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Slow Horses’ excellent season 3 is the perfect place to jump in, actually

I should know, it’s the only one I’ve seen

River (Jack Lowden) standing and talking to Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) Image: Apple TV Plus
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

There was no show I heard about more during the holiday season than Slow Horses. As a TV editor, this is an anecdotal survey that made me sit up and pay attention. Seemingly everyone I talked with, at holiday parties or on vacation, was enraptured by the British spy drama on Apple TV Plus; some people gushed more about the show than they did their own children. Not one to be left out of the conversation, I plunged into the third season. And it was there I found the best kind of holiday gift: a great season of TV, and even more to watch as soon as I’m able.

The beauty of Slow Horses — as anyone at any of these get-togethers would tell you — is in how tightly the show is constructed. Based on the Slough House novels by Mick Herron, each season adapts one book in a compact six episodes, following the lives of the intelligence officers working in the “Slough House” of MI5. Having not seen the pilot where such names and designations might be explained, I can tell you only that Slough House is a sort of dumping ground for MI5 agents who messed up. In lieu of getting fired, they get demoted (sentenced, damned) to dead-end work under the schlubby Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman).

But since each book and season is more or less self-contained, it’s pretty easy to drop in on season 3 and pick up everything you need to know about Slough House and its horses — namely that they are, in fact, exceptional agents, even if they’re a bit rougher around the edges than their brethren assigned elsewhere. At the center you have River (Jack Lowden), the hapless spy who’s always trying to do the Right Thing™, and whose career was stymied when he was framed for some screw-up. But you’ve also got Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar), who’s equal parts abrasive and effective, and Roddy (Christopher Chung), a skilled hacker whose main weakness seems to be lack of motivation to do much beyond mischief if left to his druthers. None is more deceptively adept than Jackson, who Oldman plays with the perfect balance of rough charm. He’s loath to say a single kind thing, or even appear to be playing the game, but he impishly always is.

Jackson Lamb eating a sloppy ice cream cone looking fed up
Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb is, as Jeff VanderMeer described it on X, a performance you can “smell through the screen.”
Image: Apple TV Plus

While season 3 picks up with the dregs of some season 2 baggage, it very quickly throws Lamb and his horses straight into the fray, with one of their own kidnapped. In many other shows, this might seem like a terrible time to hop on the bandwagon, but I didn’t feel that way about Slow Horses season 3. For all its upstarts bucking at their Slough House designation, Slow Horses is smooth as silk, masterfully building a spy thriller on the backs of strong characters, and letting them take the story where it needs to go. Their relationships — to themselves, their colleagues, and the MI5 organization — are self-evident, and the show wisely lets them take the reins.

And the result is fun — no small feat for a show that I had no knowledge of but a lot of expectation for. For whatever kind of crapshoot a six-episode British show can be, Slow Horses nimbly manages both hearty comedy and earnest drama, thanks to some dry wit around the thriller stakes of spy living. Before I was done with season 3, I was excited to jump back to the previous two seasons. (And the sizzle reel of the basically finished season 4 at the end promises Hugo Weaving? Suffice it to say I will now be the person at any holiday gatherings — maybe even Flag Day if the “before December 2024” timeline is to be believed — effusively speaking of Slow Horses.)

The new year can often feel like a refresh: the sort of thing that makes you feel envirograted, ready to seize the day, work out, get your life together, and maybe feel simultaneously overwhelmed and hopeful for all you can do. The beauty (and terror) of January is that it is a blank slate, a wide-open horizon so full of possibility it feels endless (non-derogatory, but also sometimes derogatory). In this way, Slow Horses season 3 is the perfect watch for right now. It’s a show about a group of people trying their best, at once more able and less wise to it than they think. In this yawning January when time feels liminal and the days feel shorter than they oughta be, you can fill that time with a lot of things. And I think you should probably fill some of it with Slow Horses. And like the best kind of resolutions, you can start wherever feels right to you.

All three seasons of Slow Horses are now streaming in full on Apple TV Plus. Season 4 is due this year — hopefully sooner than we expect it.

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