Happy Valley: Tommy Lee Royce sets himself on fire
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WARNING: This article contains major spoilers from the Happy Valley series finale
It’s over. Happy Valley’s nail-biting conclusion has finally hit screens after weeks of cliffhangers and twists. The BAFTA-winning series, which has kept the nation glued to its sofa and speculating wildly by office water coolers, proves event TV is alive and kicking. But did the series really stack up and were those weeks of tense drama really worth it for the ending?
Happy Valley’s finale did swerve the questionable likes of Game of Thrones and Line of Duty. When the credits rolled with a retired Catherine Cawood (played by Sarah Lancashire) going off in her jeep into the sunset, presumably heading to the Himalayas on her epic road trip, there was a sense of satisfaction.
Catherine had done right by her late daughter Becky (Emily Barnett), raising her grandson Ryan Cawood (Rhys Connah) to be a fairly decent and well-adjusted human being and as far from his psychopathic father Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) as was possible.
Clare Cartwright (Siobhan Finneran) and Catherine buried the hatchet with Ryan getting ready for his GCSEs rather than sunning it up in Marbella with his fugitive father.
Heck, Catherine even nailed the Knezevic mafia gang thanks to a deathbed confession from Tommy. But it didn’t end there, she also had a spare moment to take down shifty, drug-peddling pharmacist Faisal Bhatti (Amit Shah). All in a day’s work for our Catherine, it would seem.
Meanwhile, P.E. teacher Rob Hepworth (Mark Stanley) didn’t get done for his wife Joanne’s (Mollie Winnard) death or the prolonged physical and mental abuse he’d meted out to her over the years, but some other charge involving indecent images at the eleventh hour.
Despite the satisfaction, it all felt, well… a little too happy for Happy Valley, a show which has become a byword for gritty realism, where things are bleak at the best of times.
Catherine’s prolonged standoff with Tommy was enjoyable to watch but didn’t have quite the life-or-death tension we’ve seen before when they’ve locked horns. It was all a little bit too sedate.
Granted the script was on point and gave fans one last taste of Wainwright’s crackling dialogue as Catherine and Tommy finally had it out.
The repartee between Lancashire and Norton veered into black comedy amid insults from her “toddler brain” slight to his “sanctimonious b****” jibe (who would have thought Tommy knew such long words?), proved to be a sheer delight. More from the perspective of two actors at the top of their game rather than for storytelling purposes.
Nonetheless, it felt like a break in their usual terse conversations and fraught dynamic and not in keeping with the Tommy and Catherine we’ve seen in Happy Valley before.
Here’s the other big niggling thing: the stakes weren’t high enough. Where were the really big explosions and sleight-of-hand moments to leave us gasping?
Theories were abound Ryan, Clare, Catherine and Tommy would all bite the dust. Surely, there should have been at least one death to leave viewers in floods of tears.
Instead, Wainwright seemed to give everyone a stay of execution – even Tommy, who was comatose after a failed attempt at self-immolation in Catherine’s kitchen.
One of Clare’s nattily crocheted blankets saved the day after a quick-thinking Catherine used it to smother the flames but not before staring a second too long as Tommy screamed and writhed in agony.
Yes, there was a resolution between Catherine and Tommy, who are at the centre of this story, which does leave you with a sense of satisfaction as things came full-circle.
But there is still something lacking. Tommy’s redemption, for instance, feels like something of a 180-degree turn. He was obsessed with killing Catherine for seven years only to change his mind after looking at a few photos of Ryan and Becky.
After all his heinous crimes including rape and murder, he’s humanised and it goes against the grain of Happy Valley. Again, you kind of wonder why Catherine didn’t just put the evil sod out of his misery after all.
There are some stray strands thrown into the mix like Nev Gallagher’s (George Costigan) Spain plan, it all seemed a little too coincidental he wanted to head there at the same time as Tommy.
Or why Poppy Hepworth (Bonnie Stott) never took off her coat or even why journalist Richard Cawood (Derek Riddell) would have married Ros (Kelly Harrison).
All in all, we got a neatly wrapped-up conclusion with Catherine taking down the bad guys but it was all too neat, tidy and bloodless.
Happy Valley is streaming on the BBC iPlayer now
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