Happy Valley is one of the best television programmes ever made.
We always knew that following up the first season of Sally Wainwright’s impeccable series was going to be a tall order, but over the last six weeks we have been pushed through a gamut of emotions that has equalled anything the first year could serve up.
Sarah Lancashire’s Catherine is put through a week from hell in this final instalment.
We open with her confronting Ryan’s headteacher about his developing relationship with his teaching assistant, her calm, menacingly direct tone strongly suggesting that she isn’t someone who is willing to be messed about with.
Exiting the school she passes Frances who is on her way. What would be a fleeting moment in real time is delivered in slow motion to wring out every last speck of tension. What is Catherine going to do, we ask ourselves. Nothing, is the obvious answer. It’s easy to forget that Catherine never actually goes about doing anything that isn’t legal – everything is above board but it’s her tone and approach to others that suggests she’s a loose cannon when the reality is anything but.
Her guilt over not being able to do more for victim Darryl leads her to visit the farmhouse to show her support. But a quick hello leads to the discovery of Darryl’s body and his mother Alison slumped next to him, overdosed to her eyeballs.
Convinced the ongoing feud with the gang of lads had reached a grim conclusion, Catherine is visibly devastated when Alison confesses to killing her son. We later learn that Alison was abused by her father and that Darryl is the product of incestuous rape. Susan Lynch is again excellent and allows Lancashire to show her sensitive side.
Frances’ past creeps up on her – she’s stolen the identity of her dead sister, a former teacher, in order to take up the post in Ryan’s school. As Catherine and Clare put it, it’s just creepy and weird.
The eventual showdown between Catherine and Frances takes another unexpected turn – Catherine just wants to understand what would lead someone that intelligent to become deluded by a psychopath. It seemingly boils down to his good looks, Frances accusing Catherine of jealousy and not at all grasping the true nature of his crimes, looking ever more pitiful.
We eventually learn that Frances is just a string of prison visit fiancés that Tommy Lee Royce has attending to him, Catherine delivering the news to her without a hint of pleasure or malice.
And so to the big question – would Wadsworth get away with Vicky’s murder?
It was a rollercoaster this week – first his fellow detectives questioning if it was someone in their own team until Neil came forward to say he’d previously known Vicky. At this point it we thought it game over for Neil, obviously about to be incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit.
That was until a mystery man arrived at the station with information about Vicky – we were convinced he was another former lover until he was revealed as Wadworth’s wife’s lover. Very quickly the stack of cards he’d built came crashing down with Catherine ending up being the one to give chase.
It all ended with Wadsworth standing on a bridge. Wainwright managed to pull out some humour from a very dark situation – Catherine hadn’t been on the suicide intervention training, forcing Wadsworth to talk himself out of it. He failed and rolled off the bridge to his death. Downton Abbey actor Kevin Doyle was an excellent addition to the season’s cast, constantly keeping us on edge and guessing as to what he’d do next.
In fact there were a raft of excellent new additions this season, the names of which are littered in our previous reviews. It could be argued that some were criminally underused but we’d argue that instead it shows the strength of the writing and of the show that talented fairly notable actors would be willing to take on smaller than usual roles. And who can blame them?
Not everything was neatly wrapped up (nor would we have wanted it that way). The ongoing trafficking gang storyline wasn’t really referenced and frankly it’s not a storyline that we’ve been particularly invested in, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Wainwright is just sowing the seeds for a hopefully inevitable third season. Tommy Lee Royce, again underused but to brilliant effect, received his son’s letter providing an address that he could reply to – does Ryan have access to an address we and Catherine don’t know about?
Coming back to Ryan, the season ended with the Cawoods taking a scenic stroll in the Yorkshire dales. What could/should be a happy ending slowly deteriorates into the Catherine’s overriding terror and realisation that Ryan is the product of a vicious sadist. As Darryl has proven, with the best will in the world, are some people just born evil?
Happy Valley deserves to win every award going – the haunting soundtrack, the beautiful direction, the impeccable supporting cast. It is, however, very clearly a showcase for two immense talents: Sarah Lancashire, in a part quite literally written for her outstanding talent, and Sally Wainwright, whose words each week skilfully weave a rich tapestry of a show.
Roll on Season 3!
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 15 March 2016 on BBC One.
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