The best crime dramas pack an emotional as well as suspenseful punch. By that criteria, Sally Wainwright’s brilliant British hit Happy Valley, returning after seven years to BBC America and Acorn TV for a third and final season, is an instant classic, shattering and altogether satisfying.
The wait was worth it to be reacquainted with Sgt. Catherine Cawood, a tough but caring Yorkshire cop burdened with unbearable sorrows, weary from an untapped reservoir of rage. How great is the range of Sarah Lancashire, so delightful as Julia Child in HBO Max’s Julia and so real, wry, and raw as the conflicted Catherine, counting the days till retirement after 30 years on the job. “I’m just becoming the persona I’ve always wanted to be,” she muses. “Don’t take s— off anyone anymore. I know who I am, finally.”
Who she is, is a woman with formidable yet warm authority, with compassion for the vulnerable and no patience for the “d—heads” who dare to patronize her. After all, Catherine has seen the worst of human nature, having lost a daughter to the abuses of monstrous criminal Tommy Lee Royce (Grantchester’s James Norton). His latest bad act: cunningly finding ways to connect from prison with his son and her beloved grandson, Ryan (Rhys Connah), now an impressionably curious teen.
Forgiveness is not an option for anyone, including her well-meaning sister Clare (the terrific Siobhan Finneran), who might try to humanize such a “deranged, murdering, subhuman piece of excrement.” And yet this riveting series does just that, building to a suspensefully inevitable, unforgettable encounter between the ferocious granny in uniform and the villain responsible for such grief.
Sharply drawn subplots involve local organized crime and the ravages of illicit drugs (seen through the lens of a local pharmacist who’s way over his head), but this is really all about Catherine’s cathartic and blistering last stand.
Watch in awe.
Happy Valley, Season 3 Premiere, Monday, May 22, 10/9c, BBC America (also on Acorn TV and AMC+)