Episode 1

Reviewed for Cultbox – read the original review here

Wow. What have we just witnessed?

For the next six weeks we’ll be reviewing the sophomore season of BBC One’s least accurately titled drama, Happy Valley.

We’re going to assume that you’ve already seen it (the first season was on top of many people’s list of top telly back in 2014), but if you haven’t then the Beeb have put up a handy 6-minute recap on iPlayer – or catch up with our episode guide here. It’s worth reminding yourself of the unflinching violence and incredible performances from a fantastic ensemble cast before delving into the new season. It goes without saying that beyond this point are spoilers for everything that has aired so far.

As with many of the BBC’s best recent dramas (hey there, Doctor Foster), the first season wrapped up so perfectly that it was hard to imagine how a follow up could work without screwing up the positive thoughts of what came before (we’re looking at you, Broadchurch). Thankfully, the first instalment of new Happy Valley has only left us excited for what is yet to come.

We open with the incredible Sarah Lancashire as police sergeant Catherine recounting a shaggy dog story about sheep rustling and poisoned pets to her sister Clare (the equally impressive Siobhan Finneran). Their sisterly love for one another was a really important part of the first season and we’re so pleased to see them on screen together again.

But I suspect fireworks may be down the line after Clare bumps into Neil (Con O’Neill), an old crush who admits to having always been terrified of Catherine although we couldn’t help but see his eyes linger on her a little too long. Is Clare headed for a broken heart? Let’s hope it doesn’t lead her back to the drugs she’s turned her back on.

The end of Catherine’s story reveals that in the process of arresting the sheep rustlers she discovered a rotting corpse. And not just any old cadaver but the mother of Tommy Lee Royce, the man who raped her daughter, fathered her grandson Ryan and led the brutal kidnapping at the heart of the first season.

It’s a canny way of tying James Norton back into the story from his prison cell, one that fortunately doesn’t feel too contrived. Catherine had recently warned her from staying away from their grandson which naturally leads her to being under scrutiny for her whereabouts. “You’re not a suspect,” says Katherine Kelly. Yeah right.

To be frank, the return of Tommy Lee Royce was my biggest concern about the show coming back – how could they justify his inclusion, surely his story had ended? The teaser trailers have already revealed that he’ll be let out (presumably on day release), but does Shirley Henderson’s Frances have a big hand to play in all this?

Her brief appearances showed her visiting Royce (sitting far too close for him for my liking, we could taste her desperation through the screen) and then later watching young Ryan through the kitchen window. Sidenote: she really needs to buy an umbrella, she’ll catch her death.

Frances isn’t the only new character for this season. Joining Con O’Neill for the Cucumber/Banana reunion is Julie Hesmondhalgh as the unsuspecting wife of Detective Sergeant John Wadsworth, played by Kevin Doyle. John’s mistress has rocked up outside his marital home having not heard from him in days and anxiously demanding answers.

Amelia Bullmore is brilliant as Vicky, the clearly unhinged cosmetics supervisor/mistress/drugging kidnapper/blackmailer. Having photographed the detective naked in women’s underwear, feather boa and surrounded by alcohol and sex toys, Vicky wants £1,000 a month from her now former lover.

This is part of the subtle brilliance of Sally Wainwright’s writing – many a drama would go for the bigger ransom demand but actually a relatively small amount like this on a regular basis is a terrifying concept.

There is still so much more to talk about:

  • The return of the Gallagher family from last season and how Ann (the kidnap victim) is now working alongside Catherine.
  • The farmers who were part of the opening sheep rustling gag? By the end they’ve been violently targeted by the perpetrators having been let off with a caution – I think there’s a bigger story waiting in the wings here.
  • “Why do you assume it was a man?” Catherine asks Ann when told that Royce’s mum was sexually assaulted with a broken bottle. Sarah Lancashire is formidable throughout the episode, but this was a new level of chilling.

But what did you think? Where are things leading? Have you got any theories on what will happen next? Excuse me whilst I go defog Shirley Henderson’s glasses.

Episode 2

Reviewed for Cultbox – read the original review here

Well, that’s a shame – Vicky didn’t last long…

It’s the day of two matriarchal funerals: the passing of Ann’s much-loved mother and colleague of Clare who was battling cancer during her daughter’s kidnap last season contrasts cleverly with Tommy Lee Royce’s murdered mummy.

Whilst the Gallaghers have a full and joyous turnout, Royce only has a grieving handful, including the mysterious Frances. Oh, and of course Catherine rocks up too because when you’re a suspect in a homicide with no alibi that’s the most obvious thing you should do, right?

