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Slow Horses Season 2 - Episodes 4 to 6 - Review

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Episode 4, Cicada

Cicada opens with Lamb finding out what really happened to Harper – he was attacked and run over by Pitor and Kyril, his death staged by the Russians who he was working with. It’s fun to see the show get straight to the point here in not bothering to hide the Harper mystery or drag it out – we’re now over halfway through the show now – and Slow Horses has been great at staying to the point. Lamb has to be pressured into keeping Rebecca safe – he gives her the name Jackson Lamb to give to a service and is told to call the company and give them the number “7”. It's a number for a takeaway – his favourite. Typical Lamb – he’s never cared about the people he doesn’t trust, and Rebecca’s now suffering the side effects of his wrath.

Chernitsky is openly bringing up ways of murder at the dinner table with Cartwright and making nods to him seeing him before on the bus earlier in the week - threatening him by telling him that Alex makes disgusting coffee; this feels like something of a downtime for the characters; Cartwright reminded of the mess he’s in. It’s not just downtime for Cartwright, but Guy too – who heads to a bar – out of all the Slow Horses still alive, she’s gone through the most this season. Lamb meanwhile heads to investigate the Academy for English Language and ends up getting a phone call from a familiar face on an answer machine – Rade Šerbedžija’s Katinsky – who never left the country, murdered Harper – and whose aim was to distract Lamb with a wild goose chase whilst he faces no repercussions from the Russians in exchange, revealing that something bigger is happening – a lot of people have a slate to wipe clean, and that’s Slow Horses’ theme of this season. The past does not stay buried – and now two of Lamb’s joes are dead. Guy doesn’t know yet that it’s not a stupid accident on Harper’s part – and is spending time with the enemy – yet it’s later revealed to be a ruse – she believes that Nevsky’s responsible for Harper’s death and is doing her best to get to him. Longridge stands her down in order to proceed with the meeting, still believing that it’s an accident – until Lamb phones up with the truth of what he’s found, warning that no bodies need to be found. Pashkin’s resistant to interrogation – he’s Russian and might not crack – Guy has to go to the meeting tomorrow as though nothing is wrong; and she’s not happy with Standish finding out that he’s no longer Nevsky’s representative; rather than being on the same team – the Russians have two different factions.

Lamb and a reluctant Dander, picked because she’s the only one with a “decent pair of bollocks” head to Nevsky’s residence to find Nevsky murdered by radiation poisoning – and now, one by one, the dots are falling into place. Cicada never feels more like an appropriately titled episode. I’m really liking how Dander is getting more things to do with the original Slough House team, she feels like she’s been there all along. This showcased the creativeness of Jeremy Lovering’s direction – not just here but also in Guy’s scenes - revealing that Nevsky was killed in a gruesome way – the music working brilliantly in the background, showing the blood-soaked corpses of Nevsky – who killed himself rather than die a painful death, that risked consuming Lamb and Dander too if they stayed for too long; Dander more worried than Lamb who lights up a cigarette in response, betraying no emotions. One thing I will say about this series at this point is it’s very point-a-to-b dialogue – the story feels all plot driven, not in a bad way – but it’s rare that these characters get the chance to slow down and breathe, and maybe that’s a casualty of the short episode length - but it’s also a good thing, as rare does Slow Horses take the time to stand still – and its first season was a victim to taking the slower pace.

Alex is onto Cartwright about working ‘undercover’ to her, suggesting early on that she’s smarter and more clued in than she appears – this will come up later. Leo knows him – yet Cartwright leaves rather than stick around to chase after him after planting his phone – employing Ho to track him down – and he knows that there can only be one place where he’s going: the airfield; where he’s loading an explosive device onto the plane.

And that’s when the cliffhanger comes; and it’s the biggest yet – Alex arrives to explain that – initially – Katinsky – who’s there in Uphill too - is a friend from university – after getting more and more desperate; she eventually reveals it’s all a ruse in order to turn her attention to Cartwright; taking him out and exposing her identity as the sleeper agent. It’s a chilling end that I’m glad I saved to binge as I couldn’t imagine waiting a week to find out what happens next – Cartwright has been out of his depth all along, and quickly become apparent just how terrible a spy he is – there’s a reason why he ended up in Slough House, after all.

