Happy Valley's brilliant final episode fumbled one important thing

"Oh, it's probably not important, but..."

mark stanley as rob hepworth, happy valley

Happy Valley season 3 spoilers follow – including the final episode's ending.

Sally Wainwright's beloved BBC drama Happy Valley has achieved what many popular shows do not: a satisfying finale that bettered our high expectations.

The conclusion of the toxic push and pull between Catherine Cawood and Tommy Lee Royce, which has been the backbone of Happy Valley's three-season run, provided a catharsis and emotional pay-off that lived up to the quality of the show's storytelling.

With that praise sung, where the show's last outing fell down was in its subplot.

For much of season three, our eyes were only pulled away from Cawood, Ryan and their family drama (we're aware that's putting it mildly) so that the criminal storyline of the series could unfold.

mollie winnard, happy valley, season 3
Matt SquireBBC

We discovered that there was a dodgy pharmacist named Faisal Bhatti who'd been supplying prescription drugs, off the books, to members of the local community. One such person was Joanna Hepworth, a neighbour with a lot on her plate.

This was just one of the things that her husband, Rob Hepworth, used to terrorise her. When he called the police on his own wife to shop her for having illegal diazepam in the house, Sergeant Cawood, always sharp as a pin, sussed what was going on in an instant: bruising to Joanna's arms; a lock on the fridge; letting Rob speak for her. Joanna was in an abusive and coercive relationship.

Rob also happened to be one of Ryan's teachers, and his volatile nature and short temper didn't exactly dissipate when he drove through the school gates.

mark stanley as rob hepworth, happy valley

Prior to the season-three finale, we'd seen Rob in the frame for the murder of his wife after her body was discovered in his usually locked garage. Although we knew he hadn't done it (it was Faisal Bhatti that had battered her over the head with a rolling pin and stuffed her into a suitcase) it was hard to muster any sympathy for him, knowing that he was capable of such violence himself.

It was left to the show's final few minutes before it was revealed by way of some throwaway dialogue that Rob Hepworth was to be charged – but not for crimes against his wife. He may not have actually killed her, but he had confessed (while under caution) that there'd been a history of violence in their relationship, to the point of leaving a blood-soaked fingerprint on their kitchen furniture.

mark stanley as rob hepworth, happy valley

Framed as a twist, it was instead revealed that indecent images had been discovered on his phone of a boy at school, with the implication that he'd been grooming and abusing some of the pupils.

It was left to us to think back to his treatment of Ryan – shortly after making his school life a misery, he'd changed tack and offered a suspiciously sympathetic ear, something that was elsewhere noted as a habit of his – and the mention that he'd been his wife's teacher before they were married.

With Joanna still not having justice, it was Catherine Cawood, true to form, who delivered the final piece of the puzzle and pointed detectives in Faisal's direction. With the link between him and Joanna now sussed, it's surely a given that his game is up – but for a show that has always ultimately been about its women, the decision to leave this thread open to interpretation feels empty.

For much of Happy Valley's final episode, the camera was pointed firmly at Tommy Lee Royce and Catherine Cawood, their paths never quite crossing until their powerful final face-off. As viewers, this is exactly where we wanted to be, but by almost completely focusing our attention there the rest of the narrative felt rushed and incomplete.

Happy Valley airs on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

Organisations including Women's Aid can provide further support and information on coercive control or coercive behaviour.

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, organisations including Refuge (www.refuge.org.uk) and Women's Aid (www.womensaid.org.uk) can provide further support and information. The 24-hour, freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247. The US National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or text LOVEIS to 22522.

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