The fury from James Norton as Royce in angry tears and spit as he was literally carried out of the crematorium was very powerful. When it comes to Catherine he is clearly unhinged and unwilling to take responsibility for his previous actions.

Quite why Frances hangs off his every word is beyond us, but hopefully her backstory might clear this up in the coming weeks. We’re assuming she’s going to make a snatch for Ryan at some point now she’s working as his teaching assistant, but hopefully writer Sally Wainwright will throw a curveball before going down that route.

Having left Clare in the company of the Gallagher family’s loved ones, Catherine returns to the wake to her alcoholic sister. Neville’s line about his daughter thinking he doesn’t know she smokes was almost a throwaway, but it’s one that resonates with this programme – how much do the people of Hebden Bridge really know about one another?

We love the relationship between Clare and Catherine; it’s honest and truthful to how siblings behave – willing to die for one another in one breath before throwing cutting insults in the next. Catherine reveals she’s found out Neil has a bit of a criminal history, clearly trying to look out for her sister, but Clare is having none of it, venturing into town to score despite Catherine literally on her knees begging her not to.

If they weren’t already on screen together then we’d be leading the charge for Sarah Lancashire and Siobhan Finneran to have their own show.

And poor, lovestruck, bonkers Vicky. DS Wadsworth claimed to leave his wife for her in a desperate attempt to claw back the compromising photos she took last week, but it backfired when it ended with them both on the floor of her flat with electrical wire round her neck.

We’re gutted that the madly brilliant Amelia Bullmore is presumably out for the rest of the season, but hopefully it means the so far criminally underused other woman in Wadsworth’s life, Julie Hesmondhalgh, will become more than just a bit part.

There was also a bit of people trafficking to be seen this week too and some light relief in seeing Sarah Lancashire taser one of the cronies in the balls. Catherine brings home one of the rescued girls due to lack of care facilities in the region (she really needs to stop bringing home waifs and strays – what would the Police Complaints Commission have to say about it all?).

There’s mention of a notorious Halifax gang being involved – we can’t help but wonder if Neil has got his hand in there too.

Again, another cracking episode of Happy Valley, adding more layers of tension than we’re able to handle.

Episode 3

Reviewed for Cultbox – read the original review here

This week’s episode opened a fortnight on from the events of last week, with Catherine sat opposite a therapist being asked to recap what had led to her being in the session.

We could happily watch an entire episode of just Sarah Lancashire’s character being dissected in an attempt to better understand her (what a bold piece of primetime TV that could be), but what transpired instead was just as satisfying.

Clare’s fall off the wagon thankfully appears to have only been a blip, a one-off result of grieving a close friend. It’s interesting to compare Clare to her sister in how they approach traumas differently – one will turn briefly to their vices whereas the other will bottle everything up. There’s a definite feeling of a ticking time bomb in Catherine this week, particularly recounting the missed opportunity to avenge her daughter’s death.

The sisters have gotten wind of the fact that Ryan’s new teaching assistant Frances (aka Tommy Lee Royce’s mole) has been asking the boy about his dad – we can’t help but suspect that Frances is going to feel Catherine’s wrath in the coming episodes.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for a character that is trying to set herself up with a murderer, but watching him lie about who committed the first season’s worst crimes shows just how skilled a manipulator he is. Just what is Frances’s endgame here? There were suggestions of religious redemption this week, but is there more to it?

Speaking of manipulators, it looks like DS Wadsworth might get away with Vicky’s murder if he can just hold it together. After throttling his mistress he burned down her flat, sexually assaulted her body with a broken bottle and dumped it in an abandoned building, the hallmarks of the murder of Tommy’s mother.

The pathologist believes it’s a serial killer but we think it’s unlikely Wadwsorth is the serial killer (his nervousness in the pathology suite suggests he wouldn’t have the stomach for it), but there’s something about Downton Abbey star Kevin Doyle’s haunting performance that suggest it’s not outside the realms of possibility.

He’s also in possession of Catherine’s alibi for the night of the first murder – could Catherine be about to be set up for a crime she’s already prime suspect in? Perhaps it’s a good job he stood Ann up for the drink he’d invited her out for. Turns out his wife has also been having an affair, which led to some pretty horrid name-calling over the breakfast table.

The people trafficking rears its ugly head again this week – the bloke Catherine tasered last week has been let out on bail but is quickly found by a nun hanging from a tree. Suicide or have the gang from Halifax come down the road to silence him once and for all?

It’s not all doom and gloom – we laughed out loud as Catherine insisted she didn’t have a nickname at work but then became desperate to find out what it was when she realised this wasn’t the case. Miss Trunchbull is very fitting indeed.

Yet again, Sally Wainwright has crafted another episode that makes us sit on the edge of our seats.

