Having found its feet early on, the finale of Slow Horses wraps up its central case, but leaves some threads hanging as a tease for series 2.
This review contains spoilers for episode 6 of Slow Horses (‘Follies’).
And so we’ve reached the finale of Slow Horses, a show that found its feet really early on, kept a consistent tone, sense of humour and slick confidence over all 6 of its episodes, and graced the world with the images of Gary Oldman farting himself awake and Jack Lowden raking through a bin. Episode 6 has the tough job of tying up all its loose ends whilst also leaving some titbits to tease a series 2, and maybe Lamb will finally be nice to his team as a reward for a job well done. (Spoiler alert: he won’t.)
Slough House are racing Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas) and the MI5 dogs to find Hassan (Antonio Aakeel) and his kidnappers, led by right wing nutter Curly (Brian Vernel), before the truth gets leaked to the public. One helicopter chase, a shoot-out on a pier and one at a fake castle later, the team find themselves vindicated in victory, if not particularly rewarded. But as River (Jack Lowden), Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) and Min (Dustin Demri-Burns) relax in a job mostly-well done, Lamb (Gary Oldman) orchestrates a deal to help bury Taverner’s secret in exchange for the evidence of one of his own.
Episode 6 is a satisfying finale. A big establishment cover-up is a pretty realistic outcome, if a tad frustrating, but writer Will Smith and director James Hawes do a very clever job of keeping it in tune with the realistic, banal way they’ve portrayed espionage throughout the entire series. It wraps up the kidnapping case, but also still leaves some mysteries on the table for series two, which is surprisingly and excitingly previewed at the end of the episode.
The cards being kept close to the chest mainly involve the history between Lamb, Standish (Saskia Reeves) and the body in the bathtub. Like a carrot on a string, it’s been baited so many times throughout the series that it feels a little sneaky to keep it all back for the next one, but it doesn’t detract too much from what has been a really enjoyable, darkly comedic drama.
The final episode continues with the show’s wonderful habit of undercutting excitement – Lamb falls asleep as he and River stake out Taverner, Min and Louisa run out of petrol as they chase down the bad guys – and it feels like it ends where it had always planned to. It never felt like the show was losing its way or getting too muddled, even if there were some episodes that felt like they could have merged into one. It’s measured and calm, and even as it pulled back on the amount of jokes per episode as the drama kicked in, the wry, dry humour permeates the entire series and feels really in tune with the show’s vibe.
There are really good performances across the board, too. While Lowden took a bit of a step back after the really high-octane, 007-esque opening action sequence, he had moments where he really shone throughout the rest of the series and highlighted his leading man potential. But ultimately, it feels like Slow Horses was Gary Oldman’s show, and that playing the acerbic, flatulent, deceptively sharp and unflappable Jackson Lamb has been a heck of a lot of fun for the Oscar winner. There’s a real depth to this character that’s only just hinted at as the finale draws to a close, and it leaves real excitement for his continuing (mis)adventures going forward. His chemistry with the scene-stealing Scott Thomas is remarkable as well, and there’s a lovely spark of something close to amicability between Lamb and River that could blossom or end horribly, which is all part of the Slough House fun.
It’s a real shame that Olivia Cooke wasn’t utilised more; Sid’s spunkiness and the could-they/will-they potential with Lowden could have offered the show a bit more genuine camaraderie (on top of Min’s hapless and terrible, but quite sweet, flirting with Louisa). Perhaps she’ll return for the second season – the hints are a touch heavy-handed that this might be the case – but her absence in the latter episodes felt palpable after such an auspicious beginning.
Slow Horses’ first season has been a showcase of impressive performances, sharp scripts and slick direction. It’s felt delightfully wry, quite quintessentially British and like a sardonic antidote to the glitz and glamour of the oft-overused spy thriller. A few small speed bumps aside, the series is really enjoyable from start to finish, and promises great things when the gates open and the race can begin again.
(Insert fart joke for nostalgia’s sake, here.)
The Season 1 finale of Slow Horses is now available to watch on AppleTV+.
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