The excellent British cop show “Happy Valley” built toward a grim and brutally violent resolution in its first season, and as Season 2 opens – the six episodes are now available on Netflix – the mood is reassuring, almost comic.
Sgt. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) is 18 months removed from her battle to near death with the murderous Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) and finds herself chasing a band of young, stoned sheep rustlers. It’s just the latest reminder of her humble status as a uniformed police officer.
Even amid the humor, though, there’s an intimation of mortality – coming upon an injured sheep, Catherine grabs a paving stone to put it out of its misery. But she finds that she can’t kill it, just as she couldn’t kill Tommy when she had the chance in Season 1, even though he was responsible for the deaths of her daughter and of a young officer Catherine mentored. “Happy Valley” is about a woman who is as strong, durable and emotionally distant as any man, but has lines she instinctively won’t cross.
Other residents of West Yorkshire aren’t so scrupulous, of course, and the bodies quickly start to pile up. Prostitutes are being targeted by a serial killer, and one of the victims is Tommy’s mother, a coincidence (or is it?) that puts Catherine under suspicion and brings the imprisoned Tommy back into her life.
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Still written and largely directed by Sally Wainwright (“Scott & Bailey,” “Last Tango in Halifax”), the second season of “Happy Valley” is less intense but more polished than the first, and still a superior example of the crime drama that focuses more on the people than on the crime.
The relationship between Catherine and her formerly estranged sister, Clare (Siobhan Finneran), is even more central this time, and Catherine gains a new protégée in Ann Gallagher (Charlie Murphy), the Season 1 kidnapping victim who decides to become a community support officer.
The cast is uniformly good, and the new season adds the always interesting Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle of the Harry Potter movies) as a teacher with a case of jailhouse lust for Tommy. Also new is Kevin Doyle, as a detective distracted by a disastrous affair, giving much the same performance he gave as the awkward Molesley in “Downton Abbey.”
But “Happy Valley” is Lancashire’s show, top to bottom, and with her weary eyes and commanding physicality, she conveys every ounce of Catherine’s strength and her catastrophic grief.
Seasons 1 and 2 of “Happy Valley” are now streaming on Netflix