Slow Horses (Season 2), Episodes 1 & 2: The debut of the first season of Slow Horses on 1st April 2022 was met with acclaim regarding Gary Oldman’s performance as the wry and grumpy Jackson Lamb, while the show was praised for its fun tone with a mean spirit, mixing espionage with wry British humor. Based on the book series by Mick Herron, the first season adapted the first book of the series, which shares the same title as the show. The second season, premiering on 2nd December 2022, adapts Herron’s second book, Dead Lions. If Season 1 is any indication, expect lots of one-liners and extreme fun banter mixed with serious thrills emblematic of the spy and espionage genres.
Related: Slow Horses (Season 1) Recap
Slow Horses (Season 2), Episodes 1 & 2 Recap
Episode 1: Last Stop
The episode opens at a shop in the Soho District selling sex toys and adult magazines. The proprietor, an old man, is arranging the counter when he notices a bald man outside his door. The reaction of the old man suggests he recognizes the bald man. We are then cut to a dream sequence where we see an agent walking through a tunnel below the bridges, out of the rain-soaked city streets. As he walks towards the tunnel, a car stops beside him (the make of the car suggests this is the early 80s), kidnaps him, and drives away. The scene then cuts to the old man looking through the door again, and we are led to believe that the dream sequence we witnessed was a flashback and that this man had been kidnapped, preferably by the bald man and his associates. Closing the shop, the old man follows the bald man through the streets and lanes. We see the old man follow his target to a train station, almost losing him before noticing him at the turnstile. Managing to cross the turnstile by pushing through another passenger, he finally boards the same train his target boards, keeping a healthy distance between the two of them.
More flashback sequences show our current protagonist being tortured and waterboarded by the same man he is currently following in the present day. It’s now nighttime; the train finally arrives at Marylebone, but the old man is undeterred. He follows his target to the bus stand, boards the bus, and sits at the back, maintaining the same distance he had with his target while following him on the train. As the bus moves out, the old man starts feeling drowsy. He realizes he is losing consciousness as his target looks to the side and then surreptitiously towards the back. The old man barely manages to take his cell phone out, type something, and then slide the phone down between the seats. The bus reaches Oxford Parkway, and all the passengers disembark except one. The driver looks back and calls him out, saying they are here. Not getting a reply, the driver starts moving towards the back, hoping to wake the old-timer up, only to realize with horrifying clarity that the old man is dead.
The librarian of the MI5 archives wheels through a high-tech safe containing files of ex-MI5 agents. We see her opening a file for Richard Bough. The photograph reveals Bough as the man who died on the bus, as the archivist stamps the file “Deceased. The scene then cuts to Jackson Lamb walking through the station and asking one of the guards about the replacement buses, citing that his brother died last night on one of the buses. From the guard’s demeanor, we realize that the news has spread like wildfire, but it’s also interesting to see how Lamb changes his demeanor with the addition of a stammer to heighten his age for the guard and lessen his ferocity. It works because the guard acquiesces to searching for the bus number as a means to locate it. Back at Slough House, we see Standish cross the road, open the door by kicking it through, and enter through the back entrance; he walks up and sidesteps Roddy’s complaints about having his own office while the new agent complains of not being given work and thus wants to kill Roddy. Standish walks up the stairs, greeting the other Slough House recruit, and into her boss’s office, only to discover that Lamb is not present. That is uncommon enough for her to lean over the railing and call out whether anybody has seen him.
Back at one of the bus stands, Jackson can locate the bus where Bough’s body was found. He converses with the driver and asks whether there was anything out of the ordinary that day besides him. The driver reveals there was a hat beside his “brother,” to which Lamb replies it would be lovely to have as a keepsake. He also acts like a doddering old man, talking about how his “brother” likes buses and how he doesn’t entirely discount the concept of a “life force.” It successfully manages to make the driver leave Lamb alone to his “musings” and walk out of the bus. Lamb, within that brief moment, starts searching for “something.” We realize that he knows there must be something Bough would have left before dying because he finally locates the mobile stuck between the two seats and barely manages to extract it and hide it inside his jacket. Profusely apologizing, saying he has “paid his last respects,” Lamb walks out of the bus and starts walking towards the exit. He takes Bough’s phone and sees Bough has managed to type just one word on his notes app: “Cicada.” This elicits an audible “fuck” from Jackson Lamb.
