Happy Valley: Episode #2.3

Catherine's sad, Tommy is mad, Clare is hungover and John's waking up from his murderous frenzy to an even bleaker future.

One of the hard things about reviewing any single episode of Happy Valley is how this is a show so serialized it's almost impossible not to get into numerous events that happened before. It's especially evident in an installment like this where an absolute crapload of plots turn up over one hour.

To structure it down, we have Catherine's mental issues and the growing resentment towards her at work, the mafia slave trade business, Tommy and Frances plotting against Ryan and the Cawoods and the consequences of John killing Vicky. All of these developments would be important enough to serve as a main plot all on their own.

It's been clear for quite some time now that something's not right in the head of Catherine, and seriously, it's hardly surprising. With all the trash she's been wading through over the last decade - her daughter's suicide, her marriage falling to pieces, her addict sister, her vendetta against Tommy and grisly crimes after grisly crimes - it would be a miracle if she still had all her marbles. It has to be said here; the superintendent's choice to force her to choose between therapy and retirement is clearly the correct call - you simply can't have a police officer going around acting like she's been doing, and I suspect deep down Catherine knows it. As a result we end up with the first episode which really delves deep into her mental problems, via a mandated counselling session with the force psychologist.

While Catherine would never choose to look upon herself as a victim, she is a victim - a victim of circumstances beyond her control. When asked how she feels, she simply responds that she's "sad" - more elaborately put, life has disappointed her to such an extent that she lives in a perpetual state of sadness. It's a state of depression mixed with anger - a fully sane person would neither harbor, admit to nor make ironic remarks about homicidal impulses against her family for cheating on one's wife, playing a stupid prank at school or falling off the wagon. And it shows, making people both good and bad nervous and scared of her.

Another thing that's made clear through the therapy session and the "bird allegory" is that Catherine is afraid of Tommy. She's scared of him to the point where it's blinding her to anything else, such as the potentially grave consequences for crashing his mom's funeral - an ethically deplorable action no matter how you swing it, since Tommy was hardly the only person there wishing to pay respects to his mom - but again, who can blame her? He raped her daughter and drove her to suicide. He almost killed Catherine. He still wants to kill her. Only a fool would not be frightened.

On a more fundamental level, her horrible life experiences has left her with an extremely negative world view. In a way, she's a reverse image of the dearly departed Helen. As was on display the last episode, where - for seemingly the umpteenth time in a row - she abuses her authority by checking up the criminal record of her sister's prospective boyfriend, she simply thinks the worst of everyone until proven otherwise. This is blatantly evidenced by her going off at Joyce and threatening her not to disclose any of the information shared in their conversation at the bar to her superiors. Catherine is rapidly turning into her own worst enemy. At least she ends up with an alibi officially clearing her for the murder of Tommy's mom, so there's that.

This isn't to say that Catherine isn't a good person at heart or that she's inept at her job - she's clearly one of the most capable of the officers at the station, but she keeps cutting too many corners, alienating too many people and heading towards a collapse. This isn't someone who should just be going to six mandated meetings with an in-house shrink, this is someone who, just as many others in stressful positions, needs a regular psychologist contact.

The second plot of the episode is John (not so much) dealing with the aftermath of killing Vicky, and he's predictably coming apart at the seams, which may or may not have something to do with raping his dead mistress with a broken beer bottle to pin the blame for her murder on the supposed serial killer. In what is rapidly becoming a Happy Valley trademark, this is a collection of scenes so unsettling it's hard to look away and even harder to watch, utilizing effective micro-flashback scenes throughout the episode. It's also a situation where it's impossible to feel much sympathy for either party. Vicky drugged and sexually assaulted John and proceeded to blackmail him with her own crime, and while that doesn't carry a death penalty it's hard to shed many tears for her. As for John, it's somewhat understandable that he would lose it but that doesn't excuse murdering anyone.

This scene is juxtaposed with John finding out that his wife, too, is having an affair, in what's basically a ripoff of last season's ill-conceived kidnapping, where Kevin found out about Nevison giving him a raise only moments after he'd set the plan in motion. This is the first time I've seen a Happy Valley plot device fall flat because it feels recycled, and the mere fact that his wife is also cheating on him wouldn't make the incriminating evidence go away. Apart from that I have a hard time suspending my disbelief when it comes to John's - a police officer's - actions in this ultra-naturalistic show. As noted in previous reviews, with his presumed vast experience of crimes and their consequences it makes precious little sense that he wouldn't go to the authorities no matter how unpalatable.

