Gary Oldman’s cranky spy Jackson Lamb is back, and he’s as scruffy, sarcastic and sweary as ever. “I wanna know who this fucker is and where he fackin’ went!” he roars to his weary team of MI5 rejects in Slow Horses season two, hair uncombed, teeth uncleaned and Columbo-mac very much unwashed. “Yeah, sorry about that, it lingered,” he tells an MI5 admin assistant later on, his farts causing just as much trouble now as they did in season one.
For those of you who missed Slow Horses the first time around (and seriously, if you did, get watching!) Lamb – about as far away from a slick 007 spy as you can imagine – heads up a team of disgraced spies, all of whom have been sent to the grubby Slough House as punishment for various wrongs. These wrongs are far-reaching – from bringing Stansted Airport to a standstill after messing up a training exercise, to gambling, alcoholism, violence and beyond – but write off these misfits at your peril.
Like season one, we’re immediately thrown into a tense action sequence. This time, a former Joe (that’s spook-speak for spy) spots an old Russian agent and gives chase. It doesn’t go to plan: after he’s killed by said Russian agent, Oldman’s Lamb sets on a vengeance mission to catch the culprit when he realises an old Russian sleeper network has been reactivated – and the team face their biggest threat to date.
Writer Will Smith (The Thick of It, Veep), is on top form as the characters and action are given much more room to shine this season. Jack Lowden’s River Cartwright shows his worth after messing up a training exercise in season one, while Kristin Scott Thomas’ returns as the brilliantly astute deputy director-general of MI5, Diana Taverner. Saskia Reeves delivers a standout performance as Catherine Standish as she goes toe-to-toe with a former Russian spy, while Christopher Chung delivers another excellent turn as the bratty but brilliant nerd-spook, Roddy Ho.
Oldman’s performance is, as in season one, frequently stunning. Season two enters more Tinker Tailer, Soldier Spy territory (Oldman starred in that in 2011), with a game of chess-like structure his character Lamb relishes. It’s once again darkly humorous too, even when – spoiler alert – a much loved member of the team dies at the hands of the enemy. The political commentary of season one continues this season too, with Samuel West’s smarmy, entitled Home Secretary offering up some not-so-subtle commentary about the inept running of a government that feels very close to home.
Some of the plot is once again a bit convoluted (this isn’t dissimilar to Mick Herron’s book on which the show is based) and yes, it also gets a bit silly at times: but all the best spy dramas are a bit silly and a bit convoluted. Hopefully you’ll be having so much fun with Lamb and co – as well as some big surprises – that you’ll soon forget about that.
The espionage drama has been done to death over the years – from Spooks to 24, The Night Manager and beyond – but Slow Horses is something refreshingly different. The characters flaws here are what makes them, and the show, one of the best new espionage dramas for years. Season two is a blast from start to end.
‘Slow Horses’ season two premieres today (November 2) on Apple TV+