Episode 5, Boardroom Politics

The plan for Slow Horses is now revealed; the bomb planned to bring down the marchers will be unleashed on a glass house – the skyscraper – Slow Horses gets aggressively to the point here in its revealing of the grand schemes – no dramatic ending, just blunt reveal – with the plane itself taking off long before Cartwright can even escape. Instead, he’s forced to watch it fly – helpless and alone. Cue credits – and we only have one more episode of Slow Horses left.

Cartwright’s eventually able to convince Duncan and Kelly after being rescued – their reactions to learning that Alex is the spy are as priceless as you’d expect them to be; only convinced by Alex’s writing that she’s left behind to them with her wedding ring; and he phones in a Code September – in conjunction with Lamb convincing Duffy that Harper’s death wasn’t an accident, scolding him for not doing his job properly: which combined is enough to get Judd to evacuate his speech, however reluctantly from The Royal Exchange – in true Judd form, only concerned about the matter when it affects him personally. We’re in the endgame now; and the pieces are falling into place – Alex’s reveal as the cicada really put the whole thing spinning on motion. Meanwhile: At the records department after blackmailing Duffy, Lamb’s game to work out that Katinsky is the spymaster comes to fruition – not only that does he suspect that he was the handler of a traitor in the service – right at the top who signed Katinsky in, who was running the traitor. Cicadas were meant to be a work of fiction – but they’re very much real.

Guy having to pass off the meeting knowing that Pashkin killed Harper was a tough act to swallow; the security protocols on edge – coupled with the anti-Judd protests throughout the city, Slow Horses feels timelier than ever. Judd owes Tavernier a debt – exposed as she is; and the pair have a mutually assured destruction pact that could mean the two implode on each other – for Judd, he believes it’s leading him to Downing Street –eager to backstab his so-called “lifelong friend” the Prime Minister, who’s on the verge of losing the election – this is where Slow Horses borrows liberally from real-world affairs – and makes it feel all the more convincing. The mood is foul and could turn ugly - The Protestors and their outbursts in regard to the lack of government transparency has everyone on edge.

Standish was made to look like a fool by Krymov in the game of chess last time out; and after beating him – it’s his turn to be on the wrong foot. Using White as her advantage and playing the same game that she played her own game with her father – quoting chess matches at him – I’d watch the Standish remake of The Queen’s Gambit; she’s able to find out that Katinsky not Pashkin set up the meeting with Webb – and Lamb’s team were specifically called in to be involved. This fits up with Lamb’s theory that Katinsky is actually the mastermind behind it all rather than Pashkin or Nevsky – and has been playing low-level stooge to throw everyone off the scent. Maybe even a Russian version of Jackson Lamb?

Of course, the Pashkin/Webb meeting that Guy and Harper were originally planning to attend when they signed onto Webb’s entourage in the first place was never going to go perfectly – and you know things are going to go wrong but it’s no less effective when they do – the tight writing of Mark Denton & Johnny Stockwood steers this episode, balancing the made for addictive-thriller-reading of Mick Herron. Webb is shot after being wounded in words by Pashkin scolding his suit after making him explain what a “meet cute” is, and in the chaos – shit hits the fan – Webb’s severe lack of grasp of the situation; his big score unfolding right in his face – his dreams shattering, brilliant acting from Freddie Fox, delighting in playing the cocky bastard. All the reveals come out at once in true penultimate episode fashion; and the stage is set for the grand finale.

All the while – Chernitsky is getting closer and closer to London in a plot that instantly reminded me of Anthony Horowitz’s Stormbreaker – the first Alex Rider novel with Alex in the skies above - and Ho and Dander are the ones who head into the capital to hunt him down – with evacuations happening all around them – including the shut down of the Entire London Transport network – as someone who lives nearby the city and uses it regularly, such a feat would be almost impossible to achieve – but they’re evacuating all the buildings and shutting them down. The back and forth between Ho and Dander – and everyone in Slough House, really – is just excellent – Dander’s Alpha Dog put-down never more on point; the show mastering the art of the dry put-down.

