REVIEW Slow Horses (S1 E5/6)

After last week’s transition episode, the stakes were upped considerably in the penultimate episode of series one of this hugely entertaining espionage thriller.

Jackson Lamb and the Slow Horses are finally reunited in a graveyard (why not?) and they try to figure out what to do next. They’re back into a corner with seemingly no way out, and it’s only a matter of time before the dogs get to them. Naturally, everyone’s nervous (especially Min) but Lamb displays that annoying brilliance we’ve become accustomed to – he shapes up to let his feelings go and issue a rallying cry to his beleaguered trrops, but then proceeds to do an about-face and berates the team calling them “fuck ups” and the worst shower he’s ever worked with. You’d expect nothing less from him.

And then the rollercoaster begins – and this episode’s rollercoaster is a great one. Lamb and Cartwright go off to retrieve photographic evidence of Taverner meeting with her dead inside man on the horrendously botched Hassan Ahmed job. So it’s a quick trip to an eerily empty Slough House (the photo isn’t there) and then on to Regent’s Park, where they concoct a risky but very bold plan to get in. Instead of trying to sneak in, Lamb rolls up to MI5’s entrance playing The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) at ear-shattering levels on his car stereo as he’s confronted by perplexed armed guards. This is mere subterfuge, because while Lamb is huffing and burping and engaging the guards, Cartwright has sneaked into the facility to look for the file. He finds it.

While all this is going on, there are beautifully written and staged scenes inside the van with Curley, Zippo and crew. It’s incredibly tense. Curley wants to finish the job and kill Hassan, while Zippo – now brandishing a gun – wants to let the kid go and escape to Europe. All of this tension is played out in an enclosed space and, with Hassan still gagged and bound in the back, you’re constantly thinking it’s going to end badly.

And then it takes a few unexpected turns, all designed to ratchet up the tension even more. Because they fear being seen (they’re all over the news), they send Hassan out to fill up with petrol when the van’s tank runs dry. Despite being presented with ideal an opportunity to escape, he decides to go back into the van (I’m guessing because Zippo is in charge and he’s promised the gang a ransom from his rich uncle in Pakistan he believes this is the best way to survive the ordeal). And then it takes another turn – Hassan is forced to make them laugh in a bizarre test. It’s an extraordinary scene, where he goes through his stand-up routine, telling anti-right-wing jokes. You can tell he’s bricking it, but as he wins them over he becomes bolder until everyone in the van is laughing. It’s absurd. And dangerous.

Curley then shoots Zippo in the head and we’re back to square one, with Hassan’s best chance of escaping unharmed gone.

Unless Lamb and Cartwright can get out of Regent’s Park and away from Taverner – or the team of Louisa, Roddy, Min and Standish (now ensconced in an all-night caff and waging their own investigation) – can get there first, Hassan is done for. That’s what we have to look forward to in the finale.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.





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