It took me three episodes to get the joke in the title (a Slow Horses post)
Some piece of marketing material led me to believe that Slow Horses was a comedy about sad-sack loser spies, which is why I put off watching it for so long. I mean, sure, you can get some laughs out of that, and if Gary Oldman was in it, the script was likely good. But, y’know. Meh.
But then someone told me that Slow Horses had strong Sneakers energy, and that stoked my interest immediately. Sneakers, if you’ve never seen it, is about a group of misfits performing a heist for the government and getting in way over their heads. Each member of the team is an outcast for one reason or another, but they’re also each brilliant in their own way.
And that, my friends…well, is not really Slow Horses because it is very much up for debate if most of this team is good at anything at all. The MI-5 agents assigned to Slough House (that’s the joke of the title, by the way) have all massively screwed the pooch one way or another. One left a classified file on a train. Another slept with an ambassador’s wife. One is just such a tool that literally no other department will have him. Slough House is where losers go to finish out their time in the agency, doing meaningless assignments and being berated by station boss Jackson Lamb (Oldman).
Into this mix comes River Cartwright, a genuinely good agent who, it appears, is there unfairly. He’s dying for a chance to prove he deserves to be back in Regent Park, where all the “real” agents work, so when Slough House is asked to copy the contents of a right-wing agitator’s laptop, something far more interesting than they’re usually given, he starts poking around. What follows is a sly, well-crafted thriller that is also, yes, funny at times, if only because Lamb’s banter is so witty.
The trailer above doesn’t do the show any favors, because while it does hit the most important beats of the plot, it pitches them as high drama/big tension/Bondian thrilling and, well, Slow Horses ain’t that kinda party. It’s quiet and considered, asking the viewer to puzzle through the mystery along with the cast. Slow Horses gets off to a slow start (which I suppose is appropriate), spending its first episode introducing the Slow Horses and establishing the chasm between them and the Dogs of Regent Park.
Slow Horses takes its time creating the foundation upon which it will build its spy story cigarette by cigarette. It has a story to tell, and it spins out that story with well-measured confidence. The show it reminds me of most is Yellowjackets, which took a similarly patient approach to doling out crumbs of information so that the big picture came into focus slowly but satisfyingly. Both Slow Horses and Yellowjackets earn your attention by respecting your time. Something important happens in every episode, though it’s sometimes it’s not what you’d expect to be important.
There’s a lot to enjoy about Slow Horses — I mean, if you don’t enjoy watching Gary Oldman verbally sparring with Kristin Scott Thomas, I question your life choices — but I think what I like most is how grubby it is. This is not the world of James Bond; nobody’s getting a martini or showing up in a tux. They’re taking the bus and eating leftover curry and aren’t really all that nice to each other. If The Office was about spies, it would likely look rather a lot like Slow Horses.
Season 1 is complete on Apple TV and Season 2 looks to already have been filmed, so it’s a good time to join the Slough House team.