I have intentionally not watched past this episode for this review but it's hard to imagine John getting away with it. The fact that he burnt up Vicky's apartment to destroy any evidence is a real clue that this isn't the same killer, and depending on how thorough he was in replicating the previous crimes he might have given away that this is a copycat with inside knowledge of police work. Then we have his wife dialing in how she knows he has no alibi for the night of the murder. Thirdly we have him asking Ann out for a drink in a side plot which ends up in her finding the identity of his murder victim. From there on it should be easy to connect the dots.

As a side note the scenes between Ann and John were really well done, in a "double-plot" sort of way. Ostensibly mostly designed to further the investigation into Vicky's death they also spell out that Ann has great ambitions to advance in the force and become a detective, plus that she doesn't exactly seem adverse to going out with him - her discussion with Catherine about the matter seems a bit ambivalent, with her instinctively denying him to be old enough to be her father and then conceding, "yeah, technically." While there's certainly nothing inherently sick about mildly entertaining a flirt with an older guy for whatever reason, being the victim of a brutal sexual assault will take a toll and at this point it's obvious that Ann is "too good to be true" - the kidnapping she went through has left her damaged, and her insistence that she's "not afraid of anything" seems like denial so strong she's convinced herself of it.

When it comes to the slave trade plot we have Ilinka and Winnie living under presumed threat to their lives while the arrested mobster gets out on bail and turns up dead, having committed "suicide". Not a lot happens with this plot in this episode.

In the main plot of the show, Frances - who's clearly completely insane - keeps working her job as Ryan's TA and reporting back to Tommy, presumably feeding him fabrications about talks she's had with his son. (It's hard to know for sure, but we certainly don't see any of Ryan telling her he "thinks of Tommy in a good way.") Predictably this just keeps feeding into Tommy's own delusions and lies, with him insisting that "he'd never hurt Ryan" and then suggesting her to murder Catherine and kidnap her grandson, to the surprise of absolutely no-one.

All in all, a very good episode. Three and a half out of four stood-up dates.


Billie Doux said...

Terrific review of a jam-packed episode, Thomas.

I have a lot of empathy for Catherine, and it's not just because I've raised a child alone and dealt for years with close relatives who have addiction issues. Catherine is the rock in her family and a rock at work, and it's not fun being the one everyone depends upon. It shouldn't be Catherine's responsibility to keep Clare sober, or to raise Ryan alone, but that's the sort of person she is, the sort that sleeps on the porch with a cricket bat so that she can be there for Winnie and Ilinka. Yes, Catherine should absolutely see a shrink, and possibly for years, even though she hates it, and maybe she should think about retirement. But I don't think she should be forced to give up a job she loves when she is clearly so good at it.

Ann is also a natural detective. I loved that she was showing initiative and curiosity about the murders and that she put together Vicky's body and the burned out flat. John definitely didn't think through that murder, and he most certainly should have. I thought a couple of times that if Catherine wanted to kill someone, she would have done a much better job.

I almost felt sorry for John (*almost*) when he had to stand there and catalog exhibits during that autopsy. It had to be helpful, being there and knowing what could possibly be used against him, but he also had to watch his girlfriend being autopsied. It's as outrageous as Catherine having to pursue the man responsible for her daughter's death. That twisty-ness and level of coincidence is trademark on this show, as you said, Thomas.

Tommy and Frances completely freak me out. Tommy is now blaming infection for his attempt to kill Ryan so horribly, and he's completely rewritten Ann's kidnapping and Kirsten's murder. It's not surprising that he's trying to get Frances to kill Catherine and kidnap Ryan. It appears that she's resisting the suggestion, though, which is encouraging.

Finally, I think my favorite little moment in this episode was the bit about Catherine trying to get her nicknames out of Ann, and what they turned out to be: Brunhilde and Ms. Trunchbull. Too funny.

Heather said...

Thomas, what a great read, thank you.
I think I see Catherine differently. I see her as a fighter who hasn't given up on that which is life-affirming. She still gets out of bed every morning and puts one foot in front of the other. I guess what I mean is that I don't feel that there's inherent tension on will she / won't she go over the edge. I know she's going to land in her feet.
John, on the other hand!! I like your categorizing his psyche being seen through "micro-flashbacks". It's really only a 'smash cut' in a comedy and it definitely needed a name in the context of a dramatic structure, so good on you!
I really like where Ann, Daniel, Francis and Clare all are now. This episode is a good one, both within the season and series. The show really is a marvel in a great many ways.