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Slow Horses Episode 3 Review: Clandestine Canals

Slow Horses Episode 3 Review: Clandestine Canals

Episode 3 of Slow Horses is more plot heavy than its predecessors, but it rewards us with a Gary Oldman who is clearly relishing his role.


This review contains mild spoilers for episode 3 of Slow Horses (‘Bad Tradecraft’).

One of the main takeaways from the first two episodes of Slow Horses was that it felt as though they were holding Gary Oldman back. That’s certainly not the case here in episode 3, where the Oscar winner gets to relish every swear word, derisive look and barbed insult. It’s an episode that focuses much more heavily on plot and the technicalities of the ops rather than our established group of misfit spooks, amping up the momentum on the case that could make or break Slough House.

After last week’s cliffhanger, it comes to light that River (Jack Lowden), Jackson (Gary Oldman) and co. have been betrayed. As Min (Dustin Demri-Burns) and Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) deal with the accidental death of an intruder, Jackson arranges to meet with Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas) to find out exactly what MI5’s role is in the kidnapping of Muslim student Hassan (Antonio Aakeel) and how his team can help fix it.

Gone is the glitz and glamour of 007-esque luxurious hotels and exotic locations, and instead the dramatic high point of this episode takes place on a bench, by a canal, in Camden. The antithesis of Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy’s George Smiley, Oldman is clearly having a heck of a lot of fun as Jackson Lamb, now that he’s been let off the reigns a bit. His back-and-forth with Scott Thomas is deliciously acerbic, their scene together being the episode’s standout moment, and the two acting stalwarts elevate the material – which is already really sharp – to the nth degree by simply oozing charisma and talent. It’s no secret that the spy stuff has been done to death, but there’s a freshness here that’s palpable because it’s clear that the material is being relished by those delivering it. It’s fun, old school spy stuff that’s really engaging, even as the character stuff takes a step back for a more plot-heavy episode.

loud and clear reviews slow horses episode 3 review apple tv
Jack Lowden, Rosalind Eleazar and Dustin Demri-Burns in Episode 3 of “Slow Horses,” now streaming on Apple TV+. (© See-Saw Films, Courtesy of Apple TV)

Writer Will Smith has crafted a really tightly scripted show so far; there’s very little fat in each episode meaning it zips along at a fair pace, devoting the right amount of time to each plot thread. We don’t spend too long with Hassan and his kidnappers, the zealot far-right group Sons of Albion, nor with shady politician Nick Duffy (Chris Reilly) and out-of-his-depth reporter Robert Hobden (Paul Hilton). There aren’t too many dangling threads, everything is well contained and connected, and this shows promise that the remaining three episodes won’t be trying to do too much, won’t have to tie too many strings together into a neat bow.

There are a couple of jokes that don’t land as well as others – the fart joke in this one feels a bit too broad comedy, and a rehash of the fart joke in episode one – but the show is comfortable in its tone, has established itself and what the vibe is enough that it doesn’t need to double down on the funny to make its point. There’s a confidence to it that’s been earned already, and so the clunkers don’t clang loudly enough to be too distracting.

Slow Horses still feels really low-key, despite its likely pretty impressive budget. Alongside that stellar cast, swapping ‘Wild Horses’ for slow ones is none other than Mick Jagger, lending his distinct tones to the show’s theme song. And there’s also a quality to the production that feels filmic, like it’s an extended cinema piece cut into six bite-size chunks. Apple are not afraid to take risks, to throw stuff at the wall and see what it sticks, and it rewards its viewers with shows of the calibre of Slow Horses.

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This episode has little for Jack Lowden to do, but it’s a testament to the show that it wasn’t to its detriment. There are still unanswered questions – mainly, what’s going on with Standish (Saskia Reeves) – and the episode delivers another gruesome ending that adds to the anticipation for next week. Slow Horses is fairly picking up speed, let’s hope it continues.


Episode 3 of Slow Horses is now available to watch on AppleTV+.


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