother's Milk' combines elements of each of the past three episodes to tell an invigorating story

Patrick Melrose's third episode, 'Some Hope', saw Benedict Cumberbatch's Patrick attempt to kick his vices for good and stay clean, with his good friend Johnny (Prasanna Puwanarajah) providing him that much-needed crutch of support. Littered through the episode are links to his torturous past, ones that Patrick has attempted to sever, but keep coming back to haunt his tumultuous present.

Aided by an exemplary but befitting background score, 'Some Hope' does an excellent job of portraying the depth of Patrick's debilitating addiction, his raging internal struggle against his past, and his constant state of self-doubt. Harriet Walter's flawless portrayal of the snooty, prissy Princess Margaret was undoubtedly one of the highlights of an episode that proved to ultimately cathartic for Patrick and viewers like. 

The performances of Holliday Grainger as the now-reined-in Bridget Watson Scott and Pip Torrens as godfather Nicholas Pratt are equally noteworthy, though unsurprisingly, it was Cumberbatch who once again stole the show. The actor managed to portray the range of emotions Patrick was undergoing with consummate ease, making the audience feel for a character that had, so far, been nothing more than unlikeable. 'Some Hope' provided a perfect pivot for the show to now visit an entirely different part of Patrick's life, one that's removed from his previous troubles but punctuated by altogether new ones.

'Mother's Milk' sees Patrick with a family of his own (Source: Screenshot/Showtime)
'Mother's Milk' sees Patrick with a family of his own (Source: Screenshot/Showtime)

The fourth episode, 'Mother's Milk' features the common themes that have been prevalent throughout the series, a haunting, but nonetheless apt background score to elevate or deflate the mood, intermittent flashbacks that provide an ever-present link between past and present, Patrick's inevitable self-destruction, and some larger-than-life side characters who add their own sprinkling of charm to the story.

Similar to 'Never Mind,' episode 4 once again takes us back to Patrick's scenic and breathtaking childhood summer mansion in the south of France, except this time, he has a young family of his own, wife Mary (Anne Madeley) and two sons, Robert and Thomas.

'Mother's Milk' provides a reminder that our past can't ever be escaped in its entirety, frequently drawing parallels between Patrick and his loathsome father as well as between his eldest son Robert and his younger self. And while 'Some Hope' made a brief reference to Patrick's mother, Eleanor (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the pitiful state she's now been consigned to is one of the primary focuses of the latest episode.

Patrick's fractured relationship with his father was extensively explored in 'Never Mind,' and 'Mother's Milk' does a wonderful job of covering the other aspect of his dysfunctional upbringing and providing the audience with a complete picture, that of his unspoken, but equally damaging relationship with a distant mother. Old habits die hard and Eleanor's coping mechanism of doling charity out to everyone but her own is once again on display, as she, much to Patrick's chagrin, signs off the mansion to a foundation and effectively disinherits her son in the process.

Leigh's portrayal of Eleanor was excellent (Source: Screenshot/Showtime)
Leigh's portrayal of Eleanor was excellent (Source: Screenshot/Showtime)

Her inaction and negligence meant she was arguably just as culpable for Patrick's damaged psyche as his father's abuse and Leigh's portrayal of the wheezing, stricken, and barely functional Eleanor as the episode's pantomime villain is commendable. With few words and even fewer actions, she makes the viewers feel a different kind of hatred, although not too dissimilar to the one invoked by Hugo Weaving's David Melrose.

Anne Madeley also plays the role of a supportive, but exasperated wife to perfection. Her growing disillusionment of Patrick as he once again falls down the familiar downward spiral of alcoholism — no doubt exacerbated by the chaotic circumstances — becomes increasingly apparent as the episode progresses. And the fact that Madeley does this with little more than some hushed whispers and terse body language makes you appreciate her performance that much more.

Marcus Smith as Patrick's young but inquisitive son Robert who never misses a beat is equally noteworthy, and the young actor manages to depict his character's torn and confused demeanor impeccably. Jessica Raine as Julia, Jonjo O'Neill as Seamus, Celia Imrie as Kettle, and Blythe Danner as Nancy each also play a role in providing further depth to Patrick's already complicated character.

Director Edward Berger and writer David Nicholls constructed 'Mother's Milk' was an amalgamation of all the previous three episodes. There's Patrick once again descending into freefall like in 'Bad News,' his desperate but ultimately failed attempts at course correction despite his best efforts like in 'Never Mind,' and a journey of self-discovery like in 'Some Hope,' but this time, one that asks more questions than it answers. Series and season finale 'At Last' will look to provide a fitting end to what has so far been a tragic tale undercut with the briefest rays of light.

Preview for the series finale: 'At Last'

'At Last' will deal with Eleanor's death (Source: Screenshot/Showtime)
'At Last' will deal with Eleanor's death (Source: Screenshot/Showtime)

'At Last' will cover the last book of Edward St Aubyn's semi-autobiographical pentalogy and follow Patrick as he's in attendance at the funeral of his mother. The last connection to his childhood, except his own head, of course, has now been severed but instead of feeling happiness, Patrick feels rage. But as he fails to deal with the death, there are consequences — he risks alienating his almost disenchanted and detached wife and children to the point of no return.