Warning: This Happy Valley review contains spoilers.
How was that a single hour of television? The café scene alone had enough going on for a three-act play plus interval and bus ride home. And then we got the prison visit, Richard’s apology, the front step exchange (with bonus stew-interlude), Rob Hepworth and Ryan in the school gymnasium, Ann and Nev in the garden (Clare was right about those Grade II-listed wooden doings)… All that, plus aliens, gangsters, a blood-soaked Catherine beating seven shades out of a lowlife, our first possible sighting of a Knežević in the wild and – this feels implausible to type – also Jo’s murder?
All in 60 minutes. Happy Valley episodes must be made with Tardis technology – they’re bigger on the inside.
It was packed but nothing big was rushed. The scene we all came for – every word Catherine spoke after she took the chair opposite Clare and her moderately interesting sandwich – took its time. Better still, the camera knew to behave and stay exactly where we needed it to be: trained on Sarah Lancashire’s face so we didn’t miss a thought in her head or a fuck’s sake on her lips.
Lancashire deserves every truckload of praise she gets and more for Happy Valley, but let’s not stop there. In that café scene, Siobhan Finneran did her share. Clare’s “what if?” speech was the culminating point of her character. Delivered like a train gathering speed, each line built and built to the unassailable conclusion that Catherine is stuck, has been stuck for 16 years, and forgiveness might be the thing that gets her unstuck.
To Catherine’s ears, it sounded like weakness, but really it’s hope. Clare’s life as a recovering alcoholic and addict (thanks Ryan, for the right terminology) is founded on the hope that people can change and rebuild themselves. Catherine’s life as a police sergeant is founded on witnessing broken people break others beyond fixing. She lost her hope when she lost Becky and so takes Clare’s pleading “what ifs” about as seriously as she takes Gorkem’s alien encounter.
(By the way, those aliens and the strange lights on the moors will mean something come the finale. What, only God and Sally Wainwright know. And while we’re by-ing the way, who else thought Joyce looked green around the gills near Catherine’s diazepam forensic results? Don’t tell me she’s one of the police informants on the Knežević payroll. A sure way to get uninvited to the Sarge’s retirement drinks.)
Catherine and Clare’s confrontation was the episode high-point, but electricity was almost everywhere. The prison visit crackled with danger, from Royce’s predator-eyed pantomime of affection, to Ryan’s thrown-away “Dad” as he turned to leave. Then we were shown the same scene again, give or take, when Rob Hepworth enacted the next stage of his ego-trip with Ryan and turned on the charm. Wolves is what those men are, eyeing that kid like he’s dinner and coaxing him closer to their jaws.
Rhys Connah killed it with some demanding scenes. As Ryan, he exudes the kind of guileless vulnerability that triggers your protective mode as a viewer – you want to reach into the screen with a mug of cocoa for him and a knee to the balls of the men circling like he’s prey. When Ryan schooled Cesco on the use of “recovering alcoholic” and correctly defined “hereditary”, pride surged that I have zero right to feel. Why? Because those moments are proof of the Catherine in him. Our hero.
Our matter-of-fact hero, who can break away from having the hardest conversation in her life to make reassurances about the warmth of a pot of stew. That’s the masterful light-touch of Sally Wainwright’s writing for Catherine, which never gets carried away with itself and always knows when to open the release valve.
The same can’t be said for Faisal, whose story is playing out at cartoonishly pipe-bursting levels of intensity. A nasty cartoon, it goes without saying, about yet another man in this show whose anger and fear cost a woman her life. Is there a conclusion to draw from this drama about Faisal effectively morphing into Rob as Jo cowered below him? One about how violence towards women lurks where you’d least expect it, even in mild-mannered pharmacists? If it weren’t for the good men in Happy Valley – Daniel, Nev, Richard, yes, even Neil who kicked up the whole visiting mess – you could call it a treatise on male violence.
It isn’t. As the horrid vision of Becky on that street, and Ann and Catherine’s scene by the work sinks showed, Happy Valley is a – masterfully told – story about surviving trauma. Living with it, not being able to escape it, and, depending on how the next three episodes go for Catherine, maybe even leaving it behind.
Happy Valley Series 3 airs on Sundays at 9pm on BBC One.