We again cut to Standish walking into River Cartwright’s office and finding it empty. This leads us to an interview where we see River applying for a job in the private security business for a company called Elessar Intelligence Service. But even with River trying to impress his recruiters with stock dialogue and his qualifications, he cannot distract from their object of curiosity: he is currently stationed at Slough House under Jackson Lamb.
Standish also realizes that Louisa and Min are also not in the office. We then cut to Louisa and Min meeting at the park (the actual park, not the MI5 office) with the MI5 agent and sleazeball extraordinaire Spider. Spider tells them that he is effectively deputizing them under his wing for security purposes during an off-the-books meeting between him and Arkady Pashkin, the representative of Russian oligarch Ilya Nevsky. This is a meeting that, according to Min, shouldn’t happen because MI5 as a whole is supposed to stay away from Nevsky as he is a dissident of the current Moscow regime. Spider counters that since Nevsky’s prime source of income is oil and gas, the British government is worried about energy security and is okay with being pragmatic about this matter, thus initiating a meeting between the right-hand men of the two concerned parties—Nevsky and MI5—via Pashkin and Spider. Spider wants Min and Louisa to assess, sweep, and generally check the security of the pre-assigned location for the face-to-face meetings. He also reveals that Pashkin made the first approach through an intermediary named Krimov, for whom he had done the background research, as he casually scoffs at Louisa’s logical question of whether Krimov checks out. Louisa then reiterates that the meeting is to be held at a building called The Glasshouse five days from now, on the same day as the anti-capitalist march. Spider then asks them whether this is all satisfactory or whether Min and Louisa are happy with the “scraps Lamb throws at them.” When Min later asks Louisa if they should take the job, Louisa responds in the only logical way: “We just did,” even though they both know Lamb will be furious when he finds out.
River Cartwright manages to sneak into Slough House and barely manages to climb up the flight of stairs without alerting the rest of the gang, who had huddled around Roddy’s computer checking security camera footage around Soho. Lamb, who had finally returned to Slough House, had tasked Roddy with following Bough’s whereabouts the whole day before his death through security camera footage. Amidst all that, Lamb’s acerbic and droll banter remains unperturbed, even managing to quiet the recruit, who we learn is named Marcus (though Lamb didn’t get the name right, and if he had his way, he wouldn’t intend to). River, meanwhile, sneaks into his office, changes out of his clothes, and comes down wearing a black T-shirt. All his sneaking around is for naught, as it is revealed that Lamb already knows that he went for a job interview. As the gang looks through the security camera footage, Standish figures out that Bough (she calls him Dicky) has taken an unplanned trip and is following the bald man wearing a leather hat, the same hat Lamb had recovered from the bus. Using that info, Roddy follows through to the bus, finally reaching Oxford Parkway Station, but they all realize they don’t have footage inside the train. Lamb instructs them to find the footage, but Roddy informs them that the security footage of the train is stored on hard drives, which are swapped out once a week and taken to a data center, where they are copied, wiped, and then re-inserted. So this job is legwork for a “thoroughbred” like Roddy and Lamb needs a donkey. While Lamb agrees with the latter, he doesn’t shy away from calling him a choice expletive related to a horse’s genitalia. He assigns the job to Harper, but a quick look by Harper towards Louisa catches Lamb’s attention. Enough needling by Lamb forces Harper to reveal that they had been seconded by Webb (Spider), which Cartwright is none too pleased about, owing to both their histories. However, Lamb counters back, with the casual cruelty they are all familiar with, by reminding Cartwright that he is after that private cheddar and that he should get off his high horse. Also, Lamb assigns the job to Shirley, the recruit who shares the office with Ho, and Cartwright is effectively benched.
Cartwright takes Lamb’s advice to “fuck off” and visits his grandfather. While mowing his lawn and talking about how he should hire a servant, old man Cartwright asks about his interview, revealing that a retired “spook” or secret agent is a myth, according to River. His grandfather reveals that the director of Elesaar got in touch with him, but he had advised River to judge on his own merits. Ironically, River was, and he didn’t get the job, which makes River realize that he is still back to being a spare tool, even after the events of the last season. And now he had been shut out of a new case by Lamb. When asked who was hit by the suspected FSB wet squad, River informs his grandfather about Richard Bough. The audible response of exasperated surprise piques River’s curiosity, especially after informing his grandfather that the man had died of a heart attack (at least on paper), to which his grandfather muses pragmatically that it might just have been one, as he can’t fathom why anyone would want to have Dickie Bough killed. He then invites River in for a drink, presumably also to elaborate on the story. Meanwhile, Shirley manages to follow the security guard of the Datalok building to a shopping mall and swipe his Datacard. She then calls Ho and orders him to help her by cutting the power to the Datalok building after 9 o’clock because, while the card would help her get inside through the outer gate, the inner gate has retina scanners that would presumably be disabled once the power is cut off.
