Everyone loves a comeback. We stream Taylor Swift’s new albums, adore Winona Ryder’s “Stranger Things” performances and tune in to the “Drew Barrymore Show.” As much as we admire a good comeback, however, we tend to forget about a complicated aspect that we don’t always see: the long and grueling process of redemption. But if there’s anything we can learn from Miley Cyrus, it’s that getting back to the top isn’t the most important part of the journey: “It’s the climb.”
Apple TV+’s “Slow Horses” tells the story of a team of MI5 agents navigating the world of espionage, as well as their complicated relationships with one another. But don’t let the simple description fool you — for these agents, life is less about kicking ass and taking names, and more about handling unimportant tasks and being criticized by a grossly unprofessional boss. Slough House, MI5’s least respected branch, isn’t for the faint of heart — it’s for the relegated and disgraced agents whose mistakes have sentenced them to professional damnation. After a far-right nationalist group kidnaps a young British-Pakistani student, the formerly respected agents must abandon their mundane Slough House tasks and avoid surveillance from superiors to save the boy’s life before it’s too late.
From kidnappings to undercover investigations, “Slow Horses” is a series packed with plot. What lifts the series to its level of quality, however, are its complicated, likable characters and their varied dynamics within the unit. With Ryan Atwood-esque charm and a determination to restore his reputation, Agent River Cartwright (Jack Lowden, “War and Peace”) leads the show and ties the group together with a balance of optimism and realism. Cartwright’s conversations with arrogant Ho (Christopher Chung, “Waterloo Road”), competent Sid (Olivia Cooke, “House of the Dragon”) and obnoxious yet qualified boss Lamb (Gary Oldman, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) allow us insight into each character’s backstory, including which faults led them to the disgraced Slough House in the first place. These interactions introduce elements of comedy into a heavy drama, particularly as a conversation between Cartwright and Sid reveals that Ho was sent to Slough House simply for his unfortunate condition of being an “insufferable prick.”
Although each character has their own axe to grind as they attempt to rise back to respectability, the group’s development over the course of the show is clear. Once a team of individually motivated agents, the Slow Horses now face the process of becoming a cohesive group, especially after facing intense scrutiny from MI5’s Deputy Director General (Kristin Scott Thomas, “Fleabag”). The Slow Horses begin helping one another with no personal incentive, putting each other first in the field and, most importantly, trusting one another in a line of work where you usually can’t trust anyone. This is especially apparent in the dynamic between office administrator Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves, “Us”) and the rest of the team. As the series progresses, the Slow Horses’ respect for Standish noticeably increases as she gathers key information for the agents during their investigation and proves herself as not just a resident doormat, but a useful and resourceful member of the team.
Although great characterization is a key aspect of any high-quality show, it’s also important to note the dry humor and pacing that elevates “Slow Horses” to an exceptional spy drama. In terms of the show’s writing and delivery, “Slow Horses” is as dry as it gets — in the best possible way. The script’s sarcastic tone and the actors’ quick deliveries enhance the fast-moving nature of the show and help “Slow Horses” stay true to its witty British roots. Stellar performances from the show’s cast only amplify its quality, with Oldman and Lowden’s star power shining through most of all. Additionally, with fast-paced, suspenseful plotlines, the show excels by consistently keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. “Slow Horses” is an exciting, action-packed series that is simply fun to watch.
Slough House’s team of agents may be at their lowest career points thus far. But these disgraced agents are on the come up, and so are the twists and turns they bring to our screens. As the days get longer and the nights get colder, if you find yourself looking for a little excitement, do yourself a favor and stream this stellar spy thriller on Apple TV+ today.
Daily Arts Writer Olivia Tarling can be reached at email@example.com.