Saturday, May 12, 2018

REVIEW: 'Patrick Melrose' - Patrick Spirals Further Into His Addictions While in New York City in 'Bad News'

Showtime's Patrick Melrose - Episode 1.01 "Bad News"

In the grip of his addictions, Patrick Melrose must fly to New York to collect his father's ashes. Over the course of a lost Manhattan weekend, Patrick's remorseless search for satisfaction, haunted by old acquaintances and insistent inner voices, sends him into a nightmarish spiral, including a disastrous date with the girl of his dreams. Alone in his hotel room later that night, he pushes body and mind to the very edge - desperate to stay one step ahead of his rapidly encroaching past.

Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely mesmerizing throughout "Bad News." Patrick Melrose is a role he specifically sought out to play. It's such wildly different than the roles he is known for - including Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Strange in the Marvel cinematic universe. This has been a huge month for his career. And yet, it's notable to see him command this hour of television with the kind of very specific performance that can make even the most brutal and grueling material somehow easy and understandable to watch. This is an hour that definitely delights in the torture of its main character. The audience is just expected to endure all of this alongside Patrick Melrose. In this premiere, the audience is witnessing a man hitting his rock bottom after endearing years of trauma that led to drug and alcohol addiction even though this is our first interaction with Patrick Melrose. This is our introduction to the character. He is a man shaped by a traumatic childhood that has made him into the kid of man he once loathed. He hates his father with such a fiery passion but doesn't fully realize that he has essentially become his father as an adult. No, he doesn't have a child who he abuses because the world has been unfair and cruel to him. But he's a man whose ideologies line up perfectly with the generation before him. Whenever he is confronted by a new situation, he almost immediately has to note how his parents would react to it. His entire life seems to be about this abuse and how it has stunted him as a man. He is trapped in this vicious cycle where he uses these drugs and alcohol in order to cope with his life only to have all of these feelings of insecurity and anxiety come rushing back the moment he tries to get clean. It has become such a pattern for him and the people who choose to be in his life. The premiere opens with the sudden death of Patrick's father. It lays out the picture perfectly for how Patrick was affected and formed by the man. But it also shows such an unwillingness to let go of the past as well. Patrick is trapped in his current life. That's more tragic and the cause of his grief than the inherent loss of a parent.

The audience sees Patrick shooting up with heroin when he is getting the phone call about his father's death. He just wants to know where he has to go to pick up the body. That too inspires a conversation about David Melrose demanding the best in any given situation while never wanting to be perceived as too ambitious to the rest of the people of his class. He expects the best funeral arrangements. And yet, it's notable that Patrick is the only one who gets the call that this tragedy has occurred. It's not a party or celebration like the other funeral happening in the building. It's still a personal triumph for Patrick because he has finally bested his father. The man is dead. And now, Patrick believes David has gotten exactly what he deserved and is rotting away in hell. He doesn't care about how the body is preserved. He just wants to collect the ashes as soon as possible. He doesn't care for the procedures of the world. He mostly finds it an inconvenience that he has to wait another day to collect the ashes. That means he gets to stay in the city for a little while longer. That's important. He travels to New York for this mission of ensuring someone in the family is there to handle the body. But he also goes with the desire to get clean from heroin. He wants to begin working on his addictions. He wants to feel his emotions instead of just pushing them away. His father informs so much of this action because there is so much that Patrick would like to forget. David was never a great parent. The show shies away from actually depicting the abuse. But it is very noteworthy that Patrick's behavior and mannerisms in the present inform so much about the way he was raised and his perspective on the world.

Patrick delights in telling stories about his father that show just how cruel and unforgiving a man he truly was. He was horrible as a father. He was perfectly content telling a story within earshot of his 8-year-son about killing a man while on safari simply because the man was bit and soon went mad from rabies. At the time, David saw it as the compassionate act. He was putting the man out of his suffering because he couldn't get to a hospital within a reasonable amount of time. He was already gone as far as David was concerned. The other men of the party were having fun at his expense. They were the ones being cruel. David acted swiftly and severely. They all eventually came around to his way of thinking as well. And yet, hearing that story while being so far removed from it only further highlights the horror and cruelty of it. David is just so casual about it. This is what he wants to talk about and he doesn't care who is listening. He had friends who were very aware of his opinions. Patrick has to amuse them for a little while as well. But it's also key that the show never pulls away from the focus of Patrick's addictions. He can share all of these stories in order to explain what his relationship was like with his father. But it's much more important to see him in that bathroom throwing up from getting high the previous night. He is too busy living his own isolated and lonely existence coping with these destructive subjects to have anything for himself. He then has to sprint back to the funeral home just to get the ashes to ensure that he doesn't have to spend any more time in this foreign country where he doesn't feel at home. He doesn't have his support system to get him through the most grueling of experiences.

