Review: Happy Valley (S2 E6/6), Tuesday 15th March, BBC1

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 08/03/2016 - Programme Name: Happy Valley series 2 - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 6) - Picture Shows: **EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01 HRS ON TUESDAY 8TH MARCH** Catherine (SARAH LANCASHIRE) - (C) Red Productions - Photographer: Ben Blackall
(C) Red Productions – Photographer: Ben Blackall

So here we are. The end of another gruelling story for Catherine Cawood (the astonishing Sarah Lancashire) saw her edge closer to her and her family’s tormentor – Tommy Lee Royce’s foot soldier Frances – and also thrown into the dénouement of both the serial killer case and the case of John and his wicked ways. It was all to play for.

NB: There are universe-sized spoilers in this review

After last week’s astonishing final scene, where mother Alison shot her own son Daryl in the back of the head because he had committed such heinous crimes, there was an equally astonishing follow-up scene. Catherine and Shafiq entered the Garrs’ household, Shafiq noticing Daryl’s bashed-in red car, to be met by carnage – Daryl face down in his breakfast, the back of his head blown clean off; his mother Alison smeared in her son’s blood, her own life teetering on the edge because of a near-fatal absorption of pills and booze.

The way Catherine handled the situation was immense. She took a moment to survey the scene – something akin to a still-life painting by Pieter Claesz or Joachim Beuckelaer with added hideous bits – and decide on a course of action. She called it in, she got rid of Shafiq and then dragged Alison out onto the doorstep where she cradled her and teased out the confession from the semi-conscious woman, all the while making sure she stayed alive. It was stupendous acting from Sarah Lancashire and Susan Lynch in such a visceral, physical scene, and very moving – once again showing that Happy Valley can do brutal and beautifully empathetic in one easy movement. Catherine and Alison coming together like that meant that they became united in grief because they had both lost a child. Catherine understood Alison’s pain, and what it must have taken to do something like this.

With the Daryl storyline over and done with, it meant we could concentrate on the inevitable showdown between Frances and Catherine. With a few near misses earlier on in the episode and Frances finally arrested, Catherine once again defied convention to visit her one evening in her own home. And, once again, Catherine’s approach wasn’t quite what I was expecting. After series one’s showdown with Tommy Lee ended in extreme violence, this one was muted and considered. Catherine tried to reason with Frances, keeping it by the book at all times and, again, showing compassion. She could see this frail woman was vulnerable and easy to manipulate, and instead of being a righteous battering ram she was calm and reasonable, all the while trying to explain to Frances what Tommy Lee Royce was really about.

Could this be because of more female-to-female empathy? I genuinely think so, and if you look objectively at the series – this series in particular – most of the main characters are women dealing with (or rather clearing up after) bad decisions made and acts perpetrated by men. Happy Valley takes crime drama conventions and character archetypes normally reserved for men and turns them on their heads, employing women in these roles instead. Megan Abbott does this in her noirish thrillers, and Sally Wainwright has done it here, exploring the roles of women within family, the workplace and, crucially, as mothers with female characters that are fully in the forefront. Not only that, but it also examines the way women are viewed and treated by men – whether it be a sex worker, a trafficked woman or a wife at home. The only female character that vaguely resembled something familiar in crime stories was femme fatale, Vicky, who met a grisly end.

I’ve read the name John Steinbeck mentioned in some reviews of this show and, from what I know of the American author, I agree – Happy Valley shows how happiness can only be achieved through denial and struggle, and shows the constant fight for integrity in the face of the intense pressure of temptation and corruption. Catherine embodies all the qualities of the sheriff, bestriding her town, her patch with confidence and authority. That’s the way she keeps control after all that has happened to her. But Catherine’s character development in this series has shown cracks in that armour. She’s been accused of murder, and her home – which has resembled an ark or a refuge for women in trouble – and her grandson’s life have been threatened. Everything she holds dear – her identity and her family – were put at risk. She’s been put through the mill again, but this time in different ways.

There was also pleasing character development when it came to sister Clare and Ann, in particular.

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the tense near-final scene, when John realised his time was up and Catherine had to try and talk him down from the precipice, to no avail as it turned out. Another hardship for Catherine to bear, and a realisation that she couldn’t control everything and make everything better, hard as she might try.

As breathtakingly written and incredibly well acted as this series was, it wasn’t quite perfect – sometimes the tête-à-têtes between Frances and Tommy Lee were a little overwrought and unintentionally reminded me sometimes of comedy sketches from Alas Smith And Jones. And although Frances turned out to be a multi-faceted character, her initial, breathy whispering and steamed-up glasses were a tiny bit cartoonish. I also felt that Julie Hesmondhalgh, a fine actress, was underused.

But all in all, throughout this series Happy Valley cemented its standing as one of the country’s best, most interesting and important dramas, crime or other.

Paul Hirons

For our episode one review, go here

For our episode two review, go here

For our episode three review, go here

Four our episode four review, go here

For our episode five review, go here

3 Comments Add yours

  1. heather mccaskill says:

    But for me the final scene was the most disturbing as it was linked to Alison’s backstory of a mother who both loved and hated her son who was the result of sustained sexual violation by her own father. So when the son behaves like the father, that sense that she can never escape violation but has created it again through her son, she takes the almost unfathomable step of killing him and attempts to kill herself.
    In that context the question that Catharine reflects on in that final family scene on the hillside is whether sexual predators are born or made and on her complex relationship with her own grandson given the background of her daughter’s sexual violation and death. Also that the grandson has now sought out Tommy through the letter signed off with “love” raises the ante on these deeply disturbing issues for any mother/grandmother and takes this series into whole new realm of its own – bring on series 3.


    1. Paul Hirons says:

      Thanks Heather, great comments


    2. Paul Hirons says:

      Heather, could you send me your email address?


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