Kelly is facing one of the most interesting revelations of her season – how do you react when you learn that your parent is not who they told you they were, and their whole life is a lie? There’s a whole series in that that which Slow Horses breezes over in seconds, owing something of a debt to The Americans. It’s an effective emotional depth for Kelly on a personal level, and Duncan too; with every one of the Slow Horses in mortal danger – two agents with Webb, and two agents in London – Guy gets to break the news to Webb about Pashkin, but it’s far too late. Everything is happening at once, thrilling and senseful in equal measure.

Episode 6, Old Scores

And we’re already here – at the end; just as Slow Horses comes back it feels like it’s gone again – one of the best things about getting multi seasons a year is that it feels like Slow Horses comes around so fast, but it’s come and gone in a blink of an eye even with weekly release drop.

Lamb and Katinsky go head-to-head on a confrontational phone call – Katinsky impressed by Lamb’s detection skills, but he is Jackson Lamb after all – still a very good spy, even if his best days are behind him. Oldman’s having a cracking way with words here – Will Smith’s writing this time out is fantastic – both suggest they’re heading to Katinsky’s house, as whichever way the events pan out – they won’t be renewing the lease on it. He’s Alexander Popov – who intended to kill Lamb for his role in Charles Partner’s death, Katinsky’s own “Joe”.

Longridge and Guy are still in the Glasshouse; trapped in the building with an unconscious Webb – the bleeding has stopped; and he’s still alive. One of the guards, Kyril - has been left behind, wounded – and Guy offers to help whilst Alex’s plane heads on high alert towards London – before flipping and torturing the soldier; who tells her that they needed to shut down the glass house to put down the virus in Nevsky’s computer so that Moscow can use his accounts. They cut off Nevsky’s tongue and let him have a quick death, in return for his passwords – leaving an answer to the mess that Dander and Lamb found in the previous episode.

Speaking of, Dander and Ho are still hunting Chernitsky – and now, Ho’s on the same train, Tunbridge Wells bound (have I mentioned that I love Slow Horses’ usage of London? Most American shows refuse to acknowledge Tunbridge Wells’ mere existence) – keeping his voice down in pursuit. With four of Lamb’s agents in London among the man himself, the stakes are higher than ever for all of them.

Cartwright gets to finally look inside the aircraft hanger and finds out that the bomb materials have been left behind – which suggests that part of the plan was to trick him into activating Code September and calling it in, requiring Judd to be moved from the Royal Exchange and London to be plunged into chaos. This acts as perfect diversion now for Pashkin to get access to the computer files – with London in disarray – the whole plan is coming together swimmingly. Cartwright does his best to get on the phone with the higher ups to call it in – and find out where the plane is going. If things weren’t confusing before for the Troppers, they are tenfold now – and this leads Cartwright to a confrontation with Chernitsky – at his father’s place after being taken there by Kelly and his father is able to kill him before the police show up – as support – but they won’t arrest Kelly for aiding her efforts in saving Cartwright’s father’s life. Lest we forget, he had a roll to play in these old war games too. I did like the subtle touches of Kelly thinking that Cartwright would be arrested as an MI5 imposter – and even though he may be from Slough House, he’s still a spy. I love the awkwardness that Lowden brings to the table here as Cartwright, never confident, never cocky – with Cartwright offering to pay at a cashpoint. Kelly, as ever, not impressed – but would you be?

This all happens after a quick sojourn – each of the Joes get a crack at Chernitsky for equal measure - Ho’s chase is cut short when he’s ambushed, ensuring further panic – and the fight gets more frantic by the minute, with Ho locking himself in the train toilet to escape whilst a frantic Dander searches for him – coming to Ho’s rescue. The fight is tense, brutal and chaotic – ending with them both locked in the toilet doors and being shot at by the fleeing Russian. Of course; we don’t see a body – and the wait to find out their fate doesn’t last long – they’re on the floor, relaxed.