Episode 4

Reviewed for Cultbox – read the original review here

“Nothing is illegal. That’s just a word people use to control other people.”

We’re convinced that Tommy Lee Royce may be one of the best television villains ever created. The first season showed us his brutally sadistic side and this year, castrated in a prison cell, his only tools are manipulative words and his Scottish mouse of a sidekick, Frances.

James Norton and Shirley Henderson are proving to be a scintillating double act with their weekly chats physically, separated by a prison table as their hands and lips reach for one another.

Frances this week left an expensive present on the door for birthday boy Ryan, a card squirrelled away for him claiming it was from his birth father. Sarah Lancashire’s explosion of anger and grief as she tore the Scalextric track apart was mesmerising to watch, if only because it was the second time in the episode where she boiled over.

The first explosion came after berating two Special Constables for their poor handling of a raped prostitute, dumped at a hospital door and expected to report the attack herself at the station the next day. Turns out that this was the turning point in the serial killings investigation that the police needed with Catherine being the person to pull the threads together.

Wadsworth could barely contain his glee when they arrested someone who used to work for the Gallaghers, a bloke we saw being given a telling off back in Episode 1.

Let’s see whether or not Wadsworth can manoeuvre the evidence to point away from his own dodgy deeds – his colleagues are now aware that Vicky had his phone number, surely a matter of time before the revelations of his affair come spiralling out in the form of phone calls and text messages? We suspect it’s going to make for delicious viewing when the big reveal comes.

Speaking of Vicky, apparently Clare’s new boyfriend Neil had a marriage-ending affair with her; one that has clearly left him shaken. We already knew she had a screw loose, but it looks like she was a skilled blackmailer, having conned Neil out of a few hundred quid when he refused to leave his family for her. Could this be the nail in Wadsworth’s coffin or will Clare keep her word and not reveal to Catherine what she knows?

And poor Darryl! The poor farmer from episode one… Bullying tends to be thought of as something that happens at school or in a workplace, but he’s clearly been repeatedly targeted by the same group of men, this time accused of grassing him up to “the feds”.

Shaking in frustration as he gets fingerprinted for fighting back, we can’t help but agree with him when he tells Catherine that they don’t deserve to live for what they put him through. In one sense we want to see them get their comeuppance, but there’s an unnerving feeling that it’ll be at poor Darryl’s expense.

But the episode is overshadowed with its final moments. The quote this review opens with is Tommy Lee Royce’s life motto, one that he’s pushing on Frances to also live by. And we think there could be huge ramifications next week…

Episode 5

Reviewed for Cultbox – read the original review here

Poor Darryl isn’t so poor after all!

Yet again, Sally Wainwright’s immaculately written series has pulled out another stonker of an episode.

When looking back over an episode to review it we realise just how much is crammed in, yet in such an effortless ‘nothing is really happening’ kind of way.

So let’s start with the big hits first. Darryl is our serial killer, waking his mother in the middle of the night when his guilt can’t be contained any longer. He’s had an interesting trajectory, from pitiful victim in Episode 1 to his revelation in Episode 5.

There’s no justification for his actions, but we wonder if a lifetime of bullying is what took it out on him, the mutilation and murders a horrifying attempt to regain power and control. Robert Emms (Atlantis) worked the role brilliantly but the biggest praise must go to Susan Lynch, a character who has sat on the sidelines until now watching helplessly as her son gets beaten around town.

The moment when Darryl wakes her is chilling, mainly thanks to the genuine fear in her eyes. Finally putting him out of his misery at the end of the episode means he won’t truly pay for his crimes so we’re looking forward to seeing how she defends her actions.

Wadsworth is full of the joys of spring as John (Matthew Lewis) digs a deeper hole for himself when he says he may have been too drunk to know if he’d killed the women he’s been accused of.

Watching Wadsworth burst into his family home, a sense of renewed confidence, demanding that his cheating wife leave was electrifying to watch. But even more rewarding was the discovery of another of Darryl’s victims with John still behind bars – the dawning realisation that maybe he won’t get away with murder after all.

Now that the true killer has been revealed and has no way of denying committing Vicky’s murder, our only hope is good old fashioned detective work from Katherine Kelly’s Jodie Shackleton. She’s never been convinced that she had the same killer as the others – we’re all rooting for you!

The Cawood family haven’t been in for an easy ride this week either. Ryan has asked even more questions about his dad and writes to him in prison prompted by Frances. Shirley Henderson was, as ever, riveting as she skulked around outside their family home preying on the young boy. Thankfully Catherine’s son Daniel has worked out that Ryan’s questions all stem from when he comes home from school.

