Slow Horses is a hilarious, action-packed espionage thriller, bolstered by an award-winning performance from Gary Oldman. Unfortunately, it never equals or surpasses the first season, which felt like a breath of fresh air in the genre. Season two is still entertaining and engrossing though, but loses a little of the original’s spark.
We review the Apple TV+ series Slow Horses season 2, which does not contain spoilers.
Apple TV+ has a lot of confidence in their British spy thriller series Slow Horses, so much so that they have released two seasons of the show within less than a year of each other. And this rough and ready tale of gritty espionage actually deserves all the hype it gets. The first season was a hilarious slice of secret agent action mixed with that dry, sarcastic wit that the UK is renowned for. All this is led by an iconic performance from screen legend Gary Oldman himself and a game supporting cast. The second season profits from these previous highlights, utilizing them once again, yet it never reaches the same dizzying heights of the first season.
The Slow Horses of the title refers to the disgraced secret agents who are sent to Slough House to live out the rest of their careers in shameful exile. Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) leads this band of dysfunctional and discredited MI5 agents in subpar missions, yet they somehow always find themselves at the beating heart of a high-profile case. In season one they were entangled in a terrorist hostage case, and this time around, there is a Russian conspiracy afoot.
Lamb is informed of the passing of a fellow field agent named Richard ‘Dickie’ Bough, who died of a heart attack in unsuspicious circumstances. But Lamb instantly calls foul play. The retired agent appeared to be following someone before he died and left a message on his phone – cicada. This is the name given to Russian sleeper agents, who were embedded into British society decades earlier. Lamb fears the Russians are back to wreak havoc on London once again and dispatches his capable Slow Horses onto the case.
The other members of the gang, include River Cartwright (Jack Lowden), a smart and courageous agent with something to prove. He shows initiative on the case and is thrown further into this world of Russian espionage. The other Slow Horses are back, with the addition of two new members as well. The banter and bickering between these demoted agents allows for much hilarity and the show presents many fine examples of British humor at its best, something which is sadly in short supply of late.
Slow Horses does a great job of capturing the look and feel of London too. It’s always raining, and the streets are overcrowded. There’s a nice juxtaposition on display between the gritty, grim areas of the capital and the more modern, minimalistic aesthetics found in the city. The series feels lived-in and atmospheric, whilst the characters are equally authentic.
Take, for example, Jackson Lamb, played perfectly by veteran actor Gary Oldman. He is a vulgar, loud-mouthed oaf, who smokes too much and eats too much. His sloppy and surly disposition is a breath of fresh (foul?) air in the spy genre. Oldman looks to be having an absolute blast as the astute yet disgusting leader. This may be one of Oldman’s last projects before he retires, and it would make a fitting finish for one of our generation’s acting greats.
The writing is also superb, with many tense interactions and surprising plot twists to enjoy. As the mystery unravels, you can see how all the pieces are placed together for one eventful and impressive overarching story. Unfortunately, for all its plusses, the series never reaches the same acclaim as the original. This may just be down to the first season’s initial innovation, as it did feel entirely unique in a crowded genre on its release back in April. Whereas the second season is just a continuation, offering nothing new to the formula but still benefitting from the previous successes. Either way, this is entertaining television, and Oldman steals the show in every scene he’s in.
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