Last season on Happy Valley introduced us to Sgt. Catherine Carwood (Sarah Lancashire) and the difficult life in West Yorkshire, England. The town is a haven of drug addiction, petty crimes, and the occasional felony and murder. Over the course of the first season, Sgt. Carwood worked on a case involving the kidnapping of a young woman from the wealthiest local family, along with an investigation into the murder of a coworker, all while dealing with the ongoing issues with her sister’s alcoholism and the effects of her daughter’s rape, pregnancy, and suicide a few years earlier. The season culminated with the arrest of Tommy Lee Royce, the man responsible for both the new kidnapping and the rape of Catherine’s daughter years earlier.
The series’ second season takes place roughly a year and a half after the events of the first season. Sgt. Catherine Carwood is still working in the police force, and now last year’s kidnapping victim, Ann Gallagher (Charlie Murphy), has joined the police force in an effort to overcome her trauma and give back to the community that rescued her. Catherine’s sister (Downton Abbey‘s Siobhan Finneran) is sober and trying to find a job. Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) is behind bars.
On a routine arrest, the Yorkshire police happen upon a body of a woman in a garage. The victim turns out to be Tommy Lee Royce’s mother. Soon it becomes clear that a serial killer has begun to target prostitutes. Royce’s mother’s death causes the inmate to blame Catherine for her death as he sees the police sergeant as his enemy and as an unhinged vigilante looking for revenge. With the help of a weak-willed visitor who is in love with him, he begins to influence and subvert Harwood’s family’s peace of mind and feelings of safety. Royce’s accomplice, Miss Wheland, is played by the excellent Shirley Henderson (Trainspotting, the Harry Potter franchise), who brings a menacing presence to the series, delivered entirely in terrifying whispers. Rounding out this season’s cast is a police inspector with a troubled family life (Downton Abbey‘s Kevin Doyle), and a possible suspect played by Harry Potter‘s Matthew Lewis.
The strength of this great show is that the season consists of only six episodes, thus the pacing and action are executed brilliantly. It also makes the mystery feel much more immediate and heightened, and it minimizes the usage of red herrings, which can really become distracting and annoying when overused (just ask viewers of The Killing). The show is quite dark, and the levels of human indecency reached can be quite low, but it never diminishes the watchability of the program, which really shows how successful the writing, staging, and acting are. I look forward to season 3 and another return to the (anything but) Happy Valley in North Yorkshire, UK.