We forget that Clare has been the only one to meet Frances and seeing the CCTV of her buying Ryan’s mystery gift, the family’s suspicions are confirmed. I wouldn’t fancy being in Frances’s shoes in next week’s finale…

Will Frances go through with Tommy Lee Royce’s demands to kill Catherine? Is she going to snatch Ryan and head off to Gravesend? Will she firebomb the Cawood’s home as was heavily implied at the start of this week’s episode? We can’t wait to find out.

Episode 6

Reviewed for Cultbox – read the original review here

Happy Valley is one of the best television programmes ever made.

We always knew that following up the first season of Sally Wainwright’s impeccable series was going to be a tall order, but over the last six weeks we have been pushed through a gamut of emotions that has equalled anything the first year could serve up.

Sarah Lancashire’s Catherine is put through a week from hell in this final instalment.

We open with her confronting Ryan’s headteacher about his developing relationship with his teaching assistant, her calm, menacingly direct tone strongly suggesting that she isn’t someone who is willing to be messed about with.

Exiting the school she passes Frances who is on her way. What would be a fleeting moment in real time is delivered in slow motion to wring out every last speck of tension. What is Catherine going to do, we ask ourselves. Nothing, is the obvious answer. It’s easy to forget that Catherine never actually goes about doing anything that isn’t legal – everything is above board but it’s her tone and approach to others that suggests she’s a loose cannon when the reality is anything but.

Her guilt over not being able to do more for victim Darryl leads her to visit the farmhouse to show her support. But a quick hello leads to the discovery of Darryl’s body and his mother Alison slumped next to him, overdosed to her eyeballs.

Convinced the ongoing feud with the gang of lads had reached a grim conclusion, Catherine is visibly devastated when Alison confesses to killing her son. We later learn that Alison was abused by her father and that Darryl is the product of incestuous rape. Susan Lynch is again excellent and allows Lancashire to show her sensitive side.

Frances’ past creeps up on her – she’s stolen the identity of her dead sister, a former teacher, in order to take up the post in Ryan’s school. As Catherine and Clare put it, it’s just creepy and weird.

The eventual showdown between Catherine and Frances takes another unexpected turn – Catherine just wants to understand what would lead someone that intelligent to become deluded by a psychopath. It seemingly boils down to his good looks, Frances accusing Catherine of jealousy and not at all grasping the true nature of his crimes, looking ever more pitiful.

We eventually learn that Frances is just a string of prison visit fiancés that Tommy Lee Royce has attending to him, Catherine delivering the news to her without a hint of pleasure or malice.

And so to the big question – would Wadsworth get away with Vicky’s murder?

It was a rollercoaster this week – first his fellow detectives questioning if it was someone in their own team until Neil came forward to say he’d previously known Vicky. At this point it we thought it game over for Neil, obviously about to be incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit.

That was until a mystery man arrived at the station with information about Vicky – we were convinced he was another former lover until he was revealed as Wadworth’s wife’s lover. Very quickly the stack of cards he’d built came crashing down with Catherine ending up being the one to give chase.

It all ended with Wadsworth standing on a bridge. Wainwright managed to pull out some humour from a very dark situation – Catherine hadn’t been on the suicide intervention training, forcing Wadsworth to talk himself out of it. He failed and rolled off the bridge to his death. Downton Abbey actor Kevin Doyle was an excellent addition to the season’s cast, constantly keeping us on edge and guessing as to what he’d do next.

In fact there were a raft of excellent new additions this season, the names of which are littered in our previous reviews. It could be argued that some were criminally underused but we’d argue that instead it shows the strength of the writing and of the show that talented fairly notable actors would be willing to take on smaller than usual roles. And who can blame them?

Not everything was neatly wrapped up (nor would we have wanted it that way). The ongoing trafficking gang storyline wasn’t really referenced and frankly it’s not a storyline that we’ve been particularly invested in, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Wainwright is just sowing the seeds for a hopefully inevitable third season. Tommy Lee Royce, again underused but to brilliant effect, received his son’s letter providing an address that he could reply to – does Ryan have access to an address we and Catherine don’t know about?

Coming back to Ryan, the season ended with the Cawoods taking a scenic stroll in the Yorkshire dales. What could/should be a happy ending slowly deteriorates into the Catherine’s overriding terror and realisation that Ryan is the product of a vicious sadist. As Darryl has proven, with the best will in the world, are some people just born evil?

Happy Valley deserves to win every award going – the haunting soundtrack, the beautiful direction, the impeccable supporting cast. It is, however, very clearly a showcase for two immense talents: Sarah Lancashire, in a part quite literally written for her outstanding talent, and Sally Wainwright, whose words each week skilfully weave a rich tapestry of a show.

Roll on Season 3!