Happy Valley delivers its most powerful episode yet as Catherine suffers the ultimate betrayal.

by | Jan 8, 2023 | All, Reviews

I have praised Sally Wainwright’s dialogue in every review of one of her shows I’ve ever written. The second episode of Happy Valley series 3 proved it can be just as powerful in its quieter moments. The bombshell that it’s Claire (Siobhan Finneran) and her boyfriend Neil (Con O’Neill) taking Ryan to visit Tommy (James Norton) in prison hits Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) like nothing else before it. It’s the ultimate betrayal, especially when she realises the visits have occurred on Saturdays when Catherine has been working and she has trusted them to take him to his football matches. Her first encounter with Claire and Ryan (Rhys Connah) following the earth-shattering news is when she returns home to find Ryan has trashed his bedroom after another shouting match with teacher Rob Hepworth (Mark Stanley) which results in Ryan being banned from the football team. She says very little, looking at them with the hurt visible in her eyes. The pair notice she’s quiet but she brushes it off, but it’s clear when she tells Claire she can walk home in the dark how hurt she is. Sarah Lancashire is remarkable in these early scenes. The hurt, anger, disappointment, and disbelief etched on her face. Ex-husband Richard (Derek Riddell) proposes that it could be someone using their names to gain entry to the prison, but Catherine knows deep down she’s been let down by the closest people to her. Midway through the episode she texts Claire to ask (even though she knows the answer) if she’d confide in her if someone was making her do something against her will – Catherine has never liked Neil, she calls him ‘spineless’, but she knows she’s clutching at straws. It is hard to believe Claire would do something this hurtful to Catherine or that she would think Ryan needs a relationship with his father. She knows how dangerous Tommy Lee Royce is and Ryan is closer to a son to her than he is a nephew. Perhaps I’m desperate to believe it’s not Claire as Catherine is, but the end of the episode puts pay to any hope that we’re wrong.

It’s interesting that Catherine doesn’t appear to blame Ryan. She’s hurt but there are several moments in the episode where she stands up for him or gives him advice. She’s able to calm him down and make him see sense over Hepworth and I was genuinely touched when he asked her if he could join her on her trip to the Himalayas. Her turning up in uniform when the school organises a meeting between, Ryan, Catherine, Hepworth and the Headmaster is a brilliantly calculated move. She knows it will make her an authority figure, embarrass Ryan and remind the ever-cocky Hepworth who she is. Aksing Hepworth how his wife is infront of his employer was a brilliant power move. She will always stick up for Ryan when she knows he doesn’t wrong.

Happy Valley’s third series proves well worth the wait.

Catherine is a fascinating character. Hard-nosed, no-nonsense, fiercely loyal and completely devoted to her job and family with a firm stance on right and wrong. It was perhaps too much to hope that the calmness she felt at the start of the series, looking forward to her retirement, safe in the knowledge Tommy Lee Royce was rotting away in prison would last for the rest of the series, but I can’t bare seeing Catherine this badly hurt and I worry about the rest of the series.

Elsewhere, Catherine is investigating the death of a woman who fell out of the window of her flat when she bumps into Alsion (Susan Lynch), the woman who shot her son dead at the end of the second series. Alison is out on license and trying to rebuild her life. It’s a testament to the world that Sally Wainwright in Happy Valley that a character like Alison can return and become an unlikely confidant for Catherine. Alison tells her how dangerous the windows in the flats are, Catherine gets her job at Nevison’s, and Alison lends her her car to follow Claire, Neil and Ryan to see where the trio go after football.

Then there’s Catherine’s husband Richard (Derek Riddell)  who is writing a big investigative piece on the ruthless Knezovichs – the crime family with a stranglehold on all the crime in the Calder Valley, the head of which is running for a place on the council. Catherine believes the Knezovichs are the ones installing the inadequate windows on the flats that resulted in the death she and her team are investigating. In the prision, Tommy Lee Royce orchestrates a  fight as a distraction for him to procure a burner phone. Back in his cell, he receives a text message about getting things for Ryan. Surely Claire and Neil aren’t communicating with Tommy?!  How much do we really know about Neil? Yes, he’s Claire’s boyfriend. They went to school together, he works at a local supermarket and he’s an addict like Claire. Could it be that he and Tommy Lee Royce crossed paths, Royce worked out Neil’s early connection to Claire and asked him to get close to her to facilitate the meetings with Ryan?  Even if that were the case it’s hard to imagine Claire agreeing to go along with the idea of helping Ryan reconnect with his father, surely her loyalty is with Catherine and not Neil?

I’m still suspecting that it’s Knezovichs who are threatening pharmacist Faisal (Amit Shah) to supply them with illegal drugs and are threatening his family if he doesn’t deliver.  He’s also being pressured by an ever-desperate Joanna (Mollie Winnard) who needs Faisal’s help to escape her abusive husband Rob Hepworth. (We don’t see Rob inflict violence on Joanna this time, instead, we hear it as her fearful young daughter listens to her mum’s screams.) Now she’s piling on the pressure, wanting Faisal to deliver on his promise to find her somewhere to live and she’s threatening to kill Rob in a bid to start a new life and protect her daughters. Faisal shares so much DNA with the big, hopeless male characters who shaped the first two series. These men started with good or selfish intentions but they quickly found themselves out of control when the situations they’d manufactured spiraled into dangerous territory. Steve Pemberton’s Kevin was the mastermind behind Ann Gallagher’s (Charlie Murphy’s) horrific kidnapping. His goal was to extort money from the boss he felt owed him more, but that motive was quickly lost when the men he trusted double-crossed him and had their own sinsiter motivations for keeping Kevin’s initial plan going. Kevin Doyle’s John was a serving police officer who felt he had no other option but to murder the woman he was having an affair with when she threatened to send a comprising photo of him to everyone in his phone’s contacts. All three of these men were family men, with perfectly happy lives who felt they deserved more. None of them were evil, but they were stupid and led by malicious motivations. At this point, it’s unclear quite why Faisal is giving out drugs like Diazepam to people like Mollie, but it’s clear he’s going to be pushed to the same edge Kevin and John were as the pressure becomes intolerable.

The final section of the episode is as tense as Happy Valley has ever been. Undercover in Alison’s car, Catherine follows Ryan, Neil, and Claire on their trip to the prison. She watches as Neil and Ryan leave the car and follows Claire as she pays for parking and gets a sandwich from a cafe. Watching on, she phones her for a chat. Claire appears to hesitate before answering the phone. She tells Catherine she’s in Leeds and that she’s popped into a cafe as Neil and Ryan spend too long in GAME and she gets bored. They chat about football and both keep their cool before Catherine appears at the table. When Jake Bugg’s theme kicked in I was engrossed I quite literally jumped out of my skin.  Sally Wainwright is spinning so many plates, but she’s an expert at it. Each of the threads could form its own compelling drama but all together and helmed by a character like Catherine Cawood it’s slowly becoming the best series of a show that is already one of the all time best British drama. The family drama between the two sisters is by far, the most interesting and heartbreaking thread this year. I’m so worried about everyone this year, but I want Catherine and Claire to reconile more than anything else. Thriller, family drama, police procedural, prison drama, and social commentary Happy Valley excels at everything it does and leaves other dramas in its wake.

                        Happy Valley Continues Sunday on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.


Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


Follow us:

Our Latest Posts:

The Last of Us to return for second season

The Last of Us to return for second season

Critically acclaimed drama The Last of Us has been renewed for a second season. The series from co-creators Craig Mazin (Emmy Award-winning creator of Sky & HBO’s...


Submit a Comment