Happy Valley season 3 theory suggests a tragic ending for Catherine and Ryan

sarah lancashire, happy valley season 3
Happy Valley theory suggests tragedy for Ryan BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire

Happy Valley season 3, episode 1 spoilers follow.

Happy Valley series three made a triumphant return to BBC One on New Year's Day as we were reunited with Sergeant Catherine Cawood in a seemingly much better place than where we left her and her family six years ago.

Seeing happiness in that Yorkshire valley is such a surprise that both Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) and her sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran) remark on "just having a laugh" during Ryan's birthday, given all the drama they've faced in the past.

Of course, things don't stay so pleasant for long, as Catherine soon has a run-in with Ryan's abusive school teacher, Rob (Mark Stanley), and we learn of the spiraling pharmacist-come-drug-dealer Faisal (Amit Shah) and his problems with armed gangsters.

mollie winnard , sarah lancashire, happy valley season 3
BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire

However, the biggest overarching dilemma that has loomed over the show since series one is the nature vs nurture debate around Ryan (Rhys Connah). Ryan was born after Catherine's daughter, Becky, was raped by the evil murderer Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton). But after being raised well by Catherine, is he more like his grandmother? Or deep down really like his criminal father?

Initially, Ryan was hated and disowned by both his uncle (Catherine's son Daniel), and his grandfather, Catherine's ex-husband, Richard. And while they eventually came around to caring for Ryan, there's been plenty of flashes of Ryan's fiery temper throughout the show, which could potentially foreshadow the man he's going to be.

Even Catherine has debated whether she made a mistake raising Ryan after they have a big row in series one, she rants that she "had enough of him years ago", adding that she lost her marriage for a "psychopath".

happy valley series 2
BBC

She later remarks to Richard that she "can't stand him, can't stand looking at him", and tells Richard she understands why he couldn't live with Ryan. She also adds that Becky and Daniel were never so disruptive at school, and she thinks he gets it from his father. He's also lied to her on numerous occasions, including about seeing his dad Tommy on the narrow boat.

Of course, this could all be down to Ryan growing up without a father and mother while being ostracised by his uncle and grandfather. Richard adds that he's dyslexic and will naturally get frustrated at school, while Catherine counters that he's "bound to be like his father on some level".

But Richard says Tommy Lee Royce grew up in a broken home, unloved, and Ryan has had the benefit of Clare and Catherine caring for him.

Catherine and Ryan soon make up, but we see similar issues rear their head in series two, when Ryan receives the Scalextric from his father's girlfriend and ponders whether his father should be forgiven for kidnapping Ryan, and trying to kill him. Thankfully, Catherine manages to explain herself better.

rhys connah, happy valley season 3
BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire

However, it's when it comes to the series-two finale that some real parallels can be drawn between Catherine's situation and Alison Garrs, who shot her own son Daryl when she realised that he was the man who'd been killing and mutilating prostitutes.

Although Catherine arrestedAlison, when she realised the mother killed her son for his crimes, she wrapped Alison in a big hug while tearing up before cautioning her and finally hugging her again, showing Catherine's deep sympathy for her actions.

In the series' final moments, Catherine visited Alison and explained she lost her own daughter Becky, and if Alison wants someone to talk to, she can contact Catherine. It's revealed that Alison was abused by her father, and Daryl was his son, not his grandson.

Catherine added: "Then she brought up this kid, this child, this aberration that she loved and hated because what else could she do?"

happy vallery series 2
BBC

Catherine explained that Alison kept Daryl in the dark about his true father, they never talked about it, and they became outcasts. Catherine agreed that she also doesn't "have the language" to discuss what happened with Becky and Tommy with Ryan.

The series' final shot was an ominous scene of Ryan running up a hill while Catherine looked on. Could this foreshadow her having to chase him down before his final arrest? Or simply realising she needs to be more open with Ryan? We know Alison Garrs returns to Happy Valley series three, so there's a chance Catherine has kept her as a confidante to discuss her concerns about Ryan.

In the series-three premiere, we also find out that Ryan has been visiting Tommy Lee Royce in prison after Ryan began writing to him in series two, and this is reflected in his language, when he says "revenge is a dish best served cold" while slating his PE teacher, Rob.

Ryan has obviously always been infatuated with the idea of having a father, despite his crimes. But after being hated by Catherine's family initially, groomed to like him in series two by Tommy's girlfriend, bribed with gifts, and now taken to visit him by a mysterious couple, it's not surprising that he's got conflicted feelings.

Happy Valley might have woven some levity into the recent years, but things rarely end well for Catherine, and as series three is the show's final outing, it feels like a showdown between Catherine, Tommy and Ryan is inevitable, as foreshadowed in the poster.

happy valley series 3 poster
BBC

Speaking about series three, creator Sally Wainwright told the BBC: "I waited six years because I wanted to get to a point where Ryan would be old enough to start making choices about whether he wanted to have a relationship with his dad or not. And could he have a relationship with his dad, and how would Catherine feel about that?

"I really wanted to be able to explore that. He is now 16, so he can travel places by himself, he can make choices. He can do things behind Catherine’s back."

Meanwhile Rhys Connah, who plays Ryan, told the BBC: "There's more of a tension in [series three] as Catherine sees more of Ryan's dad in Ryan, more than she'd like to see.

"Ryan has a confusing relationship with Tommy because obviously, Tommy tried to kill him… But then he’s heard all this stuff saying 'Oh, he was sick', so he's questioning what Tommy is.

"He hears all this stuff about Tommy, about how he was a psychopath, a murderer, but Ryan’s now at a stage where he wants to judge for himself, as there's enough doubt there, and of course he wants his dad to be a good man so he wants to believe things are different now."

If one thing is for certain, it's that Tommy Lee Royce isn't a good man, but it remains to be seen whether Ryan can become one. Catherine rarely gets a happy ending in the show, she always has to make the hard choices no one else will, but a tragic ending for Ryan would leave a brutal final outlook, especially after all the pain and suffering Catherine has endured to raise him.

Happy Valley series three continues Sundays at 9pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

If you've been affected by the issues raised in this story, you can access more information from Rape Crisis England and Wales, who work towards the elimination of all forms of sexual violence and sexual misconduct, on their website or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999. Rape Crisis Scotland’s helpline number is 08088 01 03 02.

Readers in the US are encouraged to contact RAINN, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673.

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