Sleeper agents make for tense moments in a stellar Slow Horses [Apple TV+ recap] | Cult of Mac

Sleeper agents make for tense moments in a stellar Slow Horses [Apple TV+ recap]


Slow Horses recap Apple TV+: The hunt is on for Russian sleeper agents.★★★★
The hunt is on for Russian sleeper agents.
Photo: Apple TV+

TV+ ReviewApple TV+ spy thriller Slow Horses nears its bogey this week, in an excellent episode full of richly drawn character detail from the show’s charismatic cast.

Lamb is on the hunt for more evidence, Louisa’s giving in to her grief over Min, River’s getting lost down a rabbit hole of suspicions, Catherine relives a bad moment from her past, and the Russians are cleaning house.

The episode, entitled “Cicada,” stands as a fine and compelling exercise in tension and unspoken personal development.

Slow Horses recap: ‘Cicada’

Season 2, episode 4: Jackson Lamb (played by Gary Oldman) is interrogating Rebecca Mitchell (Emily Bruni) about her account of the night Min (Dustin Demri-Burns) died. Turns out she drove to the spot, saw the two Russian goons (Yerden Telemissov and Zachary Baharov) on the Russian minister’s cabinet detail, and used her car to try to kill Min. Then, after he survived, Andre Chernitsky (Marek Vašut) finished the job with the same poison he used on Dickie Bow (Phil Davis).

When Rebecca asks for protection after giving up the information, Lamb gives her a number and tells her to ask for the number 7, which she takes to mean some kind of code for giving her a new identity. It’s not. It’s just the noodle shop he likes. The number 7 is the lunch special he always gets.

Meanwhile, River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) is doing a little interrogating of his own. He’s Chernitsky in the flesh, in his guise as family friend to the Tropper family. River has no idea how much Duncan Tropper (Adrian Rawlins) and Chernitsky — or Leo, as the Troppers call him — know about his cover. However, he has every reason to suspect they’re playing him. His cover, a journalist doing a story on village life, isn’t particularly thick. Indeed, it only takes the length of dessert and dinner for Kelly Tropper (Tamsin Topolski) to start seeing through his ruse.

Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) is also doing a little clandestine investigating. She puts on her good boots and her nice frock, then makes herself as bait for Pashkin (Alec Utgoff). She talks him up and down, trying to make herself seem open to his advances so he’ll let his guard down. She’s hoping he’ll ask him up to her room so she can torture and kill him, but Marcus (Kadiff Kirwan) stops her before she gets anywhere. A call from Lamb finally convinces Louisa to stand down til they get their ducks in a row.

Cicadas in waiting

On that score, Lamb goes back to dig through the files in the offices of his Russian counterpart Katinsky (Rade Šerbedžija), who calls him when he breaks in so they can chat. The Russian defector admits he is a Cicada — the code name for sleeper agents waiting to be reactivated — and that his job now is to keep Lamb busy while they do what they came to do. What that is remains a mystery. But it’s probably got something to do with the Russian’s visit, and Peter Judd’s (Samuel West) upcoming speech.

Lamb has Roddy (Christopher Chung) hack into Min’s electronic watch to see what his route was the day he died, then starts hitting the addresses of every stop he made. This takes him to a shipping company where the goons picked up a package. Then Lamb takes Shirley (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) and heads over to Pashkin’s house, where he notices the door is open. They go in and find him dead, having killed himself after discovering he was dying of radiation sickness.

Lamb surmises Pashkin orchestrated the murders. Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) goes to interrogate one of Pashkin’s old acquaintances (Branko Djuric) to try and squeeze him for information. She doesn’t get much. Victor Krymov is a tough nut to crack and in exchange for info, he wants Catherine to reveal things about herself to him. She only plays ball for a minute before he strikes a nerve and she takes off.

River tracks Chernitsky back to the airfield and finds him, Katinsky and a bunch of bomb-making materials. When Alex Tropper (Catherine McCormack) shows up, River thinks he’s protecting her when he tells her to go to the cops. She tries to talk him out of his arrest, before finally getting close enough to use a stun gun on him. Duncan’s not the sleeper agent. Alex is.

A week of excellent character work

Slow Horses recap Apple TV+: Saskia Reeves, left, gets to stretch a little this week in the role of Catherine Standish.
Saskia Reeves, left, gets to stretch a little this week in the role of Catherine Standish.
Photo: Apple TV+

Slow Horses delivers plenty of excellent stuff this week, from River’s tense dinner at the Troppers’ house and his subsequent foot chase to track Chernitsky down, to the raid at Nevsky’s place. I like new Slow Horse Shirley a lot. Aimee-Ffion Edwards plays her as the only sane one in the office. Even though the character’s got River’s daredevil streak, to a degree, she knows that fully giving in to it will make her look as crazy as her officemates.

Also, when she’s in the room, the writers and director Jeremy Lovering have prepared us to know that something dangerous might happen because she’s the most nimble of the Slow Horses when River’s not around. So when they break and enter Nevsky’s place, find dead guards, and pick up their guns, there’s a truly menacing air to the situation. That they find the evidence of grotesque violence is a good and gruesome payoff. Good stuff.

So much to savor

I also like River getting betrayed by not thinking hard enough about the circumstances he stumbles upon at the airfield. Likely his little crush on Kelly prevented him from considering that her mother and not her father is the real culprit, and he gets burned by it.

I also really enjoyed Louisa’s botched mission of vengeance. It’s good to see her very expressively going through her paces in the stages of grief. Plus, Lamb admitting (without actually admitting) that he cares about her feelings, and about Min, really resonates, because we know these are only conversations this man has in anger and passion.

Saskia Reeves’ work really shined this week too. She’s good every week, but allowing her to touch the third rail of her past trauma for just a minute lets her open up the Catherine Standish character for us to see. Usually, she’s a bundle of coiled nerves, worrying about everyone so she doesn’t have to worry about herself. Now she has to.

That’s a ton of real character work from a good cast, in between gripping set pieces. What more could you ask for?


Watch Slow Horses on Apple TV+

New episodes of Slow Horses season two arrive on Apple TV+ every Friday.

Rated: TV-MA

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 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


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