At the Cartwright house, River’s grandfather reveals the existence of cicadas, or at least the story invented about the cicadas. Cicadas, named after the insect that spends years underground before hatching, were Russian sleeper agents embedded beneath English society. They were controlled by Alexander Popov, a legendary spymaster who was also revealed to be a bogeyman, and the existence of cicadas was shown to be a hoax. Now, old man Cartwright reveals that Dickie Bough vanished a few days before the Berlin Wall fell. MI5 had thought he had defected, and as Cartwright wryly states, “The Germans were welcome to him.” However, Bough had staggered back, blind drunk, and was claiming that Popov and a thug had abducted him, interrogated him, and poured brandy down his throat. Imagining this as an exceptionally elaborate excuse for being on a terrific bender, MI5 kicked him out. River incredulously asked if there was ever a possibility that Dickie was telling the truth. His grandfather replied with an assertive confidence that Dickie wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. River, however, starts to theorize that maybe Dickie had seen someone he shouldn’t have, but his grandfather, with the practiced ease of a man with enough field experience, retorts that the FSB wouldn’t choose a subtle route like a heart attack inducement. They would want the world to know. Even River’s suggestion that this resembles more of the KGB’s MO falls on deaf ears, with River’s grandfather reiterating that Dickie wasn’t bothering anyone and that this death was pretty insignificant. However, as River leaves after having bid his grandfather goodbye, we realize that he doesn’t believe the chain of events that his grandfather predicted. Inside the house, his grandfather’s furrowed eyebrows revealed the same sort of concern.
Meanwhile, Min and Louisa are checking out the “Glasshouse,” a large building befitting its name and situated smack dab in the middle of London’s Business District. Min and Louisa scope out the meeting spot through the rooftop access of the opposite building, as they won’t be able to enter the Glasshouse until Webb grants them access. Their conversation also reveals that Elessar had called Lamb for a reference on River Cartwright. While that was brutal, what was surprising was that Lamb furnished a positive reference for River, according to Min, who had heard it from Standish. Min and Louisa also sneak a kiss while in the middle of their stakeout after joking about insisting on staying at the luxury hotel at the Glasshouse as part of the operation, revealing that their romance had carried over from the previous season intact.
At the Datalok, Shirley manages to sneak into the data center with a bit of reluctant help from Ho. Ho almost manages to screw up the mission by missing the deadline by a couple of seconds as he goes to retrieve his pizza. He barely notices it and manages to execute the command, which induces a power cut in the building, allowing Shirley to enter the server room where the data banks are held. She uses the swiped Datacard from the security guard earlier and uses it to locate the drive address and the exact data bank to which the drives are connected. She then manages to disconnect the drive and escape by barely distracting the security guards who had come to investigate the commotion.
The following day, after River and Shirley connected due to their respective events causing them to be stuck at Slough House (River for crashing Stansted in a training exercise, Shirley for punching her case officer twice), they investigated the footage and discovered that the bald man had taken the train from Oxford Parkway to Cotswolds, after which he went to the taxi booth. However, the Slow Horses are still unaware of what happened after that. River and Lamb then meet in a back alley restaurant where Lamb is having lunch. After a hilarious back and forth, which reveals why River didn’t get his job even after Lamb’s reference (because he refused to say anything interesting about him), River reveals that Dickie was murdered. He shows the CCTV footage to Lamb and explains that the bald man had been able to touch Dickie on the shoulder while they were jostling around on the train and thus was able to dose him with an untraceable poison that induced the heart attack. River also bets 50 quid that Dickie’s phone contains one single line of text, a word – Cicada. Lamb reveals the phone with the word written on the app and nonchalantly takes River’s 50 quid and pays for his lunch while remarking that the 50 quid was his fee for writing River’s reference. River then speculates that Dickie Bough wasn’t lying about being kidnapped years ago and that while the Popov myth may still be a myth, the existence of Cicadas may be real, and Dickie was removed from the equation because he recognized someone he shouldn’t have. River begins walking out the door after observing that his theory did not affect Lamb’s continued lunch consumption. River mentions Costwolds to Lamb when he asks where he’s going. Without missing a beat, Lamb instructs River to find out the bald man’s whereabouts and what he is doing there. As River exasperatedly nods in the affirmative and walks away, we see a wry smile cross Lamb’s face as he considers River to take on an assignment of his own volition—the selection Lamb perhaps wanted to assign to him in the first place.
