Apple TV+ spy series Slow Horses gets ready for the climactic showdown between MI5, Jackson Lamb’s misfit spies at Slough House and the kidnappers. Lamb hatches a plan to acquire some crucial evidence, but it involves subterfuge, bombs and the music of The Proclaimers.
Are these guys as clever as they pretend to be? The penultimate episode of season one delivers high highs and no lows — everything an hour of TV should be.
Slow Horses recap: ‘Fiasco’
In this week’s episode, titled “Fiasco,” Lamb (played by Gary Oldman), River (Jack Lowden), Standish (Saskia Reeves), Luisa (Rosalind Eleazar) and Min (Dustin Demri-Burns), the remaining Slow Horses not in traction, underground or in custody, meet up to plan, but the only clue they have to go on is that River has just remembered something important.
Turns out he got his interview with MI5 after successfully tailing spy chief Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas) for a day, which impressed her. In fact it made him something of a legend with the other recruits – apparently no one had ever thought to do it or succeeded. In the process of tailing her, he caught her on film talking to the now very headless fake kidnapper. The only problem is, the photograph with the incriminating evidence is at MI-5. He and Lamb head there, and the rest of Slow Horses head to a cafe to brainstorm about how to foil the kidnapping without arousing the attention of the police or MI-5.
The kidnappers (Brian Vernel, David Walmsley, and Stephen Walters) are still grousing about whether to kill Hassan Ahmed (Antonio Aakeel) when they run out of gas. Their allegiance to one another is wearing thin. They thought this was going to a lot simpler and would end a lot sooner, to say nothing of without so much blood and gore. Hassan knows that they have very little reason to want to keep him alive, so he says his uncle is rich and can pay the kidnappers even if their initial plot has fallen through. This sounds good enough to them so they change gears; they’re taking Hassan with them when they reach the boat where they’re going to make their get-away. However, the plan rests in another very crucial way on Hassan — the only one not covered in blood from the ax murder — getting gas for them.
Jackson Lamb uncorks a plan
Lamb, meanwhile, turns himself in at MI-5 and makes a spectacle of himself in the process, blasting “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” on his car stereo and singing along, refusing to leave the car at first. Finally he lets himself be escorted inside where Taverner offers him a plea bargain to take the fall. But first, to buy time, Lamb says there’s a bomb in the trunk of the car he arrived in. When security goes to check on it, River sneaks into the building through the parking garage and goes looking for the incriminating photograph of Taverner that proves she planned the kidnapping. He knows that “Spider” Webb (Freddie Fox) kept a copy for collateral, after he deliberately crashed River’s audition for MI5 (if Taverner ever decided to turn on Webb, it wouldn’t do to have no bargaining power). River steals it from him and beats him up for good measure.
Once they present the evidence to Taverner, she knows she’s good and screwed, so she finally stops her attempts at framing Lamb and the Slow Horses and goes the extra mile to save Hassan. He needs it, too. His only ally among the kidnappers was just shot in the head. He’s used up his last bit of good will trying to save Hassan and paid the ultimate price for his Johnny-come-lately heroism.
You’re finished, you’re foolish, you failed
The gas station incident is a great little sequence. Aakeel does a wonderful job conveying the terror of Hassan’s circumstances while trying to function as a human being. Slow Horses series director James Hawes (who recently worked on Black Mirror, Snowpiercer and Raised By Wolves) does this kind of thing very well, situating everyone in space and making each second feel like agony.
Then, the show double downs on this in a scene where the kidnappers demand that Hassan, a burgeoning comedian in his regular life, tell them jokes. It’s incredibly tense until they all start laughing. “I guess you finally got your wish…” he says when they won’t laugh at his first few jokes “…a Muslim bombing.” And then, just a few seconds later, one of them pulls the trigger. A terrific use of misdirection and suspense.
The raid on MI5 is also gripping, relying on little feats of editorial sleight of hand — something of a specialty on this show. I’m dying to know how they wrap this up next week.
Watch Slow Horses on Apple TV+
New episodes of Slow Horses arrive Fridays 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.