Pashkin getting to the accounts of Nevsky means that he won’t stop there, he got greedy and took more – diamonds. Now the Slow Horses are running out of time by the second; and it’s a frantic, dramatic environment for all of the Joes to be in. So where is Jackson Lamb? At his desk; eating crisps – waiting for Katinsky with a gun – both come face to face with each other, a fake dirty bomb in Katinsky’s hand. Lamb is as smart, deductive as ever – puts the two on a the same page for an overdue conflict to wrap up that has been brewing for years; old scores is an appropriate title, and then some. The confrontation eventually ends with Katinsky being outthought, outplanned when Cartwright answers his phone and typically in true Lamb fashion, he comes out on top – giving him a gun with one bullet left in his revolver to do with him as he sees fit – and as a result; his days are numbered – never has there been more of a compelling villain for Slow Horses, and I’m really enjoying this band of Russians in comparison.

This finale is exciting – really establishing what roles most of the characters are there for – Katinsky is just there doing a job, he doesn’t care why the Russians are doing what they’re doing, he just wants intel – Lamb killed him; Katinsky says – and Lamb had him killed because he was a traitor. Dickie died too – but he was an alcoholic, but Charles was a former MI5 agent, Standish’s PA – and out of the two, Lamb preferred Dickie – but wants to avoid having Standish go through the same thing again. He’s as cold as ever; but the writers are smart enough and Oldman’s a good enough actor to convey everything across superbly – even in his admiration for Katinsky at the very end; he acknowledges him when he’s been bested. Much of this series has felt like an epilogue for events that we never got to see, but I like that Slow Horses resisted the urge to put on a Cold War get-up in a flashback episode – sometimes, it’s just not needed.

Pashkin, with minimal screentime, has been established of his own choice of actions through the deeds that Guy and Longridge find behind; already been deduced as greedy, he killed Piotr in order to steal more diamonds, but is killed in the processes – Guy smart enough to prevent the air ambulance helicopter coming to his rescue; and kill Pashkin – who reveals that he had Harper killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that was all. Such a cruel way to go; but then, this is a cruel business – but surprisingly – it’s Longridge, not Guy, who pulls the trigger. Both the new Slough House team members have fit in superbly this season, and now they’re getting their moments in the sun – Dander and Longridge have both saved Ho and Guy; their storylines mirroring the other a bit too symmetrically. I’d like to see them going on an adventure together next season.

The power struggle between Taverner and Judd was only going to go one way – and it ends with Taverner framing the Prime Minister as a figure with an involvement the Code September Hoax for his lax security – Alex getting put back in her old life; a nice touch of loyalty to her own agents; even the ones at Slough House – ultimately using this just as an excuse to get her way; mind you – but one mutually beneficial for the continued Judd/Taverner alliance; one of the biggest overarching plot threads that will presumably; lead to more of an involvement for Taverner in seasons to come. One thing this show has missed was the dynamic between Lamb and Taverner at each other’s heels, but Slow Horses isn’t Mission Impossible – it’s not going to repeat the same tricks each time out – the closest we get is Taverner denying Harper a plaque at St. Leonard’s Church (after a funeral to Coldplay; of all things), but that’s thwarted by the team breaking in anyway. I also think Dander and Longridge’s storylines were maybe a bit too similar this season, with perhaps more time could’ve been spent making their roles stand out a bit more; but now that that they’ve made the show their own – I’m hoping we’ll get more of them in the future.

I was hoping to see more of Syd this season after Season One left something of a cliffhanger regarding her fate, but – we’ll have to wait and see if that plot thread is ever; revisited. In the meantime – there’s two more Slow Horses on the way – and in form like this – would we ever say no to it? Do love that we get a new trailer for Series 3 already too – featuring of all people; Sope Dirisu – fresh from Gangs of London!

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