‘Slow Horses’ Season 3 Raises the Suspense With a Great Gary Oldman

The times are simply too uncertain for boring romantic spies to be running around. Audiences want flawed people in the shadows like the characters in “Slow Horses.” The Apple TV hit is back with more energy without losing its scruffy exterior. Gary Oldman is the sheer personification of everything that works about this series. He’s not just a spy boss. He’s that down and out superior we’ve all had at some point in life. The world of espionage is a dysfunctional workplace in this show. Bosses make mistakes, employees pay the price, and in this case a bad day at work can mean someone gets shot. It’s gloomily entertaining and makes perfect sense in the Apple TV catalog, considering how often its productions focus on the somber side of existence.

The gang of MI5 spies on probation at Slough House led by Jackson Lamb (Oldman) face their greatest crisis yet when one of their own is kidnapped. But before all that, the action begins in Istanbul, where spy Alison (Katherine Waterston) is having a tryst with spy Sean (Sope Dirisu). When she gets up to make hummus, a conversation turns into a confession as Sean reveals he’s really there to find a file, codenamed “Footprint,” which Alison is going to leak to some unknown party. A chase follows which results with Alison’s death. A year later and Sean is back, infiltrating an AA meeting in order to kidnap Catherine (Saskia Reeves). The incident rattles Slough House, especially because no one is quite sure why someone would attack their team. 

A new, threatening plot helps bridge together updates on all of our favorite characters. River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) is still dealing with the aftermath of his actions last season when he called in a false Code September when the gang faced off with Russians. He’s sent by superiors to archive old files with Catherine. When she’s kidnapped, we see how willing River is to make risky moves to prove himself, while caring for his comrade. Marcus (Kadiff Kirwan), Roddy Ho (Christopher Chung) and Shirley (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), who joined last season, are dealing with gambling addictions, a missing Russian diamond and the fallout of Roddy sleeping with Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar). It turns out Louisa is hiding the missing diamond while processing the grief of losing Min last season. This drives her to also continuously hook up with random partners to deal with her pain. 

Who we all really want an update on is Jackson. He doesn’t look too good in terms of health. To our eternal concern, he scoffs at the doctor when told to cut down on smoking and drinking. He’s the boss everyone is waiting to keel over, yet somehow keeps going. Keep going he must because the kidnapping of Catherine reveals more of the enigmatic underworld these characters operate in. It’s great, juicy spy candy for fans. River begins the hunt into what could be some parallel operatives causing trouble for unknown reasons, surely linked to the Istanbul incident in the season premiere. Spider Webb (Freddie Fox) is found on a bridge, claiming the kidnappers have threatened his family if he didn’t collaborate with the Catherine-snatching. 

It all develops further into a riveting season that outdoes the last one by raising the stakes in a smart way. Cahterine’s kidnapping is soon linked to the Tiger Team, a squad of specialist agents. Jackson and his misfits are pitted against powerful forces, some linked to the MI5 offices that already look down at Slough House as the place where disposable spies go to waste away. But while Apple TV likes gloom and doom, “Slow Horses” never devolves into a depressing show. River in particular becomes quite the action hero this time around, with genuinely thrilling chase scenes that are also not thoughtless. Every action moment adds something to the narrative. On that level, this is one of those unique shows that does not treat the audience like idiots. It trusts that we care about the characters just as much as the clues. “Slow Horses” speeds up this season, but never loses its stride. 

Slow Horses” season three begins streaming Nov. 29 with new episodes premiering Wednesday on Apple TV+.