It’s like it’s never been away.
That’s the overriding feeling you get while watching the opening episode of the third and final series.
Happy Valley – one of the most celebrated British crime dramas – returned after a six-year absence. And yet, it really did truly feel like it had never been away. That has a lot to do with the standard of writing by Sally Wainwright (it’s Sally Wainwright, what did you expect?) and the acting, particularly of Sarah Lancashire.
The characters are so well-formed, so easy to recognise and familiar with their paradigms and traits that watching episode one was like putting on your favourite pair of slippers.
And, like previous series of Happy Valley, Wainwright gives us the ongoing battle royale between Catherine Cawood and Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton, looking like a Halifax Charles Manson here) but also an intriguing, Fargo-esque side-story.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, slightly. In the six years since we’ve seen Catherine, she’s been edging towards retirement and now, as we rejoin her world, it seems like she can’t wait to handing her badge. She’s purchased a clapped-out Landrover and intends to do it up and drive to the Himalayas. Catherine – so warrior-like, so willing, almost martyrish at times, to protect her people – has seemingly mellowed, and has enjoyed the relative calm that has come with a grandson that has grown into a teenager and a life more or less without Royce.
However, storm clouds are forming.
Catherine is called out to a quarry, where bones have been found. She soon not only (correctly) identifies that they are human remains, but also (correctly) identifies the victim, gender and name and everything.
The second act sees Catherine’s superiors in conversation with Royce, who has been re-arrested on the suspicion of the murder of the man found in the quarry. Soon, he spills the beans – he was present at the murder nine years previously but denies pulling the trigger. The detectives hope that Royce will implicate the Knežević gang, the scourge of the local police for years. But Royce, still arrogant, still enigmatic and still dangerous, refuses and names a different gang instead.
Back in town, we’re introduced to Rob Hepworth (Mark Stanley), an angry schoolteacher who attracts the ire of Catherine after he calls Ryan a ‘little piece of shit’ during a school football match. Stanley’s rage is apparent at home too, manifested via coercive control and abuse of his wife Joanna (Mollie Winnard), who is addicted to prescription drugs. The person supplying her the diazepam is neighbour and pharmacist Faisal Bhatti (Amit Shah) – another well-meaning, cowardly figure Happy Valley’s side stories specialise in. When members of the Knežević gang pay him a visit at work and demand more sales and more drug money, he readily admits that he’s bitten off more than he can chew.
So that’s the side story, but now we get to Catherine and Royce. It turns out that the Kneževićs tried to kill Royce in prison (his forehead is scarred and stitched thanks to the attack), which is why he won’t grass them up. He values his life too much, and with good reason – he’s taking Spanish lessons and looking lovingly at a picture of his son Ryan on the shelf in his cell. This suggests that Royce has got plans for the both of them.
And he’s now well and truly in Catherine’s orbit again – she finds out that Ryan has been visiting her nemesis in prison, with the help of a mystery couple.
So there’s a lot of things going on in the first episode but it’s all beautifully put together – the dialogue is funny, quick and just phenomenal, while the acting is, well… as I mentioned before, it’s like it’s never been away.
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Happy Valley is shown on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK