'Slow Horses' Season 2's Penultimate Episode Gets Cranking with "Boardroom Politics"

Picture shows: Saskia Reeves as Catherine Standish in Slow Horses

Saskia Reeves as Catherine Standish in Slow Horses

Apple TV+

Now we’re effin’ talking. After some confident but spotty build-up, “Boardroom Politics” takes Slow Horses Season 2’s different strands that last week’s “Cicada” synced up and shoots them forward into a climax that feels big, dangerous, and tense. All the problems with the episode are things we’ve taken issue with in the past – thankfully, this episode doubles down on the things that have previously worked in Slow Horses’ favor. If next week’s finale has Slow Horses save the day without losing any of their team, it will be down to the wire.

The night has passed, and River is tied up at the flight club – literally. Alex, our surprise sleeper agent, is being set up by our dissident Nikolai Katinsky (who we saw with Chernitsky at the tail end of last week’s episode) to deliver an airborne payload into the heart of London. We think it’s going to target the anti-capitalist demonstration that’ll pack the streets – so does River – but Katinsky tells us he doesn’t want to harm his ideological comrades (despite bombs being notorious for their civilian casualties), but hit the Glasshouse where Home Secretary Peter Judd (famous last season for his Far Right nationalist ties) will be making a poorly defined “bad man speech” and where Pashkin will be meeting Webb. Funny how things line up like that!

River spends a good amount of time trying to get unbound, and his distinctly non-Bond-esque flopping around makes Lowden so great in this role – sometimes the most life-and-death situation a spy will face find himself in is to answer a phone call using only your nose. Once Duncan and Kelly arrive, River has to convince them firstly that he’s a spy (Kelly is doing the Lord’s work, pointing out that River Cartwright sounds like a fake name). Also, their beloved Alex is a sleeper agent, which understandably eats into their already precious time.

It’s a surprise that Alex and Duncan aren’t in on the Cicada business, what with how suspicious they were acting – but it feels validating to have the main character say out loud what you spent an entire review arguing. River calls in Alex’s impending “Code September” attack as Jackson waves down Nick Duffy and, like us, expresses his disbelief that MI5 hasn’t figured out the deets of Min’s assassination. Not satisfied with how he left things with his pal Nikolai, he heads to the records department run by an old pal Molly (Naomi Wirthner, a great artist in her own right, but also a possessor of that fierce venom you need to match Gary Oldman’s Lamb). They start digging into Katinsky – it’s fitting for a spy show like Slow Horses to put its lead underground, looking through files for the majority of its tensest episode.

After taking a holiday last week, Taverner is back in full force, overseeing Judd’s itinerary. He tries to pull rank over her in that very squirmy way political elites love to do, and it’s good we’re seeing a couple more sympathetic moments to Taverner this season as she’s stuck between a worm (Webb) and another, bigger worm (Judd). When the Code September comes in, she takes a moment of convincing before battening down the hatches and fleeing the scene with Judd.

Things go less smoothly for Marcus and Louisa at the Pashkin/Webb meeting. Despite knowing Nevsky’s fate, they decide to play it cool and go ahead with the tête-à-tête. After Webb’s extensive fawning, an evacuation siren kicks into a gunfight with Webb and one of Pashkin’s goons grievously wounded. When you think about it closely, not much happens in this storyline, especially seeing how fired-up and active Marcus and Louisa were in “Cicada.” Regardless, it’s all kicking off, so expect more thrills in next week’s finale.

Picture shows: Christopher Chung as Roddy Ho and Aimee-Ffion Edwards As Shirley Dander in Slow Horses

Christopher Chung as Roddy Ho and Aimee-Ffion Edwards As Shirley Dander in Slow Horses

Apple TV+

Two weeks in a row, Standish owns this episode. She returns to best Krymov and gets the dirt on how Pashkin’s meeting was brokered, and the stakes are firmly set up with a chess match; he spills the beans if she wins, and she has to drink if she loses. It’s an upsetting wager, but thankfully she pulls a home run of a checkmate (from an 1851 game dubbed “The Immortal Game”), one that necessitates an overabundance of sacrifices (fitting!). However, when Krymov doesn’t budge, she relies on the threat of blackmail.

I love how we don’t see Krymov yield and give up the intel (that Katinsky was the one who instigated the meeting with MI5 and got Slough House involved!), leaving the extent of Standish’s methods of persuasion in our imagination. After a few episodes of dottying about, it’s good to see Standish win the day.

There are a few minor complaints about “Boardroom Politics”: after he makes his important call, River doesn’t have much to do, and the details of the political march against Judd feel, as ever, really broadly defined (chants of “The people are not happy!” are a bit eye roll-worthy). But it’s impossible to deny the energy surging through the episode, one that builds on all the heights of previous episodes. With the finale set to be a battle between Katinsky and his secret number one enemy – Jackson Lamb – it looks like the trips down Cold War secret intelligence memory lane have definitively proved a worthy journey for Slow Horses’ sophomore outing.

Picture shows: Rory Doherty

Rory Doherty is a writer of criticism, films, and plays based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He's often found watching something he knows he'll dislike but will agree to watch all of it anyway. You can follow his thoughts about all things stories @roryhasopinions.

More to Love from Telly Visions