Slow Horses was a slow-burning surprise when its first season premiered in April. It was yet another Apple TV hit whose marketing failed to connect with audiences, instead relying on word of mouth.
What viewers discovered, on the other hand, was a low-stakes spy drama with the kind of pulpy, throwback thrills that are rare in our more self-serious age. With a dash of black comedy thrown in, it made for a surprisingly gripping package that I felt compelled to rave about back in April.
The second season of the show, which returns to Apple TV+ on December 2nd, continues in that vein, albeit with less of the show’s trademark humor. It focuses once more on the employees of Slough House, MI5’s equivalent of purgatory for disgraced intelligence officers.
The Slow Horses, led by the “colorful” Jackson Lamb, are frequently left doing administrative donkeywork that no one else thinks is worth doing. Of course, there would be no series if the misfits weren’t frequently caught up in the grander machinations of the intelligence community.
Season Two is based on Dead Lions, the second in Herron’s series of Slough House novels, and focuses on Lamb’s investigation of the death of a former officer.
Apple’s usual ban on spoilers means that, of the plot, I can only say that it features “long-buried Cold War secrets” which “threaten to bring carnage to the streets of London.” Oh, and that “when a liaison with Russian villains takes a fatal turn, our hapless heroes must overcome their individual failings and raise their spy game in a race to prevent a catastrophic incident.”
We pick up shortly after the first season, with the Horses disappointed that their valor has not resulted in better things. Instead, Shirley Dander (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) and Marcus Longridge (Kadiff Kirwan) have been reassigned to regular duties.
That has understandably put River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) in a funk. But when a former agent is discovered dead on a bus, Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) is piqued enough to return to the field.
Given that the first two six-episode seasons were shot in a single run, it’s not surprising that the show expects you to remember a lot of what happened in the first season.
Despite the ongoing production, there is a significant tonal shift here, with the show becoming darker and losing some of its trademark wit and humor. And, to be honest, by the end, the running gag about Jackson Lamb’s lack of personal hygiene and constant farting begins to wear thin.