Many shows have a terrific opening sequence that cleverly tells the audience what it's all about. Happy Valley takes it to a whole other level, when Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) must talk down a drunken smackhead in a playground who is about to set fire to himself. And talk him down she does. Or more accurately, she gets close enough to douse him in extinguisher foam.
It's a marvelous metaphor for Catherine's life, which she spends putting out metaphorical fires at work and at home, waiting for a metaphorical negotiator who is stuck in traffic and will never, ever show up. Of course, I could also go with the obvious "she's playing with fire."
As she helpfully tells Liam, the kerosene-soaked idiot in the opener, Catherine is 47 and divorced, has two grown children, and lives with her sister, who is a recovering heroin addict. As she later tells the school administrator, Catherine's daughter Becky was a victim of rape and committed suicide shortly after giving birth, and Catherine's marriage broke up as a result. Catherine is raising her grandson Ryan alone.
And Ryan is a troubled child. He has an "unpleasant temper," throwing chairs and swearing at his teacher. (Does he sense that he was unwanted? Of course he does.) Catherine is justifiably worried that Ryan takes after his biological father, Tommy Lee Royce. More about Tommy further on in this review.
At work, it's so clear that Catherine is very good at her job, and that she cares deeply about people. She even went out of the way to connect with Kevin Weatherill, offering him a sit down and a cup of tea. When she's out of uniform, we can see the pain in her eyes, especially the incredible depth of grief for her daughter. When Ryan's teacher and the school admin ask to speak to her about Ryan's temper problems, Catherine looks like she herself is the schoolchild in trouble.
Catherine is still involved with her ex-husband Richard, a reporter whose paper is shutting down. I shouldn't make snap judgments, but I already despise him. Yes, he was the one who found Becky's body (Catherine's remark that she should have been the one because she's accustomed to dead bodies and he's not, wow, that bothered me). And yes, marriages tend to break up when a couple loses a child tragically. But Catherine is now carrying the entire load, raising their grandson alone, while he's got a new wife that he's cheating on with Catherine. Plus he takes Catherine out to dinner so that he can pump her for a story for his failing paper. What a shit. Am I being too harsh?
Okay, moving on the kidnapping.
There's this guy named Kevin Weatherill. He has the sort of life that Catherine should have but doesn't: a good-paying job, a pleasant house, a nice wife and two (living) daughters. Kevin goes to his boss, Nevison Gallagher, and asks for a good-sized raise so that his daughters can go to a better school, and Nevison reluctantly turns him down.
|Steve Pemberton, in a terrific performance as Kevin Weatherill|
Maybe that's the way it would have happened if Tommy Lee Royce weren't involved, because you just know after he keeps hitting Ann during the actual kidnapping that it's not going to end well. Tommy is taking pleasure in terrorizing Ann, threatening to dismember her and asking her if she's a virgin. (Shudder.) Catherine said that Tommy had been brutal with her daughter Becky, and I can totally believe that. It gives weight to Catherine's post-coital discussion with Richard about taking the law into her own hands and killing Tommy herself. Not that she would. Or would she?
When Nevison's wife and daughter get Nevison to change his mind and give Kevin the tuition money after all, Kevin is completely thrown. And it isn't even just that: Nevison's wife Helen has terminal cancer and Nevison wants to travel with her before the end. He wants to leave Kevin in charge, something Kevin has always wanted and thinks he deserves.
To give Kevin credit, his first impulse is to go to the police and tell them everything before Ann is kidnapped. And Catherine is right there, ready and willing to go the extra mile and find out whatever is bothering the guy. Kevin changes his mind and takes off, clearly not clever enough to realize that the police are sort of good at stuff like taking down plate numbers.
And there you have it. This pilot episode tells us everything we need to know about Catherine Cawood, sets up the villains and the victims of the kidnapping and the ransom, and makes it all so believable. I was instantly hooked, and immediately fond of Catherine Cawood. I especially loved how she was just driving by and saw Tommy in front of a restaurant, and she immediately went after him and was actually looking around the neighborhood where they took Ann Gallagher. Catherine is like a bloodhound. It was almost as if she could smell the kidnapping that just took place.
-- Ashley and Lewis aren't all that bright and don't seem vicious. Ashley was actually nice enough to set up wheelchair access for Kevin's wife Jenny in the game room, and Lewis let Ann see his face and even said Ashley's name right in front of Ann. Tommy is clearly the hardened criminal.
-- Nevison was unhappy with Ann for throwing away her expensive education. And she was kidnapped in order to give someone else an expensive education.
-- The kidnapping took place right under power lines. No symbolism there, huh?
-- I've never been to Yorkshire (actually, I've never been to the U.K.) but it doesn't look dissimilar to rural Pennsylvania, with the mountains and the stone buildings.
-- Becky's gravestone reads: "Rebecca Cawood (Becky) 1988-2006. Beloved daughter of Catherine and Richard and sister of Daniel. In God is my hope."
-- To add insult to injury, Liam Hughes, the moron who was going to set himself on fire, was threatening to press charges against Catherine for assault. Plus she had to pay for the fire extinguisher.
Catherine: "I'm Catherine, by the way. I'm 47, I'm divorced, I live with my sister who's a recovering heroin addict. I have two grownup children, one dead, one who don't speak to me, and a grandson, so..."
Liam: "Why? Why don't he speak to you?"
Catherine: "It's complicated. Let's talk about you."
Jason: (through the door) "Fuck off."
Shafiq: "I think that means 'Come in', Sarge, in Swahili."
Catherine: "If I'd said that, it'd be racist."
Richard: "He's lowlife. He's scum. He'll get what's coming to him one day. He just will."
Catherine: "The upside, on the other hand, the exquisite satisfaction you'd get from grinding his severed scrotum into the mud with the underside of your shittiest shoe, and then burying his worthless carcass in a shallow grave up on the moors where it can rot, undisturbed and unloved, until the end of time... I'm sure that would make me feel better. Just a bit."
Ashley: "You can call me God."
I thought that was apt, since he does have the power of life and death over Ann.
Four out of four fire extinguishers,
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.
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