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Slow Horses - Last Stop + From Upshott With Love - Review



Episode 1, Last Stop If only all television series were as well produced, well made and as consistent as AppleTV+’s Slow Horses. With a first season that aired at the start of the year, we were introduced to the maverick band of MI5 rejects that operate outside of Slough House, affectionally called that by the MI5 because it’s so far outside of their HQ it might as well be Slough. They’ve regained some of their pride after the first series but the premiere opens with everyone trying to get out of Slough House and get their careers back on track – from the start, nobody wants to be there, least of all Jackson Lamb, Gary Oldman’s wizened old spook who gives no shit.

Let’s start with River Cartwright. One thing that I love about the show is how good its terrific ensemble is and it’s really just the Jack Lowden show, for all the promo Oldman is doing. He went through a lot in the first series and we pick things up with River in a job interview for a position as private security; but his interviewers are more interested in what Jackson Lamb is like. He wants to get the job on his own experience; but even with Lamb’s reference he doesn’t – almost like there’s eight books left of a series that has only made it through the first two. He’s picking up the pieces – I liked the little touches of relatability on the job interview where he’s really nervous beforehand, reciting pre-practiced lines aloud in front of a security guard, and he’s immediately thrown into a mystery that borrows a bit more liberally this time around from the excellent Dead Lions, the second book in Mick Herron’s series, that picks up after the first. I did appreciate the little touches of awkwardness about River sneaking back into his job interview and pretending to change clothes without noticing, only to be confronted by Lamb afterwards. Trying to find a new job whilst working for your current one is an awkward, relatable situation to be in. Probably best that River didn’t tell them that Lamb ate like a dying horse.

Oldman’s Jackson Lamb is a character, able to pull off dungarees and laid-back clothing like any movie star, walking through Marylebone like he might as well be anyone, he’s a spy after all, albeit a mannerless one. He’s chasing down footage on a murdered ‘brother’, a former spy named Bough who was killed on a bus following a man who he believes may have abducted him when he was younger who now works, disgraced in a sex shop. As someone who was in Marylebone last week it was great to see the station immediately recognisable there within seconds, and Slow Horses is that rare show from a streamer that isn’t afraid to utilise London to its full potential beyond the five sets that every show uses. It’s a living breathing character in Slow Horses, and the sets are as real as they come.

“Cicada” is the watchword for Lamb who finds the clue embedded in Bough’s phone that he’s hidden for Lamb to find on the back of a bus. Spies that have been years underground – being hunted by Bough, whose target was Alexander Popov. Bough’s career ended after he claimed that he’d been abducted and returned drunk – but now we’re starting to realise that it’s not just make believe as he was poisoned. River learns about this form his grandfather, David (he’s a nepotism baby, you know) who knows more about Bough than he’s letting on, and there’s potential room for a past that drags him and Lamb in on the same page.

New agent Shirley gets a task to steal a phone and we’re introduced to these characters almost like a hard reset, you could pick up Slow Horses with series two and more or less understand what’s going on, it works as a second pilot. Aime Ffion Edwards will be recognisable to Peaky Blinders fans and she’s just as great here at capturing the awkward workplace office banter between Shirley and Roddy Ho, a minor standout, and what’s worse for River is that whilst he’s trying to get out, Louisa and Min are the ones who are actually being recruited, by “Spider” Webb, who gets them to do security meeting with a Russian oligarch. Sure to be an explosive encounter, and there has to be a reason why Webb is enlisting the Slow Horses rather than one of his own. Standish is back – not up to much, but does play a key role in helping the team chase down Bough’s killer.

Episode 2, From Upshott With Love

The second episode follows on from the first, taking the action to the Cotswolds as River chases down a ghost – a Cicada. He’s led on a merry string by a taxi driver Kenny – smart enough to get over £200 out of River, who in turn was paid for his silence by the sleeper agent, and ends up leading River to an Upshott club with planes at the same time as Roddy pinpoints the location of his phone to Estonia. The easy access to the planes explains how he’s been able to get there – and there’s some ponderous debate on the nature of how Russians are able to stay in cover for so long. We get a shoutout to the Dead Lions – the title of the second book, here – that was what “our side” called sleeper agents during the cold war. Kenny also had instructions to throw people looking for him off his back – but now River has a way into Upshott thanks to the new alias and ID created by Jackson Lamb, the smartest man in the room.

We get some moments between Nikolai, a defector who came to Lamb in the past, at the start of the episode – discussing funding for the cicadas from within Russia and Popov’s role at the centre of it all. Andrei Chernitsky could be involved somehow, and maybe even the same man – there’s a lot of threads being put together here that give Slow Horses the feel of a thriller novel translated to the screen – this is the set-up, with the stakes being split neatly between the dual narrative.

Louisa and Min’s relationship has been one of the fun human parts of Series 2 – Min is distracted, playing the cocky, suave spy who’s trying to impress Lousia but is quickly humiliated in turn and uses his bike to get around London to tail the Russian security guards as of course, there’s something dodgy involving them. There’s a reason why Min ended up in Slough House and he’s not known for his stealth and is quickly spotted by the Russians – with the episode ending with a gun being pointed to his neck. Quite the cliffhanger – Min wanting to see his son and the half fight with Louisa demonstrates that their dynamic isn’t quite perfect – but it gives him an edge that raises the emotional stakes about Min’s character going into episode 3. It certainly gives audiences a compelling edge to watch more – and will have them on tender-hooks until next week.

I feel like Min is safe – if he was dead, they would have killed him off this episode and left that on a cliffhanger, but the question remains as to what happens to him next week. It certainly leaves more questions than answers – and Slow Horses is very good at questions. The good news is that we know we're going to get answers, books three and four out of eight are currently being turned into future seasons as we speak.

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