There’s a man down this week on Slow Horses, the Apple TV+ show about underdog British spies and their disheveled bureau chief. The horses say goodbye to one of their own, but they don’t get much time to grieve.
Peter Judd’s giving everyone grief again, the Russians are in town doing damage, Lamb’s off the radar conducting his own investigation, and River’s in deep cover … though not that deep.
The episode, entitled “Drinking Games,” is a rough and engaging chapter of the saga. Everyone plays their part beautifully, and the stakes continue to climb.
Slow Horses recap: ‘Drinking Games’
Season 2, episode 3 : When we last left Min (played by Dustin Demri-Burns), it seemed like the Russians (Yerden Telemissov and Zachary Baharov) were going to kill him. But it turns out they just wanted to get him drunk and interrogate him. It’s a much easier thing to explain, ultimately, even if he did make a pig’s ear out of his surveillance mission.
Min’s not in his right mind, though, when their acquaintance stops by. So he can’t see that it’s Andre Chernitsky (Marek Vašut), the guy who killed Dickie Bow (Phil Davis).
Meanwhile, River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) is in Upshott with a fake identity, provided by Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) and underwritten by Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas). River’s been trying to do real spy stuff his whole adult life, and now he’s got a chance to do it. (He and Lamb had a really lovely moment at the end of episode two, where Lamb admitted that he knows how important doing real work is to him, and River admits that he’s happy Lamb actually sees him and his ambition and talents. Neither blew it — it was good.)
Now, River’s pretending to be a journalist named Johnnie Walker. He’s staying at a local pub so he can ask around and find out if Bow’s killers still have a contact in Upshott, where Bow was finally offed. He makes good with the local innkeeper (Tamsin Topolski) who, curiously enough, has a dad who owns the local flying club. She takes River flying, and they flirt apace, but there’s an awkward moment when she catches him photographing her dad’s office. Kicker: Someone disturbs his phone when he sets it down for the flight.
There’s a killer loose in Upshott
Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) is worried about River. They don’t know much about the killer, but they do know he’s dangerous. Plus, Upshott is a small town, and whoever the killer is, he seems anxious to get close to Lamb’s co-workers. As if they weren’t worried enough, they then get a phone call … Min’s bike was struck in traffic. He’s dead. That’s two in a week. Lamb isn’t interested in how drunk Min was — they all know what happened.
Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) is, of course, beside herself. She blames herself. She says Min only drank that much because of the fight they had. Of course, no one knows he was drinking with the Russians … yet.
Louisa asks to stay in the field and Lamb allows her, though he’s worried. (Although he won’t exactly say that, for fear of seeming like he cares.) And Marcus (Kadriff Kirwan), one of the new agents at Slough House, takes over for Min. They meet up with Pashkin (Alec Utgoff), the guy running interference for the Russian minister who’s in town. No one trusts anyone there.
Taverner’s busy this week, too. Cabinet minister Peter Judd (Samuel West) is making a speech the same day as an anticapitalist protest, and she wants him to reschedule. As punishment for her insubordination, he insists Taverner ride in the limousine with him the day of the event. Seems like that’ll have consequences.
Tracking down murderers
Roddy Ho (Christopher Chung) and Shirley (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) meanwhile find their murderer. He went to the airport the night he killed Bow, and dropped his phone in someone else’s bag. Lamb goes to the house of the woman (Emily Bruni) who killed Min with her car, and interrogates her.
Turns out she had troubles in her past and was easily bought when the Russians asked her to kill Min. The stack of money in her wallet incriminates her, but she’s too terrified to confess outright. It takes a little coercion, but Lamb eventually gets out of her that she wasn’t driving, and the car wasn’t what killed him.
River manages to secure an invitation to dinner at the innkeeper’s house with her mother (Catherine McCormack) and shady father, Duncan (Adrian Rawlins), who looked at River’s phone. When River finally gets some face time with dad, he’s a menacing curmudgeon. Everybody obviously knows a lot more than he’s letting on. It comes out that Duncan was a radical in his youth and has a mysterious acquaintance named Leo from his student days who’s still a firebrand. And who should show up but Leo … and who should Leo be but Chernitsky.
Killing Min the second time it seemed like they were going to do so is a tricky bit of subterfuge, but then I guess we should have put it together that they wouldn’t just shoot him in the street. I’ll miss his and Louisa’s banter, both cute and angry, because I like shows about people in their second acts getting to have rich inner lives. That’s not really boilerplate on modern TV — you have to mostly act through plot and not through character.
However, Slow Horses always foregrounds everything in personality. (After all, this is mostly a show about how spies can’t go 10 seconds without insulting each other or complaining.) Min and Louisa’s behavior was believable and very watchable. So I’ll miss that. Min was just starting to become a more interesting version of himself.
Elsewhere everyone’s in fine form. It’s good to see Adrian Rawlins, a great actor who is almost unrecognizable these days. I also like River’s first proper spy game being sort of a write-off because A) If River were as good as he wants everyone to believe himself to be, it wouldn’t be very believable for his first opp to be a colossal, challenging crucible, and B) He and Lamb get to be on the level with each other about the relative dangers afoot.
For now, they’re like a dad and a son calling each other during the kid’s first week at school. Their relationship is becoming the underpinning of the show.
Watch Slow Horses on Apple TV+
New episodes of Slow Horses season two 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.