Episode 2: “From Upshott with Love”
The episode opens with Jackson Lamb entering what appears to be a language school, stifling the old-timey doorbell so the residents wouldn’t hear anyone entering, sneaking upstairs, and finally entering the office of the proprietor of the language school. Lamb wakes the sleeping proprietor up, and they have a back-and-forth where Lamb pretends to have come here to collect money on behalf of Demetrio. After a couple of minutes, that facade is shattered when the man laughs, reveals that he made Demetrio up, and asks him point blank, “What do you want, Jackson Lamb?”
The proprietor is revealed to be Nikolai, a defector from the Soviet Union. Lamb has come to ask him about the Cicadas and is surprised to learn about his fame amongst Nikolai’s fellow “exiles.” In typical Lamb fashion, he remarks that “he never thinks of them.”
At Cotswolds, River calls Roddy, asking for intel, and Roddy, in his “judo with words” method of communication, tries to belittle him by reminding him that he is not River’s PA. Finally, Shirley, fed up with their bickering, informs him that there isn’t any new intelligence. Remembering the bald man having gone to a taxi stand, River walks over to the nearest taxi booth. Concocting a story about finding his old, infirm uncle who is in the habit of running about, he manages to ask the woman about the last fare of that day, only to be informed that the man had been asked to drop back to Oxford Parkway. Confused and flabbergasted, River asks to talk to the driver who had picked up his “uncle” that day, to which the woman informs him that Kenny will be having his breakfast at the cafe at the corner. Kenny, as it turns out, isn’t a fool and slyly demands compensation for information. Kenny then reveals that the bald man had booked the taxi for a return trip to Oxford Parkway but had changed his mind as soon as he stepped inside, for which he had provided adequate compensation. The new destination is Upshott.
Meanwhile, Lamb and Nikolai walk over from the school to a bar, where they share drinks. Lamb asks why Nikolai mentioned the cicadas in his report, and upon hearing that Nikolai had kept it as a trump card, but no one seemed to care, Lamb asked what pertinent information Nikolai had wanted to share back then. Nikolai revealed that he overheard Alexander Popov and one of his associates discussing the Cicadas, with Popov stating unequivocally that the operation must continue. While Nikolai never got to identify Popov’s face or voice (since he was in a toilet cubicle), he revealed that he recognized the associate’s voice as belonging to Andrei Chernitsky, a big, bald bull of a man and a killer.
Min and Louisa prepare for their assignment in the security detail of the face-to-face meeting. They are supposed to meet Pashkin’s security details. While Louisa walks over to the park, Min chooses to cycle. They soon meet up with Piotr and Kyril, and almost immediately, they feel suspicious. Firstly, Louisa figures out they are carrying guns even when they deny it. She allows their request to accompany her and Min on the bug sweep of the Glasshouse on the condition that they won’t carry guns. However, what raised Min’s red flags was when the two of them forgot to remember the hotel they were currently staying in but remembered the ambassador hotel where Pashkin was supposed to arrive. Min, echoing Louisa’s sentiment that “this is part of the game, and they’re supposed to be doing their job,” decides to follow their taxi on his bicycle. His long, windy, and twisty journey ultimately ends with him losing them, but not before he notices them stop by an import/export industrial area and pick up a mysterious package.
Lamb meets with Diana Taverner, the second head of MI5, at their usual spot on the park bench near the river bank. When Diana, after much needling and humorous banter, asks Lamb about his interest in Nikolai Katinsky, Lamb reveals that the death of Dickie Bough might be connected to the cicadas, which Nikolai had overheard in a conversation with Popov and another man who Lamb believes matches the description of Bough’s killer. Diana angrily retorts that she doesn’t want Lamb digging around in the past. At the same time, she is neck-deep in handling 100,000 men and an anti-capitalist march while also working with a home secretary who wants a riot to happen so that he can enforce stringent law and order. Lamb retorts back by stating that the past is precariously close to the present as Bough is dead, and while his feelings towards Bough primarily tend to be negative, it’s the principle of it. He was “a Joe,” and Lamb would locate who killed him, and he needs approval for a silent operation and a workable cover story from MI5. When Diana is surprised and asks why, Lamb reveals that Webb had been poaching his men, and he is owed in kind. He then reminds Diana that she owes him anyway, to which Diana remarks that after this, they are even.
