'Happy Valley' Season 3 Kicks Off With An Assured Premiere

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood lost in the fog in 'Happy Valley' Season 3

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood 'Happy Valley' Season 3

Lookout Point/AMC/James Stack

By now, we’re all familiar with how Happy Valley likes to kick things off. An oddball, unusual crime (involving addicts, delinquents, and often an animal or appliance) unfolds somewhere across Yorkshire’s Calder Valley, and our beleaguered, no-nonsense, and quick-witted Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) must deescalate it, accompanied by the breakneck editing and camerawork we associate with intense Hollywood cop thrillers. It’s Hot Fuzz, with a bit more grit and less overt parody; to Catherine, every day really does feel as busy as a Hollywood movie. But unlike the invincible maverick cops of America, busting crime makes her absolutely exhausted.

The show’s third and final season starts things off on similar footing (“phantom fridge thrower”, you will always be famous), but Catherine isn’t present – instead, she’s surrounded by fog in the backroads of the Yorkshire moors. It feels like a deliberate choice: is Catherine doomed to wander a hazy northern landscape, struggling to find clarity or closure?

If Season 3 begins on a note of existential dread, it’s short-lived: Catherine is called to a dam where human remains (read: half a goddamn skeleton) has washed up in a barrel. The criminal investigators try to dismiss her forensic assumptions, but she knows exactly who the body belongs to, thanks to its spinal bolts and metal plating on the teeth. Apparently, it’s Gary Gogowski, a low-level criminal who was presumed dead seven years previous, going missing right before Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) was locked up again at the end of Season 1.

James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce looking Jesus like in Happy Valley Season 3

James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley Season 3

Lookout Point/AMC/Matt Squire

Re-enter Tommy Lee Royce. He’s now sporting long, Jesus-like hair, boasting a nasty row of forehead stitches and a smug, self-admiring expression. He’s arrested for the murder of Gogowski and pressed to give up intel on the local crime boss who CID has pinned for the hit – Darius Knezevic (Alec Secareanu). But Tommy won’t budge – it’s only after the cops reveal a St Christopher pendant found with Gogowski’s remains does he spill. He argues he didn’t do the hit or encourage it, and Knezevic didn’t order it; it was a different local crime boss, Chris Oxley. Not what the cops were after.

But enough theorizing about organized crime, where’s all our lovely gang? Ryan (still played by original child actor Rhys Connah, now grown up) has shot up, now a gangly teenager doing a piss poor job of being a goalie for his school football team, and his talkative nature gets him in trouble with his bully coach, Rob Hepworth (Mark Stanley). Catherine shows a little sign of worry at Ryan’s more aggressive turns-of-phrase but is too busy hosting a birthday dinner for her grandson to pay it too much mind.

The whole gang’s here: Catherine’s sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran), Clare’s boyfriend Neil (Con O’Neill), Catherine’s ex-husband Richard (Derek Riddell), Ann Gallagher (Charlie Murphy), her father, Nevison (George Costigan) and Catherine’s son Danny (Karl Davies), who is now inexplicably in a relationship with Ann. (Feels a bit odd, she can do better than him.) Clare and Catherine reflect on how lovely and calm everything is, immediately jinxing them for a whole season’s worth of trouble.

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood, Con O'Neill as Neil, Siobhan Finneran as Clare Cartwright, Rhys Connah as Ryan Cawood walk home from the local football gamein Happy Valley Season 3

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood, Con O'Neill as Neil, Siobhan Finneran as Clare Cartwright, Rhys Connah as Ryan Cawood in Happy Valley Season 3

Lookout Point/AMC/Matt Squire

Turns out Rob Hepworth has a bit of an anger problem. He tries to chase Ryan and his best pal Cesco in his car after they embarrass him after school, and ends up taking his anger out on his wife, Joanna (Mollie Winnard), a prescription drug addict who he physically and emotionally abuses out of his two young daughter’s sight. He finds her stash of illegally obtained pills and tablets and calls the police on her – undoubtedly an overreaction but, to him, a direct method of scaring Joanna into submission.

When Catherine turns up on the scene, she immediately clocks Rob’s overbearing hostility, and we get a brilliant scene of her gradually shutting an abuser out from being able to manipulate his wife. Catherine goes through the whole process of taking her into custody so she can find out if Joanna will confess to being abused – but Joanna, although visibly distressed, says nothing about her husband. The sequence is a great example of Catherine’s unwavering empathy for those who are powerless and venom for those who abuse it.

The police presence at the Hepworths attracted the attention of some neighbors – including father and pharmacist Faisal Bhatti (Amit Shah), who is a clandestine drug supplier for small-time pushers and addicts. He has a pre-existing relationship with Joanna (one that’s hinted to be sexual?) and confronts her about the possibility of the police infringing on his operation.

Mollie Winnard as Joanna Hepworth is comforted by Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley Season 3

Mollie Winnard as Joanna Hepworth and Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley Season 3

Lookout Point/AMC/Matt Squire

They’re not the only ones he has to worry about though – a gangster disguised as a builder pulls a gun on Faisal at his work, forcing him to cut their outfit into his pill-pushing scheme, as they’re the top brass in the area. Now Faisal is strapped for cash and feels like the walls are closing in.

But Catherine’s got bigger things to worry about: her boss lets her know that Ryan has been visiting Tommy Lee Royce in prison for over a year, always accompanied by a man and a woman (in the UK, by law, you need to be 18 to visit someone in prison). She speculates who it could be: Danny? Ann? Nev? Clare? The episode ends with her boss calling her into his office – it looks like she’s about to find out.

With its big first episode, Happy Valley Season 3 has easily bridged the seven-year gap since we last saw it, with a noticeably surer hand of how to balance the criminal and personal storylines than Season 2. The series' final voyage will certainly be an eventful one.

Happy Valley Season 3 streams with weekly episodes on Acorn TV and AMC+ and airs on BBC America on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET.

Picture shows: Rory Doherty

Rory Doherty is a writer of criticism, films, and plays based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He's often found watching something he knows he'll dislike but will agree to watch all of it anyway. You can follow his thoughts about all things stories @roryhasopinions.

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