Happy Valley: Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2

*Contains Spoilers*

Katherine Kelly, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Shirley Henderson, Amelia Bullmore, Kevin Doyle, Matthew Lewis, Vincent Franklin. This is a comprehensive list of the impressive names that BBC One drama Happy Valley have managed to cast in its second season that started last Tuesday (09/02/16). Joining them are the main cast members from its highly successful first season including critically acclaimed Sarah Lancashire and rising star James Norton. It’s clear from the off that Sally Wainwright’s award-winning series is going for a fresher feel in its second season, and not just because of its new cast. The tone is funnier, not lighter, but funnier. It’s a sense of humour that Wainwright hinted at in her first season but really establishes in her second. It’s very British (specifically Northern), sardonic and wry. There are new storylines as well. In the first episode we see Kevin Doyle’s character, John Wadsworth, embroiled in blackmail threats from a mistress (Bullmore) unknown to his wife (Hesmondhalgh), protagonist Catherine Cawood (Lancashire) under scrutiny as a murder suspect in new Detective Inspector Jodie Shackleton’s (Kelly) line of enquiry, of whose real perpetrator is most probably truck-driver Sean (Lewis), and antagonist Tommy Lee Royce’s latest ‘lover’ Frances Drummond (Henderson) plotting to implement revenge on behalf of her incarcerated hero. So hardly a slow start.

Episode 1 commands Catherine immediately into action, pursuing a gang of ‘sheep rustlers’ who’ve been setting dogs on stolen farm animals. Having sorted the disturbance and put the injured sheep out of its misery (in a shockingly comic moment), the detective sergeant finds the rotting carcass of the mother of season 1 villain Tommy Lee Royce. This moment warns of a dark premise for the second season, emphasised further upon the discovery that the decomposing body was first raped with a broken bottle. We then see a shaven and rugged looking Royce in jail, who is informed of his mother’s death. This is followed by a close-up shot of the programme’s antagonist, a look of anger on his face.

There are, of course, a number of characters available to the audience’s line-up of suspects in Yorkshire Police’s latest enquiry. It could be (and is most likely to be) the truck driver that Nevison fired in the first episode. It could be Clare Cartwright’s (Siobhan Finneran) old flame, Neil Ackroyd (Con O’Neill), who seems too good to be true. It could even be an outsider Royce is employing from inside jail, since no one would expect him to kill his own mother. Or if Sally Wainwright really wants to throw a curveball, it could be Daniel Cawood (Karl Davies), Catherine’s son who returned home in the first episode. There are plenty of options, each a more shocking revelation than the last; so whichever Wainwright goes with, if she goes with any of these at all, it will be an unexpected twist.

Catherine Cawood is also a suspect although she isn’t, of course, the perpetrator at hand. Lancashire gives an impressive performance in a scene in the first episode as her character breaks down to her sister and confidant following a brutal interview with DI Jodie Shackleton. It is heartfelt, emotional and ultimately what Happy Valley is all about. It’s no surprise that Lancashire won so many awards for her portrayal of the Northern police officer after its first season.

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In what is unquestionably the most exciting story of the new season, Vicky Fleming (Amelia Bullmore) spends the entirety of the first episode obsessing and generally creeping out John Wadsworth by blackmailing, drugging and making threatening phone calls to him. She meets him in a pub to discuss the ending of their love affair where she also returns his socks, toothbrush and police badge in a theatrical manner. He later wakes up naked in a hotel room, finding out that he has been photographed by Vicky in highly embarrassing circumstances. The pictures are used to deter him from reporting her blackmail threats to the police. The first episode ends in an appropriately dramatic manner with Frances Drummond, another of this season’s resident psychos, glaring at Ryan, Catherine’s grandson, through the window of the Cawood house.

The second episode develops the abundance of new plots further, as well as introducing yet another storyline. Catherine has taken in a Croatian immigrant who’d been forced into slave labour by the so-called “Halifax mafia”; the threat of which furthers when Elenka, the immigrant, speaks through her translator warning that a member of the trafficking gang had seen her with a police officer from his car. As well as this, Frances Drummond, the irrational Royce obsessive, was seen to have found a way into the Cawood family – through Ryan’s school. This sense of suspense and dread is furthered in Wainwright’s writing when ‘untouchable’ Catherine attends the funeral of Royce’s mother. When seen by Royce, the convict breaks down in a scene that truly displays the extent of James Norton’s acting ability. But the scene that really highlighted the meaning of great British acting was the one in which Vicky Fleming and John Wadsworth engaged in an extremely tense fight (and DO NOT read on if you do not want to hear spoilers) resulting in the eventual strangulation and expiry of Vicky. This scene left myself and my friend with our hands clasped over our mouths and expressions that bore the impressions that it was intended to leave. This whole new avenue that’s opened up for Wainwright to explore in her drama is exciting and fresh for Happy Valley, especially considering that, this time, a policeman is the offender.

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What’s really clever about this series is that you do get to know the characters. I don’t mean in a cliché, soap opera kind-of way, but in a cunningly intimate way, all against the bleak backdrop of drug culture in Yorkshire. This season definitely feels more domestic too, with Daniel, Catherine’s son, moving back in with his mother and Aunty, there’s bound to be disagreements following their rocky relationship in the previous season. There is the possible problem, however, that Happy Valley could fall into the unfortunate hands of ‘second season syndrome’; that is where a once successful series falls into a spiral of bad storylines, bad acting and bad viewer ratings as Broadchurch’s second season demonstrated seamlessly. With Wainwright’s excellent writing and ease in the art of story-telling, it’s doubtful that Happy Valley will fall prey to ‘second season syndrome’, but the question still remains: are the new storylines quite enough to keep us patient and docile for Tommy Lee Royce’s inevitable departure from jail? I think so, and with a cast like Wainwright’s, viewers won’t be leaving the Valley until a satisfying conclusion is reached.

Happy Valley continues next Tuesday at 9pm on BBC One.