After last week’s mile-a-minute thriller antics, it’s fitting for Slow Horses to focus on recalibrating itself as we near the story’s midpoint. With River in the custody of the humiliated and furious Dogs, Lamb takes more of a center stage, taking an investigatory role as he checks in (not out of compassion, of course) with his agents in the hunt for Catherine Standish – who should have been released without a problem, but hasn’t been.
The Big Regent’s Park Heist that River was hurriedly sent on last week was a set-up. Home Secretary Peter Judd (Samuel West) confirms to MI5 Director-General Ingrid Tearney (Sophie Okonedo) that he wanted to test the security of the agency, and having found clear faults (see: River parading through the Park on the hunt for the PM’s vetting list) he wants to bring in private security firm Chieftain, responsible for the Tiger Team, to beef up (and privatize) MI5. Despite her clipped sheepishness, Ingrid still accuses him of securing private contracts for a close friend, who happens to be the CEO of Chieftain. Welcome to Britain!
Standish isn’t out of the woods yet, though. When Sean and his team prepare to hand her over to Chieftain, they instead kidnap their agent and retreat back to the cottage safe house. As Taverner informs Ingrid about the sudden development (they agree to keep MI5’s hand out of this mess), Lamb surprises Chieftain CEO Sly Monteith (Gavin Spokes) outside his home. Monteith, it becomes clear, knows nothing about Sean’s move. Some security firm!
It would have been nice to see more of Sean planning his subversive plan from within the Tiger Team operation – as it stands, we thought Sean was acting alone to get the file he lost in episode one, then learned he was just doing his everyday job at Chieftain, then had it confirmed again that, yes, he was acting independently. It made for a thrilling in-the-moment watch, but it plays a little confused in an episode dedicated to catching us up.
After puffing themselves out in vain last week, Marcus and Shirley are at each other’s throats again, poking at each other’s vices (gambling and substance abuse, respectively) while they stake out Sean’s place. Shirley takes the (illegal) initiative to break into his place, where they discover plans not just for Standish’s kidnapping, but a wall of conspiracy theory research, with the label “PHASE TWO: GREY BOOKS”.
As Lamb informs us, these are files surmising all of the available research into the most significant, nuttiest conspiracy theories, which Taverner has now moved to the new archive facility seen in episode one. Before they can get out of there, two Met Police officers catch Marcus and Shirley, erm, in someone else’s house, and arrest them for burglary – and possession of a Class A substance. Shirley, after all, has some powder on her. Classy. Lamb bails them out – firing them in the process. Two more fuckups for the pile.
After firing on all cylinders last week, River spends a good chunk of this episode being pummelled by Duffy for so thoroughly embarrassing him. Learning that Standish is still being held captive, they go to Chieftain HQ, where they meet a despondent Spider, demanding he be paid compensation for his involvement in the Tiger Team sting. There’s a moment where, even in his ugly smugness, Spider seems on his back foot, almost placing him on equal standing with his rival River (despite him making a very poor-taste comment to Louisa regarding their skirmish with the Russians last season). Having to work alongside Spider would be an exciting character development, a rewarding and thorny partnership with River that demonstrates their genuine skillset to one another.
Alas, it was all a prank. Spider is actually the firm’s new Command and Control Executive Officer, and goes straight into a dismissive and juvenile rant at how pathetic the slow horses are. His family was never in danger; he was just offered a freelancer bonus to set River up, and landed himself a sweet private sector job. It’s a bit of a cheap letdown after the promising set-up of a weak Spider forced to cooperate with his rivals, and this type of laddish, overblown humor is one of Slow Horses’ most grating weaknesses.
Monteith confronts Spider about Sean going rogue; Spider is awfully calm about the whole deal. On his boss’ orders, Spider goes to meet Sean in a car park, who is taking none of his arrogant attitude – slamming his head against his car door. But Spider doesn’t get back up. The blood on the smashed window indicates his situation may be critical. Spider’s body is dumped outside a fancy restaurant attended by Judd, Monteith, and Lamb (out of his element). If a rogue Sean will be our season villain, he’s very deftly and aggressively raised the stakes for Slough House.