MILLIONS tuned into the finale of Happy Valley tonight and witnessed arch villain Tommy Lee Royce being engulfed in a fireball.
The shock climax saw the murderer douse himself in petrol and set himself alight at the end of a clash with show heroine Sgt Catherine Cawood, played by Sarah Lancashire.
The BBC was today hoping that the closing episode had delivered them their biggest ratings hit since the closing episode of Line Of Duty nearly two years ago.
But unlike that show’s disappointing bow-out, fans of Happy Valley could not have been more satisfied.
A TV insider said: “Beeb bosses knew they had a sensational climax to the show on their hands and one that wouldn’t let anyone down.
“Of course, devotees will always want more, but writer Sally Wainwright wanted the thriller to go out on a high and she insists she won’t be delivering a fourth series.”
The final, nail-biting instalment ended with Tommy, played by James Norton, breaking into Catherine’s home where they row and he sets himself ablaze.
She then frantically jumped on him and smothered the flames and he could be heard moaning in agony beneath her.
Later, she received a text on her mobile that said: “TLR dead, hospital just rang.”
But because viewers never saw him die, and he was still breathing after the scorching, many speculated it could be a plot twist for a possible fourth series.
The significance of Tommy torching himself will not be lost on hardcore viewers.
One of the first scenes on the show saw Catherine tackle a drug addict so heartbroken after his girlfriend dumped him he threatened to set himself on fire.
Before last night’s show aired, viewers were convinced Tommy would try to kill Catherine and other members of her family.
A trailer showed him standing over someone with his face splattered with blood after a vicious attack.
Viewers had feared his victim could have been Catherine, but it was a local gangster who met their end after initially pretending to rescue Tommy, before turning up to execute him.
After being double-crossed by the mobsters, he went to Catherine’s home to grass on the murdering kingpin, Darius Knezevic, who had ordered his killing.
When she found Tommy in her kitchen, she assumed he had come to kill her and he admitted to Catherine he’d considered torching her house with a can of petrol.
But he stopped after seeing photos of his one-time girlfriend Becky — Catherine’s late daughter — and childhood pictures of his son, Ryan.
He said he “forgave” Catherine and said sorry for his behaviour.
But she would not accept his apology and, as she pointed her Taser at him, they argued, before he poured petrol on himself and touched a lit match on his chest.
Tommy was enraged when she said Ryan, played by Rhys Connah, was “a prince” and nothing like him — and to prove it the lad had turned his dad over to cops after being asked to go on the run with him to Spain.
In an earlier scene, Ryan convinced his grandmother not to fall out with sister Clare, played by Siobhan Finneran, after she took him to visit his dad in prison.
In the scene immediately after Tommy’s torching, the two women appeared to be fully reconciled as they embraced outside her house.
Meanwhile, killer chemist Faisal and abusive husband Rob also looked destined for prison, along with crime boss Darius.
But some viewers felt there was much more to the storylines that still needed exploring.
One wishfully tweeted: “There’s not enough time in Happy Valley 3! That’s why we will need a fourth series.”
It’s the perfect climax
WRITHING and screaming in agony as flames consumed him, the death of Happy Valley’s arch villain wasn’t just a sensational end to the series.
As twisted as it sounds, it was also a satisfying one.
Sure, we were braced for an epic showdown, but nobody expected Catherine and Tommy’s final exchange to be THAT fiery.
When the reckoning came, we all thought he’d try to kill her and the only question would be whether she’d survive.
Nobody could have guessed he’d be the one to go down in a gory blaze — certainly not a self-inflicted one.
It wasn’t just torching himself with petrol and a match that made last night’s show the perfect ending to Happy Valley — it was the fact that writer Sally Wainwright brilliantly turned the whole story on its head just before he went up like a bride’s nightie.
Over her kitchen table Catherine finally came face to face with a tearful Tommy in a gripping scene which will rightfully earn Sarah Lancashire and James Norton endless award nods.
Forget a violent clash involving knives or guns (that would have been way too clumsy and obvious) instead they had a blistering 12 minute row which made us doubt everything that had happened in the previous nine years.
Had we got the hero and villain wrong all along?
After all, he was full of regret and compassion — professing his love for Catherine’s daughter and expressing his gratitude for the blessed life of his son, Ryan — while she was ice cold and unforgiving.
With tears rolling down his face (and even the odd moment of levity) you could almost forget he was a torturing, raping, killer.
Thankfully we’d already had a reminder of just how dangerous Tommy was at the start of this engrossing closing episode.
First he knifed three gangsters who’d been sent to bump him off.
Then in the next scene a bloody fight ensued, one which must surely get James that much anticipated job as James Bond.
It concluded with the head henchman getting his head caved in with a rock.
And if these two flashpoints with Tommy weren’t gratifying enough, Catherine separately helped finger killer chemist Faisal and abuser Rob while appearing to patch things up with her family and, seemingly, retiring to the Himalayas.
Then, after her final showdown with Tommy, she tied up three series with three words every Happy Valley fan longed to hear.
“I won, obviously.”
It doesn’t get more satisfying than that.