Happy Valley finishes off its second season with all the brutal, no-nonsense panache that's become the series' trademark.
The end of the fifth episode, with a mother blowing her insane son's head off with a shotgun, is a tough act to follow. That doesn't mean the show's got nothing left to tell - "'cause people are weird, people are mad, and they don't always have it tattooed across their foreheads."
Among the first parts of the episode is Catherine and Shafiq discovering the bloodbath at the farm, in what must be the most gruesome footage this show has ever produced. Shafiq takes it all as well as one would suppose a young, emotionally normal police officer would, which is not too well at all, while Catherine predictably remains more professionally composed.
Alison seems to have overdosed on Valium and booze, which coincidentally is one of the most foolproof ways to survive an overdose you could ever think of - you'd have a better shot at killing yourself with Aspirin - so of course she lives. After confessing to the murder of her son and the realization of why she did it, Catherine arrests her and gives her the speech, and this is a scene where Sarah Lancashire really shines, injecting a tremendous level of compassion and sadness into her delivery.
Meanwhile, the second plot resolution of the season finale deals with "the comeuppance of your everyday bad guy". As it turns out, Daryl had conveniently told his mother that he didn't kill Vicky Fleming before she blew his brains out. This also ties in with Neil coming clean with Catherine about his history with Vicky and Ann telling her that John had been asking her how to get his hands on a thousand pounds, and predictably that's the end of the road for dear John.
At least now we know why the show wouldn't have Ann actually go on a date with him - after what she'd been through in season one and the consequences thereof, sleeping with a married man who turns out to be a murderer and kills himself would just have been sadistic.
This storyline always seemed to be intended to mirror Kevin's predicament in season one, yet for me it's a fair bit weaker. Mr. Doyle sells John's distress admirably - there's certainly no shortage of talented actors on the show - but the story does a lesser job in actually humanizing him and conveying the tragedy of the whole situation.
It might be related to the fact that neither the wife nor the husband are sympathetic in the least, and neither of them even have some twisted, noble motive like Kevin did in season one with his kids' education and his resentment over his father being cheated out of his company. They're the cheats and John got the raw end of the deal shacking up with a psychopath who abused and blackmailed him until he lost it.
The scene on the rooftop, with Catherine trying to convince him not to jump, is both superbly written and fantastically acted, as John's pointing out how he's received the suicide prevention training that she herself lacks before he takes the final plunge. Again, this is a testament to Sarah's acting skills, as she's absolutely destroyed afterwards - in fact this is a rare episode which has her breaking down not only once but twice.
The main plot of the installment is Catherine going after "Miss Wealand". For an action fan - who would never watch this show in the first place anyway - it almost comes off as anticlimactic, as Frances ends up going out not with a bang but with a whimper as she's promptly arrested for fraud. Turns out she's been impersonating her own dead sister to get the job at Ryan's school, and the tense, low-key conversation between Catherine and her is one of the high points of the episode. It's a great illustration of exactly how pointless it can be to try to talk sense into willfully deluded people, especially if their delusions are cemented in religious fervor.
I must admit, the final scene where Catherine visits Frances to tell her about Tommy's other "fiancés" struck a chord in me. Maybe it's just how the actress has such a talent for looking weak and absolutely helpless, but I really felt a whiff of pity for her. This development should take away some of Tommy's options of hurting the Cawood family from behind bars, but with him receiving that ill-advised letter from his son in the closing minutes of the installment it's clear how they'll pitch his continued involvement with the show.
This show has a great talent for weaving things together. None of the characters involved live in a vacuum, not even Tommy Lee Royce holed up in his cell, they are all intimately connected to each other. At times things almost become too neat. If we go back to the pilot of the second season, we have Catherine investigating some shenanigans with some bullies and some sheep in order to find the first body of the serial killer, and in its conclusion we find out the actual killer is the owner of the livestock.
The scene with Alison killing her son Daryl, her confession in Catherine's arms and the subsequent reveal that her son was a product of incestuous rape - "yet another story of country folk" - is an only too obvious parallel to Catherine's fears about Ryan; an "aberration" she fears will turn out bad no matter what she does. I must admit the show is a bit too heavy handed with this for my taste, with Ryan discussing with his family about getting a pet in the end scene and only wanting killer dogs.
When this show is on top of its game, there are few other projects that can touch it. In fact, the closest cousin might be Rectify, which happens to be my favorite television show of all time. This one is just far, far harder to review. All in all this has been an excellent season - while perhaps slightly weaker than season one's more centered arc - and I'll be thrilled to see where Wainwright takes this story next.