Warning: contains Happy Valley Series 3 Episode 6 spoilers.
It’s become so commonplace for beloved TV shows to piss their goodwill up the wall with a disappointing ending that it’s getting to be a tradition. Not this one. The Happy Valley finale gave us a Catherine vs Tommy showdown to beat the band and the conclusion we all wanted – peace for her, him gone, and Ryan safe.
Not just safe, but good. Wise. Loving. This whole series has been balanced on a fulcrum, waiting to see which way Ryan would tip. If he’d sided with Tommy, the skies would have darkened, oceans would have boiled, and despair would have reigned. By siding with Catherine and having the grace to pity Tommy, Ryan made the sun come out on this story. Hence Catherine’s need for shades as she strode off in that final scene.
The shades were a fan-pleaser, harking back to the first time we met Sgt Cawood policing with her personality to try to stop a lowlife from setting himself on fire. That’s getting to be a habit with her.
It was fitting for a drama with its feet planted so solidly on the ground that the climactic scene played out around a kitchen table at half-nine on a weekday morning. Happy Valley’s a master of shrugging off expectations, so forget about a high-stakes stand-off on rugged moorland in dramatic moonlight.
Not that Catherine and Tommy’s confrontation needed the drama of a theatrical setting. The dialogue kept us so rapt that they may as well have been hanging off a cliff-edge or duelling in a waterfall instead of within three feet of the biscuit tin and Clare’s crocheted blankets (RIP). Home was central to Tommy’s revelation that he was grateful to Catherine for the love she’d given Ryan, so home is where it happened.
It’s pointing out that water is wet to say that Sarah Lancashire and James Norton were excellent in that scene – of course they were, it’s what they do here. What made it so satisfying was its completeness. Everything was aired. Nothing was left unsaid.
We heard Tommy’s narcissistic version of events – his insistence that he’d loved Becky and could have been a good dad, his pride at what he saw as clemency in choosing not to burn down Catherine’s house, and his absolute bafflement that Ryan could ever see him as anything other than a hero. It was a long-awaited window into that twisted mind. And then he died screaming, which is all anyone could have asked for.
Catherine, characteristically, also didn’t hold back. We got her rage when Tommy condescended to forgive her (even without the hair, his Jesus complex remained), her roll-call of his disgusting crimes, and a conveyor belt of insults met by his inarticulate protests. The climax was her triumphant verdict on Ryan not being anything like him. Well if that boy’s a prince, it’s because she’s a queen.
There was enough space for that climactic scene to play out unrushed because the episode did good housekeeping. The gangster plot was tidied away early on in a thrillingly clumsy bloodbath that left three bodies on the moors and Tommy Lee Royce lucky that he never woke up from that coma.
In that gangster car journey, Tommy’s ‘get them before they get you’ mindset paid off. The Kneževićs were clearly planning on getting him, either because he wouldn’t let his “bit of business” with Catherine go and so was too great a liability, or because the Marbella dream was always a lie. And so Tommy got them first, ironically helping Catherine’s plight to rid the valley of these cut-rate Sopranos more than any organised crime taskforce.
It was Tommy’s evidence that got Darius charged, not that there was time to show it. Faisal’s arrest also wasn’t seen in the finale, but thanks to Alison Garrs and her dodgy probation officer, it’s only a matter of time. Rob’s possession of indecent images of a minor was a bit of a swerve, but sounds about right. It’s almost a shame Rob didn’t continue his predatory pursuit of Ryan, if only to have seen Catherine reach down his neck and yank out his skeleton whole like a cartoon cat producing the bones of a just-eaten fish. We all know she could do it.
Seeing Ryan in action this episode, there’s the sense that he might even have been able to handle Hepworth alone. After keeping his powder dry and his brow furrowed for most of the series, that boy showed up for the finale in a big way. First, by telling the truth about his contact with Royce entirely off his own back because he knew it was the right thing to do, and secondly, by telling his granny what’s what and advocating for his aunty Clare with words of straightforward sense. Fair play, son.
I’ll tell you something else about Ryan – that boy’s not doing an apprenticeship. See the speed at which he eyeballed Darius’ goon on that railway platform, and his ‘Are you in Halifax?’ to Royce the instant he heard a police siren in the background of his voice call last episode? Or his quick proud smile when Catherine’s DSU mistook him for a new recruit and said he had “something about him”? Look too at the verdict he delivered on Rob Hepworth – honest, useful, not afraid to speak his mind and state his instincts. Get that boy in uniform. After all, Yorkshire Police are going to need another Cawood in service if they don’t want their solve stats to to drop through the carpet.
So that’s Happy Valley’s happy conclusion. Catherine spent 16 years worrying that when it came to her grandson, the apple wouldn’t fall far from the tree, never realising that she’s the tree.
Because for all the brutality this drama has shown us over the years, what this emotional, optimistic finale left us with was the fact that what endures is love. Love for Becky. Love for Ryan. What weapon brought down afeared villain Tommy Lee Royce? Not a gun or a taser but a self-adhesive 6 x 4 photo album filled with days at the park, holidays, birthdays and ordinary love. That’s what turned Tommy from a rampaging bear stomping through that cosy red and yellow home, to the diminished creature he ended up. She won, obviously. Her strength. Her love. Oh, there’s a grandmother alright.
Happy Valley Series 1-3 are available to stream on BBC iPlayer.