Apple TV+ spy thriller/comedy Slow Horses crosses the finish line of its fine first season this week. The show horses chases down its kidnapping rogues as Lamb gains the upper hand, and Taverner gets desperate. The last-minute rescue operation comes down to blind luck, determination, and no small amount of heroic stupidity.
The show’s efficient plotting and knee-deep characterizations pay off in a desperate last act that uses every agonizing second to its advantage. The show makes a strong case for its next season — and for its own place in the roster of the best Apple TV+ shows yet.
Slow Horses recap: ‘Follies’
In this week’s episode, titled “Follies,” M1-5’s Diana Taverner (played Kristin Scott Thomas), firmly beaten by the outcast Slough House spies led by Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman), decides to call on Peter Judd (Samuel West), a man with ties to the far-right extremist group contracted to kidnap Hassan Ahmed (Antonio Aakeel) in the first place.
Together, Judd and Taverner figure out where the kidnappers are heading with Hassan, just as tech wizard Roddy (Christopher Chung) and Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) get the make and model of their getaway car for tracking. First, Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) and Min (Dustin Demri-Burns), then River (Jack Lowden) and Lamb, head off to intercept them.
River hears from Lamb something Taverner told him to scare him off of his moral position last episode — that Sid Baker (Olivia Cooke) died in her coma. We in the audience don’t know if this is true. However, it prompts Lamb to finally say something with real emotion to River, to let him know he, too, is human under all the gruffness.
I’ll be quite curious to know what, if any, part Sid might play next season, as the show barely gave her two episodes to shine. Cooke is a terrifically interesting actress, so my hope is they’ll make more time for her character.
Hassan gives his kidnappers the slip just as they’re turning on each other, but they catch him again anyway. Min and Louisa run out of gas and wind up bickering by the roadside about whose fault it is (this doesn’t quite work – we need one more dimension beyond “sex starved” on Min going forward). Lamb and River pick them just up in time to be the only people within driving distance to possibly stop Hassan’s execution by the far-right crazies.
You can’t cage a dragon
It hugely beggars belief that the kidnapper would wait as long as he does to kill Hassan. But without the delay, you get no showdown between the white nationalist and River, between Hassan and the white nationalist, and between River and his past. (All three have been at a low boil since the first minutes of Slow Horses’ first season.)
But the really excellent part is what happens next when they realize Taverner wants the kidnapper dead so he can’t squeal about the government’s involvement in the kidnapping. Min throws himself in front of the kidnapper so they can’t pick off the would-be terrorist from a helicopter. Then River and Louisa jump in to help, suddenly as devoted to saving this scumbag as they are Hassan.
It’s a genuinely tense few minutes and it hints at the central question of a show like this: What do you do when you want to do the right thing and know that your boss, the government, will not help you do it. Indeed, your corrupt superiors will do everything (and kill anyone) within their power to stop you, to have their version of events hit the streets first.
What’s next for Slough House?
We see some nice closing-shop business this week, like when River makes good on his promise from the first episode to tell Roddy why he wound up in Slough House. He lies, of course, to spare Roddy’s feelings. And he builds the team bond a little more for whatever happens next.
There’s also a terrible (if also slightly cathartic, it must be said) scene where Agent Duffy (Chris Reilly) pushes Robert Hobden (Paul Hilton) in front of a garbage truck so he won’t blow the whistle on Taverner’s involvement.
River’s grandfather David (Jonathan Pryce) debriefs him when he ends the day miserable because he didn’t regain his job at MI5’s main office after his heroic deeds. River also learns from Roddy that Sid might be alive, because Sid wasn’t her real name — and the hospital has no record of her. Taverner clearly moved her around to cover her tracks.
Lamb finally tells Catherine what he’s been hiding about the death of the mysterious Charles Partner (James Faulkner). Turns out Lamb aided Charles’ suicide by giving him the gun he used to kill himself. It doesn’t sound very convincing, but Oldman’s walk to the office with the file in his hand is probably the best work he’s done all season. Whatever else is true, the man can walk with purpose and character. It turns out it was David Cartwright and Lamb who killed Charles. We clearly haven’t heard the last of this.
All in all, Slow Horses delivered a ripping season of TV. The show isn’t particularly expressionistic or anything, but it more than gets the job done. Bring on season 2 (which looks to be already shot and in the can!).
Watch Slow Horses on Apple TV+
You can now watch the entire first season of Slow Horses on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.