TV: Slow Horses (Season 3)

I know this blog is starting to look like The Mick Herron Fan Page, but what can I say? It’s not my fault Apple keeps serving up brilliant Slough House adaptations every bit as addictive as the source material. Season three of Slow Horses continues its trend of brilliantly translating each novel from page to screen, bringing along all the acerbic humor, twisty plotting, and thrilling adventure.

So far, the adaptations have been remarkably faithful to the books; sure enough, season three tackles Real Tigers, the third volume. When Slough House’s matriarch Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves) is kidnapped under mysterious circumstances, her Slow Horse colleagues—led by earnest fuck-up River Cartwright (Jack Lowden)—leap into action to rescue her. But Standish’s abduction isn’t a random act; there are hidden agendas to the operation, including a personal vendetta from one of the kidnappers, Sean Donovan (Sope Dirisu). Worse, the seeds of the incident seem to have been planted from the offices of Regents Park, where powerful MI5 head Ingrid Tearney (Sophie Okonedo) and her conniving second desk Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas) are perpetually locked in a battle of wits. Naturally, when the shit hits the fan, it’s Slough House’s foul-mouthed leader Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) who shambles into action to untangle the mystery, reluctantly deploying his band of misfits to save the day.

These books make for such great television, it’s tempting to speculate Herron planned for this eventuality all along, a scheming game of three-dimensional chess worthy of one of his characters. The reality is more rags to riches; indeed, Herron had difficulty selling the books, initially. Still, they provide very rich content to mine, and it’s a testament to the show’s small writing staff—Will Smith, Morwenna Banks, Mark Denton, and Jonny Stockwood—that every season has felt so perfectly clocked. The results are true to the source material, with only subtle, tactical tweaks streamlining things for the visual medium.

The scripts are so deftly crafted that even when the action ramps, the writers never lose sight of the humor, complex plotting, or—most importantly—the distinctive characters. Oldman will always steal this show, reveling in the barbed tongue and disgusting physicality of Jackson Lamb, possibly the best sustained performance of his career. But the series is full of acting talent, led by Lowden, who elevates hero River Cartwright with hilariously awkward good intentions. Reeves, Christopher Chung, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Rosalind Eleazar, and Kadiff Kirwan are pitch perfect as the Slow Horses, while there is brilliant institutional villainy from Okonedo, Scott Thomas, Chris Coghill, Chris Reilly, Samuel West, and especially Freddie Fox, whose obnoxious evil is a sight to behold. Needless to say, I loved it, and want it to run forever—or at least until the novels run out.

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