Warning: this Happy Valley review contains spoilers.
He’s out. For the want of a Plexiglass lid screwed onto that courtroom box, Tommy Lee Royce is free and cycling around Leeds dressed like an extra from Tron. That’s bad enough, but heaping insult onto injury is how chuffed he is with himself. The haircut. The escape. The bike. Ryan being there to witness it all. Right now, everything is coming up roses for Royce, and that cannot stand.
It won’t stand, but with two episodes to go before Catherine (surely. Surely) tramples him underfoot, we’d all better make sure that our anti-anxiety prescription/fridge drawer of Mars Bars is filled for next Sunday. What’s coming will require a nerve-steadier.
What’s coming is a premise as old as the hills – a seasoned cop two days away from retirement learns that the worst crim they ever put away is freshly broken out of jail? Textbook. What makes it feel life-or-death here is that this isn’t just any cop, it’s Catherine Cawood as played by Sarah Lancashire and as written by Sally Wainwright – in other words, the livingest, breathingest cop we’ve ever known. And if a riot on the UK streets is to be avoided come the finale, living and breathing she’d better stay.
Of all the surprises in episode four (Jo’s body vanishing, Ann and Catherine’s set-to, being made to feel almost sorry for those Knežević goons, whose wedding pictures are going to need some serious Photoshop after that beating…), Tommy’s escape wasn’t one of them. We’d known it was coming, drawing closer with every self-satisfied smirk in that prison cell.
Catherine – who should more rightly be named Cassandra for her clairvoyant abilities – also knew it was coming. As soon as she heard that Tommy invited Ryan to his sentencing, she knew why: as another ego trip for the narcissist who wanted an audience for his star turn. Our certainty and hers made the episode an hour of dread. Every scene with Tommy Lee Royce was heavy with the knowledge that he had one over on us, and that Ryan was being dragged towards him like a minnow in a current. Then it was a hop, skip and a jump and he was out.
Thank goodness Richard was there to see Ryan home – another thing to thank Catherine for. Richard’s investigation into the Kneževićs puts him in real danger now that we’ve seen Darius in action. Alec Secareanu might be playing a villain as disgusting as Tommy Lee Royce – worse even, because his wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing local council act would put him at the heart of the community he’s been vampirically draining for years. Tommy at least makes no pretence of being an upstanding citizen, but Darius’ election campaign shows his sights are set on mainstream as well as underworld power.
(Was there a clue by the way, in that casual mention of asbestos in his new building’s roof, and Catherine’s assurance to Ann that the Health and Safety Executive had the power to send people to prison? Like Al Capone being finally got for tax-evasion, Darius Knežević being done for unsafe disposal of a hazardous material would be… well, as Catherine said, it would be making the law work as best it can.)
The gangster scene was the episode’s least compelling, mostly because we’ve seen nasty psychopaths like Darius in plenty of other dramas, and because nobody was talking about stew. What did fascinate though, was the scene’s ability to tip the balance of power so episode one’s scary bastards became episode four’s weeping victims. Even go-between Viktor took the humanising step of trying to protect his men from Darius’ worst excesses by using “we” instead of “they”. It’s all about the pecking order with them.
As it was in Faisal and Rob’s car prang scene. What a transformation in Faisal this week. Amit Shah’s character went from jittery to cocksure in just hours, and all it took was getting away with murder. As yet more proof that he’s an extremely nasty piece of work (on top of exchanging pills for sex with an addict, knocking her unconscious, finishing the job and framing her bastard of a husband for her death), killing Jo appeared to have done Faisal the world of good. He wasn’t in bits over it, he was cock of the walk, swaggering around like Billy Big Balls with his “stay in the car, ladies” and his “hey hey hey, let’s be reasonable about this” passive aggression to Rob. In this show it really is hard to know who in the parade of evil bellends to hate more.
It’s extremely easy, however, to know who to love. Catherine, the sheriff in this Western, it goes without saying. Clare and Ryan. Ann (even when she’s being a dozy sod). Alison Garrs (even though she shoots people). Little Poppy who never takes her coat off. Jo’s father in that Missing Persons interview, so filled with love and fury that he could barely speak and said everything with his eyes. And Joyce, whose whip-round for Catherine will get Sgt Cawood and that Land Rover well on their way to the Himalayas, if she can survive the next two days.
That’s an if because for all his smirking silence this series, one thing we know about Tommy Lee Royce is that he hates Catherine. Hates her. To the point that he wouldn’t let Neil use her name in his presence. To a misogynist like Tommy, police officer Catherine is the worst possible combination: The Man and a woman. And one other sickening thing we know about Tommy is that he thinks revenge is a dish best served cold.
Happy Valley continues on Sunday the 29th of January at 9pm on BBC One and iPlayer.