Happy Valley's finale was perfect: It always had to be The Catherine Cawood Show

Good stories need good characters, and god dammit, Happy Valley’s Sergeant Catherine Cawood – played so magnificently by Sarah Lancashire – has truly been an all-time titan.

Spoilers for last night’s series finale lie ahead – and what a buttock-clenching ending it was.

Like the rest of writer Sally Wainwright’s three-season epic, it was the perfect mix of heart-stopping tension, thrilling action, heartfelt family drama, and genuinely hilarious moments of comic relief.

From Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) violently killing henchmen inside a moving car to that gasp-inducing shot of him peering inside Catherine’s front window while she napped, it was a ride that took a long, long time to calm down from.

Expectations were high: we as a nation had been thinking of little else other than how the hell it was going to end. 

After last week’s cliffhanger, would Tommy persuade his son Ryan (Rhys Connah) to run away with him? Failing that, would he kidnap Ryan, or – on the total flipside – would Ryan be the one to finally kill him?

The answer to all of the above, of course, was ‘no’.

Because for all the shocking moments he provided, and for all the times we felt guilty for wanting to swim in those luscious blue eyes (must… not… thirst… over… the… psychopath…), this was never Tommy Lee Royce’s story, and nor for that matter was it Ryan’s.

It was Catherine’s, and it stayed that way right up until the very end.

With Lancashire on exceptional form, Catherine has been the stoic beating heart of the whole thing; dropping wry one-liners at the most exquisite of moments (‘I nicked him once for a public order offence and he bit me’) and wearily wading through all the BS around her in order to serve and protect her community, her family and – above all else – Ryan, the son of her late daughter.

Catherine hasn’t always said or done the right thing – in fact, in many pivotal moments, she’s barely said anything.

But with a rich, tragic backstory (her daughter died after being tormented by a violent criminal boyfriend, leaving a grandchild in her care), a complex family, a relentless police job, and one hell of a nice multi-coloured scarf; she’s carried the weight of the world on her shoulders with barely a moment to catch her breath (who could forget her highly relatable cry of ‘WHAT A S**T WEEK’?).

To thank her for all she’s been through, in the finale Wainwright gamely rewarded Catherine with the peace she deserves; giving her the answer she craved to the question that had loomed large over the whole show: ‘will my grandson turn out like his monstrous father?’ 

The answer to that, of course, was a resounding no. 

She had to go through the ringer to get there, of course, but get there she did: we also got her reconciliation with sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran); we got her finishing her last shift pre-retirement without any more bickering over a leaving do; and we even got her casually gifting her superior with one last solved case as she packed up her desk.

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In fact, the final stretch of the episode was so brilliantly, firmly The Catherine Show that there was simply no need to see the big male villains living out their last story beats: not Darius having his downfall, not Faisal being arrested, not Hepworth being locked up in a cell, not even Tommy Lee Royce taking his last breath.

I wouldn’t have had it any other way: those bad blokes didn’t matter, in the end. 

Not really. And those scenes would only have paled in comparison to the denouement we got; the one we really needed: that quiet, gorgeous cuddle between Catherine and Clare (RIP the crochet blanket) and, finally, Catherine’s visit to Becky’s grave, at which she knew her daughter could finally rest in peace.

With that little touch of the gravestone, Catherine’s arc was complete – and may we remain forever grateful to both Wainwright and Lancashire for keeping us so invested in her for every single second of the last 18 episodes over almost a decade. 

On the one hand, it’s sad to think that she’ll not be gracing our screens any more.

But on the other, how satisfying it is to have her story rounded off so succinctly, with such a firm sense of finality and closure – and a sense that everything, despite all that’s happened, will be OK.

All the awards for Lancashire. All the awards for Wainwright. And all the awards for viewers for not collapsing from the sheer stress of that exhilarating story.

Happy retirement, Catherine. Save me a slice of that cake.

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