The 'Footprints' of 'Slow Horses' Season 3 Finale Ring Hollow

Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb and Kristin Scott Thomas as Diana Taverner stand by an ice cream truck in the 'Slow Horses' Season 3 finale

Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb and Kristin Scott Thomas as Diana Taverner in the 'Slow Horses' Season 3 finale

Apple TV+

For the loyal viewers who’ve watched three seasons of Slow Horses secretly pining for all our characters to get embroiled in a life-or-death gun battle, Season 3’s finale, “Footprints,” certainly delivers. For everyone else who’s enjoyed the back alley, rough-around-the-edges spy work, and volatile character dynamics, “Footprints” is a bit of a hollow endnote. The consequences of sanding off all the messiness and intrigue of previous seasons have revealed themselves: Season 3 is a tight adventure dedicated to pure thrill, but it feels like an overcorrection. It’s never failed to entertain, but Season 3 wasn’t really about anything. Does this reveal an inherent flaw to Slow Horses on a premise level?

With the goal of not simply describing a series of action sequences: River recovers from the grenade blast, and Sean presses down more return fire on the Chieftain agents who’ve breached the facility’s lower levels – quite effectively, we might add, as Duffy gets the first sign that this isn’t going to be an easy execution job. River, Sean, and Louisa make it out with the Footprint file, but Sean is badly wounded. Meanwhile, Marcus and Shirley are pinned down around the perimeter, unsure how they’re going to rescue their friends.

As Hobbs and the previously-kidnapped Chieftain agent approach the Dunn safehouse, Jackson lays out some Home Alone-style traps (sidenote: the number of serious thrillers I’ve seen deploy what are commonly referred to as “Home Alone traps” makes me think that, in reality, Kevin McCallister was just doing actual guerilla warfare). The Chieftain agent is set alight when he opens the front door; Hobbs slips on the stairs and shoves his hand on a blade hidden on the banister. In my opinion, the rag he uses to bandage his lacerated hand should have been preemptively doused in bleach; it’s a real missed opportunity.

Eliot Salt as Sarah and Saskia Reeves as Catherine Standish huddled by a bookcase in 'Slow Horses' Season 3

Eliot Salt as Sarah and Saskia Reeves as Catherine Standish in 'Slow Horses' Season 3

Apple TV+

Sarah is shot scuffling with the Chieftain agent (some expertly placed Pringles reveal his presence) but ultimately subdues him, and Catherine hides in a cupboard to bait Hobbs so Jackson can shoot him in the head. Once everything’s been wrapped up, Roddy drives through the wall with a double-decker party bus, in a well-meaning attempt to help. His mute delivery of “Did I get anyone?” is one of his funniest moments in all three seasons.

Back in the facility’s sewers, Sean is given a brief opportunity to reflect on how messed up it is that MI5 is pointedly murdering their own agents before he insists Louisa and River leave him behind to get Footprint out. Yes, Sean! We agree! It would be nice if the show were actually interested in unpacking it in any greater depth than executive grudges and diametrically opposed grunts! Sean doesn’t get to ponder anything in great depth as Chieftain quickly dispatches him in pursuit of the file.

A lot of half-baked action happens with Shirley and Marcus, with Shirley going to great effort flanking her attackers before she realizes her gun is jammed. She resorts to hand-to-hand combat with some ridiculously one-note assailants (seriously, a Chieftain gunman brags about using Iraqi civilians as target practice like he’s been airlifted out of an Expendables movie). Eventually, Duffy has to enter the fray, and it’s a bit laughable that his standoff with Marcus is pitched as two age-old enemies finally butting heads – they set it up with one line in episode 5!

Christopher Chung as Roddy Ho, complete with Pringles in 'Slow Horses' Season 3

Christopher Chung as Roddy Ho in 'Slow Horses' Season 3

Apple TV+

While Marcus and Duffy scuffle, Shirley takes out the Chieftain agents stationed at the sewer grate, allowing Louisa and River to escape. They kind of brush off how insane the last hour or so has been for them: River rushes off with the Footprint file, Louisa takes out Duffy with a bullet. It’s really unsatisfying: Slow Horses is not a show about people getting shot in the head, it is about arrogant people getting humiliated and the underdogs being vindicated.

Meanwhile, Catherine finally says that Charles wouldn’t have run MI5 like this enough times for Jackson to snap and reveal he was a traitor – what’s more, she was a nobody secretary he was using to cover his trail. She’s understandably upset and quits Slough House. The revelation that Jackson killed Charles will have to wait. 

River is equally let down by one of Charles’ killers: his grandfather burns the Footprint file because leaking it would jeopardize the integrity and security of MI5. Obviously Slow Horses isn’t the show to interrogate how banally nationalist such ideas are, but it still feels tiresome to exclusively treat anti-establishment ideas with a) lip-service dialogue or b) reasons for one group of characters to point guns at another group. 

Jonathan Pryce as David Cartwright in his office in 'Slow Horses' Season 3

Jonathan Pryce as David Cartwright in his office in 'Slow Horses' Season 3

Apple TV+

It doesn't matter, River made a copy and leaked the file anyway. In a hasty, rushed ending scene, Diana and Jackson recount information that should have been dramatized for the audience: Ingrid was ousted, as was Peter Judd, River was vindicated and everyone’s realized that Slough House may be the only place that actually protects them from the vices of MI5. 

It’s a shrug of an epilogue that calls into question how unseriously the season has taken its thriller stakes: Spider is now dead, Duffy and Hobbs were killed trying to murder our characters, and the worth and legitimacy of MI5 is completely undermined. In giving us new heights of exciting, fun spy capers, Season 3 has revealed how un-subversive its ambitions truly are. Hopefully things get thornier, messier, or at least more impactful next season – at the very least, they’ve got Hugo Weaving for it.

All six episodes of Slow Horses Season 3 are streaming on Apple TV+. Season 4 is expected out in 2024.

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.

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