Happy Valley: Series 2, Episode 1 – Review

A masterclass in storytelling!

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© Ben Blackall/BBC

Sally Wainwright has once again pulled off a masterpiece of TV writing in the return of BBC One’s Happy Valley. When a second series was announced I was initially very dubious. I felt series one was not only the best TV drama of 2014 – in fact the best in a long while – but was also a brilliantly crafted and acted self-contained series. But then I also reminded myself I thought that about Last Tango In Halifax too and further series hasn’t done that any harm. In less skilled hands I think the concern would be justified, but Wainwright has the gift of writing the everyday person in extraordinary circumstances that grip audiences in a unique way. At the moment there’s appears to be seemingly unconnected story threads, which I shall explain more below, but I have no doubt, like in series one it won’t be long before our characters stories become intertwined.

Happy Valley returns with its hugely additive spark of dark, gritty and not very happy perspective, but allows for glimpses of humour that balance it out nicely. Sarah Lancashire continues to give a stellar performance remaining faithful to her original portrayal of dedicated Police Sergeant Catherine Cawood. She’s still pretty depressed, stressed at work and stressed with her grandson Ryan (Rhys Connah), but always there with a quip of macabre humour when things get tough and fiercely loyal to her family and those she feels has been wronged.

Thread 1:

It’s now 18 months since Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) – the rapist (and reason for her suicide) of Catherine’s daughter Becky, and father of her grandson Ryan – was sent to prison for several murders, and the kidnapping and raping of Anne Gallagher. Catherine’s hopes of moving on are dashed when she discovers (unbeknownst to her initially) the decomposing body of Tommy’s mother Lynn, which she later discovers has also been sexually mutilated with a broken bottle. Unfortunately for Catherine she’s now become a suspect thanks to finding the body and admitting to leaving threatening voicemails when she found out Lynn had approached Ryan, despite a court order forbidding contact, telling him that she is his grandmother.

Plaudits go to James Norton in the prison scene as he’s told the shocking news of his mother’s death. At one point I actually felt sorry for the psychopathic villain as tears welled up in his eyes. Luckily, we’re soon reminded of the monster within when the prison chaplain asks if he’s “alright”. Even I thought “what a stupid question” but Tommy looked like he could flip at any moment.

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© Ben Blackall/BBC

Were also reminded of Tommy’s true nature with the arrival of Shirley Henderson as Frances, Tommy’s new prison visitor who hangs on his every word and declares her undying love for him as he breaks down and describes his hatred for Catherine and how he believes she has ruined his life. We’re left at the end with Frances having booked into a local hotel and standing in the pouring rain across the street from Catherine’s house watching Ryan play a game with his uncle through the window. Frances is clearly obsessed with Tommy and deluded to the point she will exact his revenge for him. At the moment I’m not sure if she’s a victim of Tommy’s manipulation or just as psychopathic as him?

The drama also neatly brought the story of Ann Gallagher (Charlie Murphy) full circle as she takes up a position as a PCSO. Remembering the brutal death of Catherine’s last protegé in series one, I do fear the weight of responsibility and sanity of both parties should anything go wrong. I think Ann being killed would be a cruel fate after everything she endured at Tommy’s hands. But this is drama so anything can happen! I did enjoy the exchange about how the police view each other, describing themselves as ‘wooden Tops’ and ‘Plastic Police’ (Uniformed and Police Community Support Officers). Little bits of reality like this are exactly what makes Wainwright such a good relatable writer.

Thread 2:

New characters arrive with the introduction of DS John Wadsworth (Kevin Doyle), his wife, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh and Amelia Bullmore who plays his bunny-boiler mistress Vicky.  After two years John has decided he no longer wants to continue their affair but he hadn’t quite contemplated how upset Vicky would be. Another character who looks to be on the precipice, Vicky lures John to meet her to give him back some of his things, drugs and kidnaps him so she can copy his phone contacts and take pictures of him naked and dressed in suspenders. John later awakens in his car not quite sure what happened, plying his wife with a story of blacking out and being overworked. However, he soon realises the lengths Vicky is prepared to go to when she calls him at home threatening to send the compromising images to all his contacts unless he pays her a £1000 a month.

Lessons to learn from John’s misfortune: never drink from a drink you haven’t been present with at all times from the moment it’s poured. Secondly, put decent security and passwords on your phone. John you’re a police officer, you should know that!

Thread 3: 

Is Catherine’s sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran) heading for heartbreak? Clare is delighted to run into her old school friend and crush Neil (Con O’Neill) whom she invites back for a cup of tea. Neil seems a good sort, mild-mannered and just the type of guy for Clare, until you notice his face and swift exit when he sees Catherine return home in her police shirt. It’s very subtle – to the point where neither Clare or Catherine notice, but it’s a slight nod to the audience the sweet divorcee might not be all he seems.

Random threads:

  • Nevison’s not having much luck with his workforce, this time having to fire a hot-headed Sean (Matthew Lewis), who is later seen driving drunk, racing past the prostitutes Catherine is warning about the serial killer. Would he have stopped if Catherine wasn’t there?
  • Katherine Kelly‘s eager tough Detective Shackleton (who I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the coming weeks), could turn out to be problematic for Catherine. It’s clear Catherine is not best pleased about being on the opposite side of being questioned and told what to do by a younger officer. And as her boss has pointed out, Catherine is not eager to play the game of box-ticking. Is she making it worse for herself?