After seven (long) years, writer/creator Sally Wainwright brings back her acclaimed UK police drama, Happy Valley.
After so much time away, it’s astonishing how seamlessly the core cast of Happy Valley slips back into their respective roles. While the narrative threads occasionally feel disparate and somewhat unconnected, the core cast of actors clearly had no difficulty getting back into character for one final case.
The better part of the premiere is spent catching viewers up on the intervening years, which have seemingly passed in real time. Sgt Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) is now on the cusp of retiring, while Ann Gallagher (Charlie Murphy), whose rape and abduction was at the center of the first series, is now training to join the HMIT. Catherine is still close with her sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran), tolerates Clare’s cashier boyfriend, Neil (Con O’Neill), and spends most of her downtime raising her grandson, Ryan (Rhys Connah).
The boy is now a sixteen year old-teenager, so in addition to playing soccer, he’s negotiating his anger management problem and nursing an insatiable curiosity about his absent, imprisoned father, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton). The former quality often puts Ryan into conflict with his similarly hot-headed coach, Rob Hepworth (Mark Stanley) whose home life seems poised to dominate the narrative this go around.
Hepworth has a wife, Joanna (Mollie Winnard), is in recovery for narcotics, as well as two young daughters. In addition to picking on Ryan on the green, Rob is very clearly abusing Joanna (emotionally and psychologically, if not physically).
Catherine crosses paths with her grandson’s coach when he discovers that Joanna has been covertly taking diazepam and calls the police. Considering the series’ unabashedly feminist perspective, and the audience’s allegiance to Catherine, it’s not surprising that Catherine both clocks the abuse, but also uses the Hepworth home visit as an excuse to try and aid Joanna.
The biggest challenge is the premiere’s need to reintroduce old characters while also introducing new ones, as well as at least one to two new cases. After two seasons of near perfection, it would be unwise to doubt Wainwright’s ability to juggle all of these disparate details, but at least for this first episode, the multiplicity of (seemingly unrelated) storylines does, at times, create a slightly aimless, overwhelming feel.
In addition to Catherine, her family, and the Hepworths, the drug storyline also involves Joanna’s supplier: timid pharmacist Faisal Bhatti (Amit Shah), as well as two low-level thugs, Matija Jankovic (Jack Bandeira) and Ivan Sertic (Oliver Huntingdon), who blackmail Faisal when they discover he’s “dealing” on their turf.
The premiere dangles the supposition that these men are associated with the Knezevics, the pair of brothers responsible for all of Halifax’s organized crime. It is here that the connective tissue between Catherine’s seemingly innocuous domestic abuse/drug case has larger ties to the past; the Knezevics have ties to Happy Valley‘s chief antagonist and Catherine’s main adversary, serial killer and rapist Royce.
Like series two, Tommy is still in prison, but in this first episode he’s connected to a cold case when the heavily decomposed body of minor criminal Gary Gaggoski is discovered. And while Catherine doesn’t connect Royce with the corpse, over the course of the episode, Royce’s unsafe life in prison leads him to cut an urgent deal to get involved.
Just in case that wasn’t enough, Ryan has also been making the trip to visit Royce in prison. This is a continuation of the series two storyline when Ryan began asking questions about his father, wondering if he deserved forgiveness. Considering how Happy Valley is so intrinsically linked with Catherine, despite how dispassionate and cruel she can sometimes be when she disagrees with other characters, it’s not an understatement to suggest that seeing Ryan interacting with Royce is incredibly confronting. As an audience, we know how upset Catherine would be if she knew that her grandson was doing this.
Naturally, Catherine learns of Royce’s impending transfer and Ryan’s visits before episode’s end. And since Ryan is underage, she (and we) know that Ryan couldn’t have visited Royce without the consent of an adult and (unsurprisingly) there are only so many possibilities.
Considering how strongly Catherine feels about both Royce and Ryan, Happy Valley is going to get real uncomfortable, real quick.
- It’s nice to see Shah play someone totally different from his Crashing character, but Faisal’s story feels quite separate from the rest of the narrative. While he clearly has ties to Joanna, Rob, and the two thugs, his scenes too often feel like they’re taking place in another show. Perhaps it’s just because after seven years absence, I want as much time as possible with Catherine, Clare and Royce.
- With that said, Faisal’s blackmail scenario is nightmarish: his money-oriented family is either clueless (his wife) or demanding (his twin daughters) and he’s physically no match for the two criminals who begin extorting him. Talk about a rock and a hard place.
- Love how Catherine immediately notes the obvious clues of Rob’s “coercive control” like the padlock on the fridge, as well as the signs of their relationship’s power imbalance indicated by their clothing (his is all brand name Nike & Adidas, while Joanna’s is cheap Primark).
- In addition to having horrible long hair (thankfully clipped before episode’s end), Royce is learning Spanish. Hmmm…
- Catherine’s reporter ex, Richard Cawood (Derek Riddell) is having relationship difficulties and working on a big story. Surely neither of these details will be important, right?
Happy Valley airs Mondays on BBC America, AMC+ and Acorn TV