Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Season 2 of Slow Horses.
Spy drama Slow Horses, which began its second season on Apple+ this month, stars Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb, an ostracized MI5 operative relegated to Slough House, a facility for other intelligence rejects. Slow Horses has proven itself the perfect antidote to traditional espionage dramas like John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2012), and glamorous miniseries like The Night Manager (2016) and The Little Drummer Girl (2018). With its grimy London scenes, dark humor, and lovable anti-heroes, though, Slow Horses portrays a contemporary England torn apart by post-Brexit nationalism and nasty internal politics — to the extent that MI5 is seemingly unaware of one of its greatest threats: the Russian spies still living in the U.K. However, the famously inefficient Slough House team soon finds itself threatened by an ugly leftover from the Cold War: “cicadas,” or Russian sleeper agents embedded in English society. Though Slough House has been rendered as irrelevant as possible by MI5 boss Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas), the agents again get to put their skills to use as they become embroiled in a murder plot executed by Russian intelligence operatives with knowledge of the cicadas.
Min: A Casualty of Slough House Curiosity
Russian spy Andrei Chernitsky (Marek Vasut), is believed to have killed the last Englishman with firsthand knowledge of the cicada program — spurring Jackson Lamb, an aging Cold War operative and a former colleague of the dead man, to investigate Chernitsky’s whereabouts, with hapless employee River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) as the bait. However, the Slough House investigation inadvertently leads to the callous murder of one of Lamb’s agents. Min Harper (Dustin Demri-Burns), who, along with his colleague and girlfriend Louisa Guy (Rosalind Eleazar), has been seconded by the Park — MI5’s main intelligence facility — to make contact with the oligarch Arkady Pashkin (Alec Utgoff).
Min is brutally killed by Pashkin’s body guards, with Chernitsky himself dealing the final blow. Min’s shocking death has heavy implications for the agents of Slough House, who are already demoralized by Taverner’s constant political maneuvering, Lamb’s characteristic indifference to danger, and the slipperiness of the Russians they’re forced to handle.
Reframing the Investigation
First, the murder spurs on Louisa’s understandable desire for revenge, and for a more rigorous investigation of Pashkin. Then, with the death of one of his agents — albeit his least favorite, and most reckless, one — Lamb feels similarly implicated, abandoning his usually derogatory and hands-off leadership style for a hard look at the mess his team is in. Though Lamb usually specializes in tone-deaf comments and a disregard for his employees’ feelings, the tragedy prompts him to retroactively order his colleagues to stand down, as the investigation is brutally reframed by Min’s death and will presumably force the Slough House team to change tacks.
Though it would be a considerable stretch to say that Lamb has anything resembling a softer side, the murder of his agent reveals the strong principles underneath his rough exterior. The Russians are playing a far more ruthless game than Slough House has understood thus far, perhaps prompting the team’s return to Lamb’s age-old advice: “Moscow rules, watch your back; London rules, cover your arse.”