Patrick Melrose: Did Eleanor Know David was Abusing Patrick?

In Showtime’s ‘Patrick Melrose,’ the eponymous character’s hedonistic lifestyle becomes the center of the story, and slowly, the conversation moves toward his past and how it has impacted his present. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, the show traces Patrick’s journey through the years, especially his adulthood, and the challenges he faces, aggravated by his addiction and his inability to open up to people about his childhood trauma. The more we find out about the life Patrick lived, the more heartbreaking it becomes, but what really infuriates Patrick, as well as the audience, is the discovery that all of that could have been stopped. SPOILERS AHEAD

Eleanor was Both the Victim and the Collaborator

It is not easy to talk about one’s trauma, especially when it comes from their family. For Patrick, it took years to speak out about it to his closest friends and even more to come forward to his mother. All the time Patrick was being abused by his father, he kept quiet because he was scared. His father was a tyrannical figure who instilled fear and intimidation in everyone around him. Somehow, people would tend to lose their power around him, and despite knowing how wrong or bad he could be, they would rarely, if ever, speak out against him. Those who didn’t like him preferred not to cross paths with him again, and for Patrick, this meant that there was no one strong enough to fight for him. But in his heart, Patrick believed that his mother would.

On some level, Patrick understood that his father’s behavior mustn’t be so opaque that no one else could see him for who he really was. He doubted that people like Nick must have an inkling of David’s crime, and to some extent, Patrick felt that his mother knew, too. But it wasn’t something he could easily reconcile with because he loved his mother and believed that she would save him if she knew. He convinced himself that the only reason she left him alone with David, the only reason that she didn’t take him away from all the pain and abuse, was simply because she didn’t know any better. It was because Patrick had this faith in his mother that the betrayal felt even worse when he discovered that his mother knew of the abuse all along.

It takes years for Patrick to find the courage to talk about his father to his mother. By this time, he has been through a dark spiral of addiction, successfully come out of it, had a son with another on the way, and is enjoying a successful career in law. It is at his wife Mary’s behest that he finally decides to talk to his mother about it and expects some form of compassion, some sort of guilt on her part for never seeing what was happening right in front of her and not protecting him. Instead, all she says is, “Me too.”

The lack of shock on her part and the level of resignation in those two words rattle Patrick beyond belief. It is no shock that David was abusing her too, but to discover that even when she knew what David really was, she did nothing at all to protect her only son from all of that. Not only that, but she effectively abandoned Patrick when he needed her the most. Moreover, if she knew about David’s pedophilia, how could she invite all those friends and families with children to spend time with them? How could she knowingly put them in a vulnerable position where they, too, would be prone to David’s abuse?

It enrages Patrick to think how his mother sat and watched him being abused all those years, how she willingly turned a blind eye to his pain. One could say that at that point, Eleanor, too, was being victimized, and things are not so simple when you are under the complete control of an abuser. Even when she was the one with the money, she had no power in their relationship. She was already struggling so much with the noose around her neck that she decided to turn a blind eye to the one tightening around her son. She chose her own freedom before being able to do anything for Patrick, but even when she was free, she couldn’t bring herself actually to acknowledge what had happened to Patrick.

Instead, she chose to bury it all and completely dedicated herself to philanthropy, believing that she could do for others what she couldn’t for her own son. For all his anger, Patrick has to accept that his mother was also going through a complicated time. It is infuriating that she didn’t do anything for Patrick, but at the end of the day, it is also somehow understandable, if not acceptable.

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