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Happy Valley: Episode #2.6

"What a shit week!"

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 "fianc├ęs" 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.


  1. I thought it was really strong, even though it wasn't quite as good as the first season. I was so impressed with the scenes where Catherine held Alison in her arms so tenderly while arresting her, the trouble Catherine took to try to get Frances to see the truth about Tommy (more than I'd ever do), and that last conversation with John Wadsworth where she actually got him to talk about what he would say to get himself down because he'd had intervention training and she hadn't. Kevin Doyle did a great job, too; you could practically see what was going on in his head as his world just disintegrated.

    Terrific review, Thomas. Thanks so much to you and Heather for taking on this series with me. I hope they do a third, although I'm apprehensive about what direction they might take because I think they're being a bit heavy-handed with Ryan. Poor kid.

  2. Thomas,
    What a great review, thank you. It has been both fun and revelatory to review this show with you and Billie. I, too, am looking forward to S3, to see where they go with all of this.
    I'm not as bothered by the Ryan stuff being so overt because if you filter it through Catherine's POV, he holds the highest stakes for her in his little being. He represents a huge leap of faith she took, maybe the first or only in her life of this magnitude, and that's just but one of the half dozen complexities that he represents for her! He embodies her fear more than anything and, with him, she's doesn't have her great detachment she can use in other areas at her disposal. I think the hammer quality of his issues reflects Catherine's lack of objectivity.
    As for everything else, I was happy with the conclusion of the three stories this season, overall. But the standouts in this last episode for me were the two female-centric conversations Catherine has with Alison (in the hospital) and Francis, respectively. Just astoundingly awesome all around, those two scenes! Makes me love Wainwright at a new level.

  3. Heather, that was very well said, I completely agree about the complexities of Ryan's existence. Catherine couldn't let go of her daughter's son, but she must see so many different things in him as he has grown up, and a lot of them must scare her silly. He'll probably turn out fine, but every negative aspect of his personality must remind her of Royce. I have an autistic daughter, so I know how it feels to love a child fiercely, yet also have so many days where you don't know how you are going to go on dealing with them for one more minute. Catherine is tough on Ryan, and speaks her mind when she is unhappy with him, like when he trashed his room, but then she also cuddles with him when he calms down. One day at a time, that's all she can do. Series one was pretty awesome, and this season wasn't as good all the time, but bring on series 3. How bad can it get?

  4. This show was the best, and there will be a final series Three! Just broke down and got Netflix and am loving all the fantastic British detective shows, my favorite, especially when the detective is a woman.

  5. I'm very much looking forward to season three as well. And we'll definitely review it.


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