Happy Valley final review – one of TV’s greatest trilogies bids a fiery goodbye | Television
Brutal, tender, funny, compelling and heartbreaking to the bitter end – there’s nothing left to do now but look back on Happy Valley and say goodbye to all its inhabitants and their creator.
After three seasons, Sally Wainwright has concluded one of modern television’s greatest trilogies. She always planned to tell her bereaved protagonist’s story in three parts; you feel that even if she hadn’t wanted to keep her word, Catherine Cawood herself would have stepped in and made sure of it.
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire), of course, is at the center of the dramatic universe of Happy Valley. The partnership between Lancashire (who fills the role so fully it’s impossible to imagine anyone else) and Wainwright is the dramatic equivalent of Victoria Wood and Julie Walters. Separately, they are brilliant. Together they are invincible.
As part of his job duties, Sgt Cawood knows all the bad guys (usually “assholes”, sometimes “assholes”), the good and the best doing their best in the Calder Valley. Outside of work, she is the sister of a recovering alcoholic, Clare (Siobhan Finneran), Richard’s (Derek Riddell) ex-wife, mother of two and grandmother of one. She’s also a woman who will go to her grave mourning the loss 16 years ago of her 18-year-old daughter, Becky, who committed suicide after being raped and impregnated by the shitpot of shitpots, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton). We spent three seasons watching Catherine struggle with this grief, watching her try not to be consumed by her hatred of Tommy and find her way through the fear, love, worry and resentment that was a part inevitable part of Ryan’s upbringing, baby Becky left behind.
The penultimate episode left a general feeling that there was a lot – perhaps too much – to do in the finale, even with an extended runtime of 70 minutes. Tommy had escaped from prison and made contact with Ryan (Rhys Connah), encouraging her to run away with him to Spain. Catherine and Clare’s relationship had been broken seemingly irretrievably by the deepest betrayal.
Nothing yet allowed the police to link Faisal (Amit Shah) to the murder of Joanna (Mollie Winnard); while most viewers would have been happy to see her abusive husband, Rob (Mark Stanley), fall in love, it didn’t seem to fit the arc of Wainwright’s Moral Universe. The nailing of Halifax’s response to the Sopranos, the drug-dealing Knezevics, also seemed a long way off. A confrontation between Catherine and Tommy was surely to come, but how – and who, if anyone would survive – was up for grabs.
“Don’t doubt Wainwright” was the lesson of the finale. As sure as any walker – and aided by a cast with no weak link – she guided us to neat but truthful resolutions to every part of the story. He had redemption, justice, bitter laughter and fire in his blood.
Wainwright works his plots wonderfully, and yet the greatness of Happy Valley is elsewhere. It resides in Clare’s compassionate portrayal of someone too kind and too weak not to hurt. It lies in the accurate descriptions of all forms of aggression and violence that women encounter from men throughout their lives. It lies in Catherine’s deep weariness – that she gets up from the sofa when the secretary tells her that the chief of police is going to be half an hour late for their meeting (“I have things to do”), explain to another colleague how to do their job correctly or close their eyes for a moment before drinking tea.
It’s in the brief, desperate headbutt against a store window that an image of Becky floats before her and she has to question herself. It lies in her stopping to make sure Ryan’s tea doesn’t spoil while she rips a strip off him. It lies in the deeply, unapologetically, unapologetically northern, middle-aged female perspective of Catherine and Wainwright – the perspective of the people responsible for cleaning up all the mess the pussies leave behind as they move carelessly through life.
And now it’s over. Farewell, then, to our magnificent daughter of the valley. Let’s hope Catherine finally gets some peace where she’s going.