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Gary Oldman Spy Saga Is Better Than Ever

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In theory, Slow Horses should not work as an ongoing series, whether in the books by Mick Herron or the Apple TV+ show that returns for its third season today. The stories involve a group of disgraced British spies, consigned to a dingy office where they’re not meant to do any important work, but who keep stumbling into major cases, and acquit themselves well doing so. Once seems like a fine idea for a story. But two? Three? Or, in the case of the books, eight? At a certain point, wouldn’t the improbable success of the Slow Horses lead MI-5 to give them some real responsibility? Or, at least, if they wind up being this good at their work, why do they remain banished to Slough House?

Fortunately, both Herron and the writers adapting his work for television keep finding inventive ways to work around the seeming limitations of the premise. Somehow, the Slow Horses continue to be plausible as both bumblers and authentic heroes, and this third TV season maintains the balance even more gracefully than the hugely charming previous installments. It’s Dad TV done at a high level, now arguably even higher than before.

Season Three adapts Herron’s novel Real Tigers, where Jackson Lamb — the filthy, flatulent, surprisingly tenacious head of Slough House, played with a hilarious lack of vanity by Gary Oldman — and his team appear to be collateral damage from a dirty piece of old MI-5 business. Jackson’s right-hand woman Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) is kidnapped by a group demanding to see a controversial secret agency file, and it’s up to Jackson, River Cartwright (Jack Lowden), Louisa Guy (Rosalind Eleazar), Roddy Ho (Christopher Chung), Marcus Longridge (Kadiff Kirwan), and Shirley Dander (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) to figure out what the hell is going on.

Earlier seasons positioned Jackson and River as opposite ends of the espionage spectrum. The former was the old man who had seemingly given up on, well, everything. And the latter was the more traditionally dashing hero who wound up in Slough House due to the machinations of others, rather than something harder to justify like Marcus’ gambling problem or Catherine and Shirley’s problems with alcohol and drugs, respectively. As the series has gone along, though, it’s become clearer and clearer that just because River has a handsome face and can run quickly even after taking a horrible beating, he’s a lot closer to Marcus or Shirley than he is to being James Bond. Jackson’s constant barrage of insults toward River aren’t about his resentment of having a square-jawed man of action under his command. He genuinely believes that River’s over-inflated ego is just as dangerous as the other Slow Horses’ issues — and this season in particular provides various entertaining pieces of evidence that take the boss’s side of this argument. Lowden has the less overtly comic role to play, but he is sneakily excellent at letting us see River at his most clownish.

Much of the fun this time out involves the more respectable members of MI-5, as the search for this mysterious file kicks off a turf war between Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her boss, Ingrid Tearney (Sophie Okonedo). Okonedo appeared a couple of times in the first season, but she’s a much more prominent figure in this story. The elegance and quiet grace with which these two polished woman of power verbally slice each other up is delightful, and a pointed contrast to the loud and clumsy antics of the gang from Slough House.

Jack Lowden and Rosalind Eleazar in ‘Slow Horses.’

Jack English/Apple TV+

Which isn’t to say that the Slow Horses are completely inept. Lamb is, of course, among the best there is at what he does, and this story joins Fargo Season Five by offering an adult variation on Kevin McCallister booby-trapping his house to foil the Wet Bandits in Home Alone. But everyone else gets a moment to shine. Or, in the case of Roddy — a computer genius who is also a gross, misanthropic, socially awkward idiot — we see moments where attempts to shine don’t quite work. 

Trending

Because streaming ratings are such a black box, it’s hard to know how successful Slow Horses has been. But it’s the sort of show where, if you mention the title to someone who watches, their face will light up and they won’t stop monologuing about it for at least three minutes. If that level of passion is reflective of a larger audience, then there’s no reason the show can’t run long enough to adapt all of the books, each time allowing the Slow Horses to be just good enough to save the day, but never good enough that they can escape their particular form of professional purgatory.

The first two episodes of Slow Horses Season Three are streaming now on Apple TV+, with additional episodes releasing weekly. I’ve seen all six episodes.


