'Happy Valley's Series Finale Packs the Perfect Police Procedural Punch

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood exits the police vehicle in Happy Valley Season 3

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley Season 3

Matt Squire/Lookout Point/AMC

If you think about it, Happy Valley has sort of been like Heat, just more Northern and less neon. Stay with me here: they’re both dramas about the exhaustive effects of pursuit, how justice and crime become so ingrained they harm all your relationships, and have a hero and villain so magnetic in their performances that we don’t realize they barely share any screen time together.

Heat comparisons aside, the climax of Happy Valley’s finale feels perfect for a police drama that’s packed a punch from day one and barely let up over its eighteen episodes. But the confrontation between Catherine and Tommy Lee Royce, two people at the absolute end of their tether forced to reckon with the violence that’s ruled their lives, feels so massive that it forces out key characters and storylines to make way for its presence.

After last week’s familial outburst, Catherine spent the night at Alison’s, where she finds a blister of pills that Alison strongly denies are hers, but rather her dodgy probation officer’s. The fact that they’re not prescription pricks Catherine’s ears, and she asks Alison to find out which pharmacist they’ve been illegally supplied from. Welcome to one of the season’s biggest storylines being wrapped up in a completely offhand manner.

Anthony Flanagan as Viktor, Greg Kolpakchi as Zeljko, and James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce about to get in the car in Happy Valley Season 3

Anthony Flanagan as Viktor, Greg Kolpakchi as Zeljko, and James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley Season 3

Lookout Point/Matt Squire/AMC

Knezevic’s two goons, Ivan and Matija, had their dreams of a cash getaway thwarted when the police raided their residence on the day of Ivan’s wedding. Clearly, the Knezevic brothers feel the walls closing in as they decide to relocate Royce from his safehouse before he becomes too much of a liability. Darius doesn’t make an appearance, but his brother, Zeljko, arrives with a couple of right-hand men; however, Tommy Lee smells something fishy when they tell him to get in the boot. He sneaks away a blade from the house, and when he suspects he’s going to be pounced on, he attacks, well, everybody in the car, eventually killing them all – but not without life-threatening injuries.

Back at the Cawoods, Ryan comes clean about chatting to his dad on his Xbox, confirming he’s decided not to accept Tommy Lee’s invitation to join him overseas. Instead, he accompanies Catherine to make a statement, telling Detective Superintendent Andy Shepherd what he knows about Rob Hepworth’s married life. Rob’s abuse comes to light in an interrogation that makes it pretty clear he was abusing his wife, and he struggles not to incriminate himself for his abuse as he protests his innocence to Joanna’s murder. Good! He’s a horrible man. 

But Joanna’s murder can’t go unpunished, and when Faisal finds out that the goons that intimidated him have been arrested, he can see a couple of steps ahead to his own incarceration. We won’t see this, though – Catherine breezily informs Shepherd that Faisal was supplying Alison’s probation officer in the last few moments of the show. It’s a clear sign that this episode needed another 10 minutes (it runs 68*) because a good few characters don’t get to have a resolution on screen – and major players like Darius, Richard, and Ann don’t appear in the episode at all.

(*Editor's note: 68 minutes is long for a BBC episode, but still not as long as the Ted Lasso finale. Just sayin'.)
Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood crying in relief and pain in Happy Valley Season 3

Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley Season 3

Matt Squire/Lookout Point/AMC

Ryan pushes Catherine to reconcile with Claire, pointing out she never tried to ostracise him as a child as the other family members did. Catherine does, tearfully confessing she’s spent all of Ryan’s life fearing he’ll turn into his dad, only now realizing she didn’t need to – he’s a painfully ordinary young man. She’s barely offered relief, though – Royce, injured and on the warpath, has broken into Catherine’s home to rest out of sight. It mirrors the Season 1 finale: Royce is wounded but has barged into Catherine’s world and is now pushed to dangerous extremes.

Except! The confrontation packs a few surprises. Catherine clocks someone in her house, pulling her taser on Royce sitting in her kitchen, downing painkillers and alcohol. Their conversation is stilted, painful, like they’re trying to talk under the weight of all their pain. “Do you think I’m gonna hurt ya?” he asks her. “I’m not gonna hurt ya.”

Something much more disturbing happens – Royce has rifled through photo albums Catherine left out, one of Ryan and one of her daughter Becky. He’s seen how good an environment Ryan was raised in; he’s seen evidence Catherine loves his son. He forgives her. Catherine is apoplectic. He thinks he can grant forgiveness after all he’s done to her family? But on a deeper level, she’s deeply shaken by Royce getting over his dangerous, self-destructive obsession before she got over hers.

Royce admits he lied for the Knezevic brothers, but as cops and paramedics race to Catherine, he explains that he is not going to prison, setting himself on fire (another Season 1 parallel). Catherine rushes forward, but she pauses to watch him burn as he goes up in flames. She’s owed at least that. Royce dies from his wounds in the hospital, and Catherine stands at Becky’s tombstone, both finally at peace.

It’s an episode of ups and downs, with its truncated structure, meaning a lot of important characters and arcs are left out to dry. But when it sings, Happy Valley’s finale is terrific, the type of drama that makes you want to fall to your knees and wail. The saga of Catherine and Tommy Lee is over, which means there’s no need for us to bother the Cawoods any longer – let them rest.

All episodes of Happy Valley are streaming on Acorn TV and AMC+.

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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