Grotesque super spy Jackson Lamb (played by Gary Oldman) is on a personal crusade in the wake of a friend’s death. And the rest of his “slow horses” are desperately looking for work — even the ones who are still behind their desks at Slough House, the London HQ for MI5’s misfit spies.
Season two of Slow Horses starts at a good clip and just keeps galloping. The show, based on the Slough House series by British crime novelist Mick Herron, remains one of the most consistent secret pleasures of the Apple TV+ lineup.
Slow Horses recap: Season two
Season 2, episodes 1 and 2: As the season kicks off, Lamb is on a personal call. An old friend has passed away. Former agent Dickie Bow (Phil Davis) died on a bus a few days ago, and Lamb knows enough to know that something strange is afoot.
Dickie ran a camera shop, and was miles from his route when he died. The truth is, he was chasing someone he recognized from his days doing black ops. Lamb pretends to be Dickie’s brother and cons his way onto the bus where he died to look for clues and finds the old man’s phone.
Lamb’s not the only one out of the office. MI-5 lackey Spider Webb (Freddie Fox) has offered Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) and Min (Dustin Demri-Burns) — now dating officially — a job shadowing an oligarch while he’s in town. They take the job but they’re worried that Lamb will have a fit when he finds out they’re trying to be useful — and he definitely will find out.
River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) is also sneaking around, looking for a better job in the intelligence services. However, his recruiters ask him about working for Lamb, so he decides he doesn’t want the job anymore. When he comes back, he finds Lamb, Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) and tech wizard Roddy (Christopher Chung) going over the last CCTV footage of Dickie before he died.
Looking for clues about a dead spy
Lamb punishes Min, Louisa and River for their extracurriculars by not dispatching them to get hard drives out of the bus station containing missing footage of Dickie’s last minutes on earth. New agent Shirley (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), who’s arrived to replace Sid Baker (Olivia Cooke), goes instead.
River goes to hang with his uncle David (Jonathan Pryce), himself a former spy. And when River reveals that the big to-do at Slough House is the death of Dickie Bow, he gets a big reaction. Turns out when David worked in the service, he worked with Dickie.
Back in the day, Dickie disappeared for a week. He claimed he was interrogated by enemy operatives, but everyone assumed he’d just gone on a week-long bender. River, like Lamb, wants to read more into the guy’s death. (Lamb liked Dickie more than David did, it seems.) David warns him off of it. Still … when a spy insists there’s no trouble, it’s a safe bet they’re covering up for something.
When Shirley and River scrutinize the footage the next day, they see a bald man in a cap touched Dickie on the arm. The man apparently poisoned Dickie with something that made his death look like a heart attack. River takes this to mean that Dickie’s pet theory — about spies hidden at every level of the British intelligence waiting for the perfect moment to reactivate and defect, nicknamed “Cicadas” — wasn’t the crock everyone assumed it to be.
Lamb goes to see an old Russian defector (Rade Šerbedžija) for corroboration on the Cicada story. And that arouses the suspicion of MI-5 head Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas), who tells Lamb she thinks he’s full of shit. But when Lamb demands funding for an op, she begrudgingly relents. The game is afoot.
Whip-smart writing will make you laugh
Last season’s getting-to-know-you phase of Slow Horses seemed at times like a bit of a slog. The show’s writers had to use a few recycled jokes to get us to know the personae of every failed spy at Slough House. Since we know them now, the writing can be specific and vicious.
River beating up a taxi driver for information … Jackson tearing into his whole staff … Shirley’s quick-witted dismissals of Roddy … Taverner dressing down Webb. It all just sings now because there’s zero exposition needed.
Two episodes in and I’m laughing every few minutes at the cruelty of the show. I’m also enjoying, for the most part, Slow Horses’ approach to set pieces, like Shirley breaking into the data house or Min following two Russians on his bicycle.
Even the more ordinary stuff like Min and Louisa arguing about their relationship exhibits the right energy. I love that they’re taking these two sad and lonely people’s sex lives and commitment issues so seriously, without resorting to the easiest material about them.
I personally am happy to see this show just continue ad infinitum — though I confess I’m bummed that Olivia Cooke ducked out after just the one season. And that’s apparently the case. The third and fourth seasons of Slow Horses are already on the way. Bring ’em on.
Watch Slow Horses on Apple TV+
The first two episodes of the second season of Slow Horses premiered Friday. New episodes arrive on Apple TV+ every Friday.
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.