In theory, Slow Horses should not work as an ongoing series, whether in the books by Mick Herron or the Apple TV+ show that returns for its third season today. The stories involve a group of disgraced British spies, consigned to a dingy office where they’re not meant to do any important work, but who keep stumbling into major cases, and acquit themselves well doing so. Once seems like a fine idea for a story. But two? Three? Or, in the case of the books, eight? At a certain point, wouldn’t the improbable success of the Slow Horses lead MI-5 to give them some real responsibility? Or, at least, if they wind up being this good at their work, why do they remain banished to Slough House?

Fortunately, both Herron and the writers adapting his work for television keep finding inventive ways to work around the seeming limitations of the premise. Somehow, the Slow Horses continue to be plausible as both bumblers and authentic heroes, and this third TV season maintains the balance even more gracefully than the hugely charming previous installments. It’s Dad TV done at a high level, now arguably even higher than before.

Season Three adapts Herron’s novel Real Tigers, where Jackson Lamb — the filthy, flatulent, surprisingly tenacious head of Slough House, played with a hilarious lack of vanity by Gary Oldman — and his team appear to be collateral damage from a dirty piece of old MI-5 business. Jackson’s right-hand woman Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) is kidnapped by a group demanding to see a controversial secret agency file, and it’s up to Jackson, River Cartwright (Jack Lowden), Louisa Guy (Rosalind Eleazar), Roddy Ho (Christopher Chung), Marcus Longridge (Kadiff Kirwan), and Shirley Dander (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) to figure out what the hell is going on.

Earlier seasons positioned Jackson and River as opposite ends of the espionage spectrum. The former was the old man who had seemingly given up on, well, everything. And the latter was the more traditionally dashing hero who wound up in Slough House due to the machinations of others, rather than something harder to justify like Marcus’ gambling problem or Catherine and Shirley’s problems with alcohol and drugs, respectively. As the series has gone along, though, it’s become clearer and clearer that just because River has a handsome face and can run quickly even after taking a horrible beating, he’s a lot closer to Marcus or Shirley than he is to being James Bond. Jackson’s constant barrage of insults toward River aren’t about his resentment of having a square-jawed man of action under his command. He genuinely believes that River’s over-inflated ego is just as dangerous as the other Slow Horses’ issues — and this season in particular provides various entertaining pieces of evidence that take the boss’s side of this argument. Lowden has the less overtly comic role to play, but he is sneakily excellent at letting us see River at his most clownish.

Much of the fun this time out involves the more respectable members of MI-5, as the search for this mysterious file kicks off a turf war between Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her boss, Ingrid Tearney (Sophie Okonedo). Okonedo appeared a couple of times in the first season, but she’s a much more prominent figure in this story. The elegance and quiet grace with which these two polished woman of power verbally slice each other up is delightful, and a pointed contrast to the loud and clumsy antics of the gang from Slough House.

Jack Lowden and Rosalind Eleazar in ‘Slow Horses.’

Jack English/Apple TV+

Which isn’t to say that the Slow Horses are completely inept. Lamb is, of course, among the best there is at what he does, and this story joins Fargo Season Five by offering an adult variation on Kevin McCallister booby-trapping his house to foil the Wet Bandits in Home Alone. But everyone else gets a moment to shine. Or, in the case of Roddy — a computer genius who is also a gross, misanthropic, socially awkward idiot — we see moments where attempts to shine don’t quite work. 

Trending

Because streaming ratings are such a black box, it’s hard to know how successful Slow Horses has been. But it’s the sort of show where, if you mention the title to someone who watches, their face will light up and they won’t stop monologuing about it for at least three minutes. If that level of passion is reflective of a larger audience, then there’s no reason the show can’t run long enough to adapt all of the books, each time allowing the Slow Horses to be just good enough to save the day, but never good enough that they can escape their particular form of professional purgatory.

The first two episodes of Slow Horses Season Three are streaming now on Apple TV+, with additional episodes releasing weekly. I’ve seen all six episodes.

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