Slough House is home to the least wanted of the security services, operating under the audacity of Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman). When a former agent is found dead on a replacement bus, MI5’s misfits band together to root out the truth.
The most surprising moment in the first season of Slow horses it wasn’t solving the case in the six-part series (a kidnapping by far-right terrorists), but the final episode’s reveal (via a surprise trailer) that Season 2 had already been made. And so, just eight months after we were first introduced to the scruffy, seedy halls of Slough House, we find ourselves back once again facing Jackson Lamb’s (Gary Oldman) band of snoopers (also disordered, as weak) .
Will Smith’s darkly comic spy series (not that one) runs its course by adapting Mick Herron’s anti-Ludlum espionage thrillers, where there’s far less Tangier rooftop chases than office trips and clandestine meetings take place mostly in the middle of the break. by a Camden canal. In a sharp de-escalation from the (deceptively) high-stakes opening of Season 1, the second run of this year’s show begins as all great series do: in a sex shop in Soho. Retired Cold War spy Dickie Bow (superb name, well played by the ever-reliable Phil Davis) spots a familiar figure and decides to follow him. Several streets, two trains and a shuttle bus later, and Dickie has died of a heart attack, but his former handler, Lamb, smells something fishy.
The show seamlessly moves the tonal needle through moments of absurdity and instances of profound sadness.
What follows is a fairly faithful account of Herron’s second novel, Slough House, Dead lions — a more knotty, more layered story than his Slow horses debut, which divides our hapless heroes into four separate but connected components. Lamb, determined to solve Dickie’s murder, sniffs out old contacts, assisted by Saskia Reeves’ longtime office manager; Company IT Roddy (Christopher Chung) is pitted against new recruit Shirley Dander (a deliciously salty Aimee-Ffion Edwards); office pals Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) and Min (Dustin Demri-Burns) are seconded to a security gig involving a Russian politician; and golden boy River (Jack Lowden) doggedly follows his own lead by going undercover in a sleepy Cotswold village.
There’s a lot to keep track of, but thankfully doing so is never a chore, in large part because each of Slough House’s misfits and brews are an unequivocal delight to be around. The show seamlessly threads the tonal needle through moments of absurdity (Lamb’s various bodily functions; inept, bicycle-assisted surveillance) and instances of deep sadness (the shocking death of still another major character).
Oldman is clearly the standout, making the most of a plum role, but he’s almost matched by Lowden et al. — lei for Miel, one and all — each contributing to a remarkable ensemble and staging a labyrinthine yet captivating tale of death, its after-effects and how we feel responsible for them. Our only real complaint is the lack of screen time for Kristin Scott Thomas’ sub-zero mistress Diana ‘Lady Di’ Taverner, whose acid-tongued spat with Lamb was a season 1 highlight. Still, Slow horsesThe surprise year-end call remains a very welcome early Christmas present.
A complex thread spread across six tightly packed episodes, this generous second confirms the show’s status as one of the high points of TV this year. With seasons 3 and 4 already on the way, this horse is proving to be nothing short of slow.