With a curl of his whisky-sodden lips, a ruffle of his grubby overcoat and a slight lift of the hip, the only character in tele-land capable of weaponising flatulence to such glorious effect is back. If you devoured the previous two seasons of Slow Horses, you’ll instantly know I’m talking about Gary Oldman’s Jackson Lamb. As the dishevelled boss of Slough House, a dumping ground for out-of-favour MI5 agents, Lamb’s ability to strike at the enemy with the odorous after-effects of a cut-price biryani is truly a thing of grim beauty. Sorry, I’m rhapsodising. Yes, the farts are back, but the business at hand in season three is rather more serious doo-doo…
Although, those who enjoyed playing Spot the Grimy London Backstreet in first two seasons might receive an unwelcome jolt in the opening few minutes, as the camera sweeps across an exotic Istanbul skyline to reveal a tragic romance that could blow open a deeply buried, shameful MI5 secret. Nooooo! They’re not ruining everything and taking us into clichéd, globe-scampering spy territory are they? Fear not, as we’re soon firmly back in EC1, where you dear reader could even try out this little suggestion if you’re feeling intrepid: take your laptop and watch the first two episodes somewhere very, very close to Barbican Tube station. It’ll be like some weirdly immersive TV, promise.
Also in town and prowling menacingly around Slough House is one of those figures from Istanbul… what’s their particular fascination with agent Standish (Saskia Reeves)? Trying to make this as tantalisingly “unspoilery” as possible, before you can yell “He’s behind you!” (it’s panto season after all), more shifty types appear in the shadows, one of Slough House’s own is in mortal danger, and the rest of the team are breathlessly legging it through alleys after the baddies - cue another London location-spotting session here for viewers.
Meanwhile… wily ol’ Lamb is nonchalantly ordering himself a double doner kebab and clocking exactly what the hell is going on while his colleagues and the rest of us don’t have a clue. On a strictly need to know basis, all I can tell you is this: it’s a fiendishly backflipping plot that sets Slough House on a dirty, brutal collision course with their overlords at The Park (aka MI5 Central). If you can rumble the savagely good twists, which come courtesy of the brilliant Mick Herron source novels, they should sign you up for the agency no questions asked.
Of course, while the plotting and set pieces are both as taut as an assassin’s sticky garrote, it’s the roll call of lovably trainwreck characters that keeps Slow Horses galloping along so engagingly. Jack Lowden’s River Cartwright is still the whipping boy prodigy (this time locked in the crosshairs of The Park’s top attack dog Duffy, who’s given an enhanced thug role this season). After the death of you know who, Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) is in a dark place where male admirers really, really shouldn’t dare tread. There’s an evolving odd-couple relationship between Shirley (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) and Marcus (Kadiff Kirwan). And naturally, Christopher Chung’s gamer tech-genius and failed pussy-hound Roddy (he is only separated by a degree or two from Andrew Tate, after all) is still having a Ho-mance with absolutely no one.
From the get go, this is nervy, visceral stuff but it still has heaps of fun letting all the players mercilessly banter each other into oblivion. The previous seasons set the bar high, but this is probably the best yet. And if you’re slightly frustrated that I’ve been extremely tight-lipped on what exactly happens, you’ll be thanking me instead of killing me as you enjoy it all unfold…
Slow Horses season three will be streaming on Apple TV+ from November 29