Happy Valley, episode 6, review: a finale of understated, heartbreaking brilliance

Sarah Lancashire as Sgt Catherine Cawood - Matt Squire/BBC
Sarah Lancashire as Sgt Catherine Cawood - Matt Squire/BBC

Warning: this review contains spoilers for the final episode of Happy Valley

“We’ve had another bit of a tussle. I won, obviously.” That was Sgt Catherine Cawood, in typically understated style, summing up the climax of Happy Valley (BBC One). And the nation breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Not since Line of Duty has a drama finale been so eagerly awaited. Thankfully it didn’t end like Line of Duty, or else we’d have seen hapless Neil unmasked as the linchpin of the Knezevic crime family. Instead, show creator Sally Wainwright delivered an ending that satisfied.

But she did challenge our perspective. Because, for fleeting moments, didn’t we end up feeling the tiniest bit sorry for Tommy Lee Royce? Over three series, Royce has been a malevolent force, a rapist and murderer with no redeeming features. We have been terrified of him and repulsed by him, and everything pointed to one last, violent showdown between Royce (James Norton) and Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) in a battle between good and evil.

The violence came earlier, though, when it dawned on Royce that the three Knezevic henchmen taking him for a drive probably didn’t have his best interests at heart. He despatched all three of them in gory scenes (if Bond producers haven’t taken notice by now, they never will) but was wounded in the process. This meant that, by the time he reached Cawood’s house, he was no longer dangerous.

James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce - BBC
James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce - BBC

He was tearful, sentimental and self-justifying. His crimes were monstrous but, beneath it all, he was pathetic. Finally, Cawood saw it: “You’re just a f—ed-up, frightened, damaged, deluded, nasty little toddler-brain in a big man’s body.” These final scenes were brilliantly written, Lancashire and Norton facing off across the kitchen table. She was wielding a Taser but, really, she didn’t need it. Even without Royce’s injuries, Cawood’s fury would have been enough to keep him pinned to his chair. She had the upper hand. Royce went up in flames.

Wainwright had a lot of wrapping up to do, and took care of her other characters. Clare (Siobhan Finneran) was reunited with her sister at the end, in recognition of her essential goodness. Ryan (Rhys Connah) proved to be the wisest head in the family despite his age; a couple of moments in the script suggested that he might be destined for the police force himself one day.

As for Faisal the killer chemist (Amit Shah) and the murder of Joanne Hepworth: we never saw him caught but can rest assured that the cops are on their way to his door after Cawood followed the trail of evidence from a dropped packet of pills. This neat bit of plotting involved Alison Garrs (Susan Lynch), finally giving her a reason to have come back into the show. Presumably, Rob Hepworth (Mark Stanley) will be cleared of involvement in his wife’s murder, but at least his life is in ruins. This was the only moment at which Wainwright seemed to be rushing to get things finished: a throwaway line about Hepworth stashing indecent images of a boy for the purposes of blackmail came out of nowhere.

In truth, it was not the most gripping episode of this series – for heart-stopping drama, Royce’s escape from court was the high point. But it showed everything we loved about Catherine Cawood: her toughness, her vulnerability, her sense of humour. Happy Valley sounds so bleak on paper, with its storylines about drugs, rape and murder. But at its core is the love that Cawood has for her family. Wainwright gave us what we wanted: a happy ending for a character who truly deserves it.