Gary Oldman’s Excellent British Spy Series Delivers For A Second Time This Year

Dec 17, 2022

Just under eight months after the acclaimed premiere of the first season of “Slow Horses,” Apple TV+ launches a second outing (and has already commissioned a third and a fourth) on Friday, December 2nd. The good news is that there’s no sophomore slump here in a 6-episode run that actually feels like it has higher stakes and more intense action than the first. Yes, it’s still a show about underdogs who save the day, but there’s less sad sack character study here now that this world of raggedy John Le Carre spy plotting has already been unpacked. The second season maintains the spirit of the first while upping the intensity, which allows star Gary Oldman even more of a chance to shine in a role that feels like it’s going to be one of the most definitive of his career. The Oscar winner is perfect in the part of Jackson Lamb, a man who may have lost the spy game but is as loyal and brilliant as anyone who ever played it.
READ MORE: ‘Slow Horses’ Season 2 Trailer: Gary Oldman Returns To Lead His Misfit Agents In Apple TV+ Series
Season two of “Slow Horses” opens with a classic spy novel set-up—this one is based on another Mick Herron novel titled “Dead Lions,” released in 2013. (The next two will be based on “Real Tigers” and “Spook Street” if you want to get a head start on their plotting, and there are already four more books in the series, which should keep Apple producing for years if we’re lucky). A man quietly chases his target through a crowded station. He sits in the back of a bus, watching his prey from a distance. As the bus goes on its route, the chaser appears to fall asleep, but he’s actually dead. Was he poisoned somewhere in the station? And who was he chasing? The last word he typed on the phone he hid in his seat is the only clue: “Cicada.”
Of course, the man was a former spy, someone who knew that Oldman’s Jackson Lamb would find that phone and would know what the message meant. Lamb heads something called Slough House, where the unwanted spies of England go to push paper around dirty desks and hopefully stay out of the way of the “real spies.” The new season smartly doesn’t retread much of the same ground regarding how these people got here, knowing that viewers are unlikely to watch the new season without having seen the first. And it finds a way to bring the excellent Kristin Scott Thomas back in her role as Diana Taverner, the Deputy Director-General of MI5, along with most of the key Slough House spies from season one.
Lamb knows that Cicada is a code word for an undercover agent, someone who could be embedded in an enemy spy system for a generation before being initiated (kind of like the bug that goes dormant for years only to be so damn loud). The authorities want to rule the death a heart attack, but Lamb knows there’s more to it and the second season of “Slow Horses” really hits the ground running with that investigation. Before you know it, River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) is undercover himself in pursuit of a potential double agent, and Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) is fearlessly doing something similar that might get her killed. The bulk of this season tracks Jackson, River, and Louisa as they approach the case from three different angles, cut together in a way that raises the tension with each unexpected twist and double cross.
The writing crew this season is essentially the same, but directing duties have been handed to Jeremy Lovering, who helms all six chapters and worked as a second unit director with Edgar Wright on “Hot Fuzz” and “Last Night in Soho.” He brings a more Wright-esque rhythm to the production as it seamlessly cuts back and forth between its complicated plot threads but never loses track of any of them. “Slow Horses” is such an easy watch, something that people will probably do in one sitting if they can wait until all six chapters have been released. It’s so refreshing to see a streaming thriller that respects time in that most Netflix and Prime shows are just way too long, succumbing to sag in the middle or the bloat of repeated ideas. It’s almost funny that this is a show about a group of spies that are rough around the edges because its greatest asset is how lean it is in both seasons. One never feels the time watching it.
One of the ways that a sense of urgency is conveyed this year is through the performance of Oldman, who is even better than he was last time around. He sees a bit of himself in the spy who was left out in the cold that dies in that opening scene, and OIdman conveys a righteous sense of vengeance over not just the system that killed him but the one that failed to protect him. Lowden seems more comfortable this season, too, and Eleazar gets some nice emotional beats that are unexpected. Thomas feels more minor than in season one, but that’s understandable given the breakneck speed of this year’s plotting that requires Lamb to be in the field more than ever.
Television has become so high concept over the years of “Prestige TV.” Still, viewers will always come back to the old-fashioned genres that defined it, whether it’s the melodrama-of-the-week structure of the “Chicago” shows that still draw for NBC or the family dramas of Taylor Sheridan. Something is comforting about a spy show that doesn’t break the mold but just checks every box for what a program like “Slow Horses” should be. May these misfits keep saving the day for many seasons to come. [A-]
“Slow Horses” season 2 premieres December 2 on Apple TV+.

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