River follows Kenny to the car park, where he sees Kenny calling someone. River enters the taxi, and after a brief struggle in which Kenny tries to swallow the piece of paper with the phone number written on it, River chokeholds him. He then asks where Kenny had dropped the man last night, to which Kenny grudgingly replies that he had taken him to an airfield. Wryly remarking on Kenny’s greedy attitude, River fastens the seat belt and orders Kenny to take him to that airfield, a flying club, as it turns out. Kenny also reveals that the passenger devised a ruse to keep would-be assailants away from him, complete with a phony account linked to a Paypal account.
Webb is called into Diana’s office, where he is threatened to be sent to Slough House along with the Slow Horses he had seconded unless he elaborates on the “surprise party” he has planned. Webb reveals that he is making an elaborate scheme to be comfortable with one of the most prominent critics of the current regime in Moscow so that on the off chance that Nevsky comes to power, Britain would still be a power player on their side instead of against them. As Diana retorts that Nevsky should be grateful that the British government hasn’t seized his assets, Webb confirms that while also extrapolating whether they can help him bring about change. Intriguing but still irritated, she instructs Webb to keep her informed and warns him that if any of the slow horses misbehave, not only will they be sent under Lamb’s custody, but so will he.
Meanwhile, Louisa and Min hang around Nevsky’s mansion, and while checking to see how paranoid he is (which turns out it is very), Louisa berates Min for running off after the agents, calling it his “midlife crisis” and “his urge to prove a point.” It is further galling to her because he had been unable to locate the whereabouts of their hotel, though he still believes they are somewhere near Edgware Road. As they finally walk away from the front gate of Nevsky’s house, Louisa requests Min not to run off again like that.
Meanwhile, Kenny finally drops River at the flying club, unable to furnish River with any more relevant information. As River explores the flight club, he calls Roddy to run a trace on the mobile number that Kenny had been calling. River explores the locked-up flying club when Roddy calls and informs River that the person the number belonged to is currently in Estonia. River realizes that the assassin must have caught a plane that very night. He is also horrified to see Kenny driving away, leaving him stranded at Upshott Flying Club in the middle of nowhere.
Later that day, Min and Louisa check into a hotel and sleep with each other. Their blissful moment soured when Min remembered he was supposed to meet up with his son that evening. Louisa is anxious because it’s been a while since she has done a bug sweep, and she doesn’t want to mess up this detail. Their argument soon blows up, and Min finally decides to go for dinner. Unfortunately, he is stood up at the dinner. Frustrated and angry, he searches around Edgware Road for the location of the goons’ hideout.
Slow Horses (Season 2), Episodes 1 & 2: Ending Explained
Back at Slough House, Standish manages to shut Roddy down by locating the last flight from Estonia to Heathrow without his help. Back at Upshott, River starts walking towards the main road until Lamb finally picks him up. River recounts the day’s events to Lamb, to which Lamb listens and wonders why the plan feels so clumsy. According to him, although River figured out the plan, thus putting the plan’s credibility into question, this whole endeavor feels clumsy. According to Lamb, it feels deliberate, almost like a trap had been sprung, but Lamb is more than okay with walking into the web to identify it. Thus he puts River into the field, giving him his cover ID, funding, a change of clothes, and the car. The River looks at the file handed to him and his fake ID and can’t help but smile, remarking how exciting it is. Lamb wryly notes, “From Upshott with love.”
During the episode’s final moments, Min finally manages to locate one of the agents at a coffee shop on Edgware Road. As he follows them with all the clumsiness he can muster, he flies too close to the sun and is caught by the agent, who sticks a gun to his temple before the screen cuts to black.
Slow Horses excels in character interactions, while Gary Oldman steals the show again. This is looking to be a recurring feature every season, and honestly, you can’t complain. However, this case is turning out to be a lot more laid back and a bit denser. The story is content with taking its time to build, and new characters are introduced as well. It’s also interesting how much the show is content to let Oldman flex his muscles, allowing flickers of emotions beyond irascibility to flick across Jackson Lamb’s face in key moments of solitude. The humor and the balance between espionage and comedy are still on point. This is turning out to be another fantastic season.