Happy Valley series 2 episode 2 review

Happy Valley is full of misery, so why does its audience keep coming back? We’ve got one answer…

This review contains spoilers.

In her scathing series one finale speech about the knock-on effects of the valley being flooded with drugs by the top level of the dealing food-chain, Catherine told the Gallaghers, “It never stops. It just never stops”. You can understand her fatalism after this week’s episode. Too right it never stops. It gets worse and worse.

Addicts. Alcoholics. Dealers. Rapists. People traffickers. Women-killers. There’s enough misery in Happy Valley to fill the whole of West Yorkshire. By rights, watching an episode should leave you feeling like you’ve taken an hour-long bath in third-hand water: grimy, shrivelled and shivering.

And yet it doesn’t. Not because fictional suffering is supposed to make us feel relatively better about our own problems (does it ever? In grief, all I want to hear coming out of my TV is light, bright laughter), but because of something else that never stops: Catherine Cawood. Her tenacity against life’s unrelenting flow of shit is redemptive.

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Of course she went after an off-the-wagon, belligerent Clare at the end of this episode. That’s what Catherine does. She looks after her sister, rescues enslaved women, lectures idiot teens, Tasers baseball bat-wielding human traffickers in the balls, and sleeps in the conservatory with a cricket bat in case the Halifax Mafia comes calling for her neighbour. She’s someone we all want on our side, which is what keeps millions of us tuning in.

We also want to find out who the serial killer is, of course, the list of suspects only having grown since last week. Both Clare’s new bloke and Matthew Lewis’ wastrel have been in trouble with the law, we learn, keeping them on the short-list. A newcomer also arrived this week in the form of Kevin Doyle’s copper John Wadsworth, who earned his place by garrotting his mistress at the climax of the hour. Do we think Wadsworth killed the other victims? No. But only a third of the way in to this story, who knows what complications will arise?

Even if the police can’t, we can clear one name from the list, Catherine’s. I’ll make myself clear here. Anyone who thinks Cawood’s a viable suspect should leave now and close the door behind them. I won’t have a word said against her under my roof.

Introducing a whodunit mystery is a new one on Happy Valley, which garnered tension in series one using the gap between our knowledge and that of the police. Back then, we knew who the criminals were and what they’d done; the suspense came from watching Catherine piece it all together. This time around, we’re all in the same boat and playing the same guessing game.

Whatever unfolds, we know we can trust in Sally Wainwright’s plotting. What might feel cluttered now – the new murder, suspicion over Catherine, the funerals, Clare’s relapse, Shirley Henderson: the TA who rocks the cradle – will all be woven neatly together in coming weeks.

Happy Valley’s writing remains its trump card. Its plots might be tabloid fodder, but Wainwright manages to tease comedy, truth and realism from even the most sensational. The opening kitchen scene this week, which saw Clare drop her voice to pronounce the word “alcoholic” in the company of a recently escaped slave-worker who can’t understand a word they’re saying, and Daniel apologise to the same for saying “shite”, is proof of that. Amidst the misery, Happy Valley is true, funny and unimprovably English.

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