Here we go then. The final episode of one of the most talked-about and critically acclaimed British crime dramas of all time.
I’ve thought long and hard about Happy Valley over the course of the week. It’s great to see it transcend genres, get huge press coverage and get people talking about what’s going to happen in the finale. I’m all for it, and it’s a testament to Sally Wainwright’s writing and, certainly, Sarah Lancashire’s iconic performance as Catherine Cawood that this has been the case.
Leading up to the finale, I was well aware that it had a lot to clear up, and I really hoped that it could land successfully. Perhaps not a happy ending – when and what in Happy Valley has ever been happy? – but something satisfying, and emotionally engaging.
The showdown with Tommy Lee Royce, the fate of the lead characters, the Kneževićs and the Faisal case… all of these had to be tied up. And they were – in unexpected, moving, and very human ways.
The first big unexpected element to this final was the fate of Tommy Lee Royce. The Kneževićs wanted to move him from the safe house after their two hapless thugs were caught with the money, but seeing a car full of gangsters who initially wanted him to get into the boot of their car presented a number of red flags. He went back to the safe house, took a knife from the kitchen and then concealed it up the sleeve of his hoodie. What followed was absolutely brutal. Fearing for his life as they drove along the back lanes, he decided to take the initiative, repeatedly stabbing the thug in the back seat and then slicing the throat of the person in the passenger seat. He and the driver then tumbled out of the car into a field (with sheep all around) and battled to the death. Tommy was stabbed in the stomach but prevailed.
His plan of escape was in tatters, his life on the line.
He went to the only place he knew that would be empty: Catherine’s house.
Up until that point Catherine had been in reflective mood, visiting Becky’s grave and aware that it was her last day on the job before retirement. She also heard from Ryan what she needed to hear: that he never had any intention of running off with his dad, he just wanted to see for himself what he was like.
And so back to Tommy Lee Royce. There he sat in Catherine’s empty house, bleeding out and knowing that he was close to death, poring through the photo albums that Catherine had herself leafed through earlier. There he saw his son as a baby and perhaps saw in that moment what things could have been like for him. As a father, as someone who hadn’t thrown his life away. He also saw pictures of Becky, and he wept.
Whether this was because of guilt and remorse or self-pity we don’t know, but it was a poignant moment nonetheless. Perhaps that’s Sally Wainwright’s greatest achievement in all of this – giving Tommy Lee Royce grey areas, human areas, hitherto unexplored.
When the showdown came, Tommy was on his last legs. There was no fight, no Catherine in peril. But what a scene. Emotionally charged with two people so obviously hating each other – Catherine because of what Tommy did to Becky and her family, Tommy because he claimed that he loved Becky and that it was Catherine who had ruined his life.
In the end, Tommy Lee Royce set himself on fire after telling Catherine what the Kneževićs had done. And afterwards, Catherine strode down the street, as she always does, but this time collapsing as her colleagues surrounded the house. She wept until Clare came and held her. “We’ve had another tussle,” she said matter-of-factly, through the tears. “I won, naturally.”
The other loose ends? The two thugs got theirs, Rob Hepworth was arrested – not for the murder of his wife, but for having indecent images on his computer – and Alison helped the police locate Faisal. But all of these side-stories seemed inconsequential, almost irrelevant at times, to what was the main event. This has always been my slight uneasiness about Happy Valley – that the Fargoesque side stories don’t fit with the battle royale between Catherine and Tommy Lee.
One brilliant bit of writing at the end: when Catherine asked her boss who would be looking after the Hepworth girls, he told her, “there’s a grandmother”.
In that moment, Catherine knew what this meant. There’s always a grandmother.
To finish on, we saw Catherine standing by Becky’s graveside in civilian clothes. She looked softer, happier, the weight of the world having evaporated from her shoulders. Let’s hope it stays that way.
I have to admit: I’m not as high on HappyValley as many others. I enjoy it and I love, love, love the dialogue, the character of Catherine Cawood, the superb ensemble cast and the way it transposes the Western genre into a sleepy Yorkshire market town. These elements all work very, very well indeed. As does its forthright and welcome subversion of this genre. Not just a geographical subversion, but gender subversion. Instead of the male sheriff, bestriding his town, we get Catherine – in her thick police trousers she may as well be wearing chaps straight out of a Western film.
Happy Valley is also an unshamedly and brilliantly feminist drama. And it’s all about survival. We see survivors everywhere – Clare conquering her addictions, Anne surviving sexual abuse, and Catherine – of course, Catherine – surviving the kind of combination of ongoing trauma that would floor any other person. All survivors of violence meted out by men. The message, I think, of Happy Valley is that men’s capability to cause violence is everywhere. It’s appallingly unrelenting both in the real world and here, too, in the world of Happy Valley.
But there has been some pleasing, clever and nuanced character development in this final series when it comes to Catherine. In early episodes, she often swaggered around the town. She knew everyone, and she dealt with issues with an almost matter-of-fact way, able to cut through any bullshit and solve any problem. Looking after and protecting Ryan widened out to the whole town – this was her purpose, this was what she was made for. So when we saw Clare question this purpose and wondered if Catherine’s my-way-or-the-highway approach, it was a plausible development – noble intentions and a fierce matriarchal need to protect became twisted to the point that she elevated herself above everyone, family included.
Catherine unravelled a little in this final series, and she needed to. Her healing required it. She had shed the shield, in every sense, and can now be human once again, willing and able to let others in.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE THREE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE FOUR REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE FIVE REVIEW
Happy Valley is shown on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK