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Happy Valley: Episode #1.3

"She said, 'This is all I wanted all my life, and I'm shit at it,' and I should've said, 'No, you're not. You're fantastic, you're lovely,' but I didn't, I just let her dwell on it, so she'd be thinking I'd be thinking that she was shit at it, and I didn't. I don't think that. She wasn't."

Or: the third episode in a row where things simply keep going straight to Hell.

It was with a certain degree of trepidation that I accepted the request to join the review team for Happy Valley. The reason being, this has to be the most un-Happy Valley ever. I've watched a fair number of shows and movies most would find unstomachable, with little problem - Serbski Film, Salo, Schramm, you name it - but Happy Valley really pushed the envelope for me. Simply put this is one of the scariest shows I've ever seen, and the subject matter is so deeply uncomfortable to me that at times it's hard to even watch. The main characters are detailed to such a degree and their actions are motivated in such a way that you can't help feeling sorry even for some of the villains of the story. That's also what made me accept. Anything so profoundly disconcerting is worth reviewing.

Alright, so what about this outing?

A notable thing about Happy Valley is its hyper-realistic dialog. When you watch a show such as this, you can't help but realize how heavily stylized most other dramas are. Here you have people talking with a lot of "er" and "uhm" and they rarely are the most eloquent of creatures. This is part of what lends the show its charm and unique quality. "Hollywood naturalism" has been the big thing for most "serious" film and television for quite a while now - and it's certainly not the only way to tell a story, despite what some would have you believe - but Happy Valley takes it to a whole other level. It's not a show concentrating on staged shots and it actually isn't very graphically pretty - which I guess is my way of saying "sorry for not flooding the review with screenshots" - but that only further lends it its style.

We open the installment with the absolutely worst case ever for Lewis as he's getting pulled over by Kirsten, the young officer serving under Katherine whom we were introduced to earlier, while transporting Ann Gallagher to her new location, and this really is the main story of the episode. As Kirsten notices strange sounds coming from the van, Tommy sees no recourse but to attack, running her over with his car.

There is something immensely chilling about the matter-of-fact way Kirsten radios in her final message to the police station - "I think they just killed me." Happy Valley isn't about the crime in all its gruesome glory, it's about the characters' reactions to it - from breaking down to rage to total shock to utter disbelief. This is one of the aspects of the show which ring the most authentic. Over the episode, we see the fallout from Kirsten's death. We see Katherine delivering the news to her brother, packing up her stuff, blaming herself for the death, having the brother unjustly blame her for it... It's really well done, powerful, emotional stuff.

This is the first episode unequivocally showing us that Catherine is in fact mentally ill. As she sorts through the items in Kirsten's locker, she experiences triggered hallucinations of her daughter's suicide and she abuses her authority as a police officer in physically assaulting and threatening a citizen with arrest for singing an insulting song. While all of this is perfectly understandable, it puts into question if this person is really fit for duty - not the least because of her inclination to use her professional position in order to carry out a personal vendetta. Now, the audience knows that Tommy is a monster who's just kidnapped and raped a young girl, but she does not know this. As she herself has said, she's not about to deal with the matter in a "rational" manner, and that should be the bare minimum expected from a trained professional.

Tommy is the most of a regular, no-holds-barred villain the show's got, but he's also the one most realistic about their prospects. He knows that no, they can't hand Ann over to her family when all is said and done, because she knows too much. The shoddy way they've gone about the kidnapping means Ann has seen their faces and she knows Lewis' full name. The only way for them to have a remote chance to get away with it is to kill her. Naturally, Ann goes after Lewis, who's the softer of the two, to persuade him to help her escape, although it's unclear if that will lead anywhere. Clearly, though, in some way or another, he's bound to break.

The first undercurrent of this installment is the matter of Kevin's wife, who begrudgingly suggests that they might in fact take and spend their share of the ransom. Jenny really has accepted the situation from day one - she's realized that her husband has gotten himself into an impossible situation and what we see here is the start of her normalizing the crime. While we haven't got much of a characterization of her, this is an interesting touch. It isn't pretty but in a way it's understandable.

The second undercurrent is Richard accepting to receive visits from his grandson Ryan. It's easy to villainize Richard - he cheats on his new woman with his former wife and his attitude towards Ryan is troublesome at best, to name but two less-than-endearing traits - but it has to be realized that both Richard and Katherine are dealing with extreme circumstances, and while he's by far the weaker person, that does not make him evil. It will be interesting to see how those visits go, because from all we've seen on screen, Ryan is anything but a nice and stable kid. Then again, this is sort of a trademark for Happy Valley. It's not about people making logical choices or being "rational", it's about people making mistakes and being human... and how the "human condition" isn't always a good thing.

In the final moments of the episode, Katherine knocks in the door of Tommy's apartment and finds Ann's knickers and a pool of blood in the basement, while Kevin receives what promises to be the last payment of the ransom and Ashley is contemplating whether to let Ann go or have her murdered.

No matter where this is going, it's not looking good for anyone.


  1. What happened to Kirsten was so horrible, especially when Tommy *kept doing it*, kept running over her as if he was enjoying himself. Points to the director for not showing Kirsten herself in those shots; it was awful enough. (Like showing the knickers on the floor, but not the rape; we didn't need to see it for it to have an impact.) If Tommy can do what he just did to Kirsten, killing Ann would be nothing to him.

    Catherine cleaning out Kirsten's locker just tore my heart out. So did Kirsten's boyfriend blaming Catherine for Kirsten's death. Catherine was comforting everyone else and no one was comforting her for the loss of someone she apparently saw as a daughter. I liked what you pointed out about Catherine being mentally ill, Thomas. I think she overcompensates for her anger and grief by throwing herself into her job. I also liked what you said about Richard. He's certainly not *evil* evil, like Tommy is.

  2. I also have to give props to the directive decision to show the reaction to the crime rather than the crime itself. Same for the rape. Mind you, I have no problem with graphical representations of violence on-screen if it's done right, but the way they did it carried an equal or greater amount of emotional resonance.

    This show touches on a similar point that "The Automatic Hate" did, expect I chose not to focus on it on my review of that - the one of nature versus nurture. I'm interested to see where this takes Ryan's story.

  3. Kirsten's death was horrible. She wanted to be a cop who could handle her job, so she just kept on with the traffic stop, when she should have just made a hasty excuse, gotten out of there and called in for back-up. I was yelling for her to get out of there. Instead she was run down like a cat in the road. It was awful. Poor Catherine now has to deal with that young woman's death on top of everything else. I feel bad for Ryan also. He doesn't have a mother, or a father. He has learning and impulse control problems. He's most likely not popular at school or in the neighborhood because of his angry outbursts. There is a lot of ugly on this show, but I still find myself wowed by the scenery. The upper mountain vistas are beautiful, and the town is also very diverse. That's one of the reasons why English shows are interesting to me. The scenery in middle America suburbia where I live is nice, but a little boring.

  4. Thomas, how great that you pointed out how the dialogue is perfectly imperfect -- it really does endear us to this show and its characters. Wonderful review!


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