Series 3 of Happy Valley winds up to an agonisingly tense and superbly acted conclusion
“A fucked up, frightened, damaged, deluded, nasty little toddler-brain in a big man’s body”
For all that the third and final series of Happy Valley was building up to a cataclysmic confrontation between Sarah Lancashire’s Sergeant Catherine Cawood and James Norton’s Tommy Lee Royce, it feels entirely appropriate that the show’s best moment was a tossed-off line mid-argument about stew going cold. Such is the brilliance of Sally Wainwright’s writing, so perfectly pitched in its universe-building that the smallest details matter as much as the bigger picture.
The opening episode set the scene as we return to Calder Valley six years since the last series, cleverly letting Rhys Connah to stay in the role of Ryan, now a moody teenager with a secret. That secret is that he’s been visiting his father Tommy in prison, unbeknownst to his gran, aided by someone close to home. As Tommy plots behind bars, Catherine’s latest case connects back to his earlier crimes, preparing for the inevitable battle royale for Ryan, for justice, for the sake of the whole bloody nation.
It’s all beautifully done, each of the six episodes slowly tightening the screws and maintaining an inordinate amount of tension. Throw in a subplot of Rhys’ PE teacher being dodgy, with a wife addicted to prescription pills and a pharmacist willing to provide them illegally as he’s being blackmailed by a violent gang, and there’s no let-up wherever you look. Amit Shah is particularly good as hapless pill-pusher Faisal, forced into increasingly desperate actions.
But the real fireworks come with Lancashire’s Catherine and whoever she is sharing a scene with. Almost unbearably brusque and hollowed out by a life of truly hard graft, she’s brilliantly unforgiving, particularly when it comes out that her sister Clare is the one facilitating Ryan’s prison visits. To my mind, their confrontation scene actually beats the one with Tommy, agonisingly brutal as the sisters deal with this almighty betrayal, Siobhan Finneran magnificent alongside the ever excellent Lancashire. Superb work.