And yet, Patrick feels far removed from the people in his life back in London as well. He doesn't have a close relationship with his mother. She's too busy saving other parts of the world to answer the call about David's death. He looks to his lovers for sex and nothing else. One of them, Debbie, wants to be there for him as the supportive girlfriend. However, she's an ocean away and the only solace she can bring is arranging a dinner between Patrick and one of her friends from school. Now, he has met this family before. He passed out in their bathroom and they needed to pull the door apart to get to him. That was an experience that they remember and he doesn't. His life is simply a fog in adulthood. He doesn't have specific memories from this time but remembers every single detail of how he was raised and the various actions that his parents took with him. And here, he immediately becomes enamored with this woman, Marianne. There is nothing specific as to why he believes she will be his savior. He looks solely at her beauty and nothing more. He just sees a stunningly beautiful woman that he wants to treat right and then seduce before the night is over. He sees himself as a playful man with a charming companion via the box of his father's ashes. He believes he can easily charm this woman into becoming the one for him. He immediately has that goal. It ensures that the audience perceives him as an abusive creep as well who simply doesn't know how to behave appropriately with women. Marianne goes to dinner mostly because Debbie is a friend that she cares about. And yet, she can't tolerate any of Patrick's eccentricities and needs to push him away as quickly as possible because it's clear that he needs a ton of help and isn't alright at all.

That builds into the overwhelming story of this premiere with Patrick further indulging in his addictions. At first, he is completely committed to getting clean. Then, he argues that it needs to be a process where he'll just give up heroin to beginning with. That's his drug of choice. Without it, he quickly falls into withdrawal even when there are other drugs in his system. That is the drug he most needs to get freed from. But this hour is essentially a downward spiral to rock bottom for him. No, he doesn't lose everything and regrets the personal actions that he takes that potentially destroy anyone who comes into contact with him. Instead, it's mostly a solitary existence. He knows that he needs to get clean. But he's getting high all alone in this lavish apartment. It shows that people with wealth can be just as depressed and fucked up as the rest of us. In fact, Patrick may have suffered all of this abuse in the first place because David had nowhere else to focus all of his attention. He needed to focus on Patrick in order to feel a purpose in life. And now, Patrick is doing the same with drugs. He's so desperate to get high. The show does a phenomenal job in showing the cravings that Patrick has as well as the immediate impact these drugs have on his body. It's a very physical performance from Cumberbatch. He's asked to stretch out all across various floors while also being completely vulnerable and volatile. He is capable of hiding underneath a couch just as easily as he's yelling at the hotel service for the most minor inconvenience. It just further proves that he just doesn't feel like he belongs in this world. He has all of this wealth and access. He doesn't have to worry about getting the money to finance this addiction. He may not have his father's fortune but he is still well off. That doesn't stop him from turning towards suicide and only realizing he needs to make serious changes to his life after he fails. He doesn't fail because he is saved by someone who discovers his body in time to get him to the hospital. He simply doesn't take enough drugs to kill him. So, he wakes up and checks out of the hotel. His father's ashes still follow him around. He returns to London with the intention of getting clean. But it's so sad and tragic to see how much of a pattern this truly is for Patrick's life.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Bad News" was written by David Nicholls and directed by Edward Berger.
  • This premiere feels the need to show Patrick's addiction at its worst in order to prove just how problematic and dark his story actually is. It highlights that this is a pattern of abuse for him. He wants to quit but never can actually go through with it. The withdrawal is always too crippling. And yet, the story will need to evolve from this otherwise the series will lose its luster by the end of its limited run.
  • This is very much a Benedict Cumberbatch starring vehicle first and foremost. He is the lead character who has to be on the screen for every second of this story. It tells the story of Patrick Melrose. Everyone else just exists within that character. If they don't have a dynamic with him, they aren't important. Of course, it's also notable to see Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hugo Weaving and Allison Williams pop up as the supporting characters.
  • The only time the story truly cuts away from Cumberbatch is when it dives deeper into Patrick's upbringing. They are basically just flashes of memory here and there. It never shows David hitting his son or abusing him in some other way. But it's clear that the young Patrick is absolutely terrified of him and willing to do whatever he says out of fear that he'll only be punished more if he doesn't obey.
  • When Showtime first announced that Patrick Melrose would be airing on Saturdays, I didn't buy into the narrative that the premium cable network was trying to set up a new night for original scripted programming. It instead read as wanting to get this series on the air so it would be eligible for this Emmy cycle. The network just happened to be full on Sundays with The Circus, Billions and I'm Dying Up Here.
  • Plus, Showtime doesn't care about linear ratings. It's a business that mostly thrives based on subscription numbers. It's the same business model that HBO and Starz follow. And yet, it's hard to believe that this premiere will be seen by many in the linear way. It may do well in streaming where the numbers are more elusive. But the narrative of a limited viewership could also affect its Emmy campaign.