Apple TV’s spy thriller series “Slow Horses” brings to the fore a team of MI5 rejects who are pushed to administrative work away from any on-field service, until they stumble into the middle of a hostage situation with more sinister roots. The first season is a solid entertainer, with a plot that is engaging enough and a script that is conveniently British enough to sell. Performances are great too, and Gary Oldman as the leader of the Slough House team is as charming as ever; and overall, “Slow Horses” is an easy recommendation for fans of the genre.
‘Slow Horses’ Season 1: Plot Summary – What Is The Series About?
The show begins with young MI5 agent River Cartwright amidst a terror-threat situation at the Stansted airport, where he has to follow an Asian male in his 20s and apprehend him before he sets off a fatal explosion. However, confusion over the suspect’s clothing puts River on the back foot, and the chase ultimately ends as the suspect triggers the explosion, killing 149 people and injuring 212 more. Shortly after this, agent Cartwright is put away from onsite security action and from the Regent’s Park office of the MI5, and placed in the more administrative desk-work wing at the Slough House quarters. The Slough House is almost like a spot of exile for MI5 agents, as its team consists of members who either made fatal mistakes during missions or those who have been rejected from direct action for some unknown reason. River’s colleagues are no different, ranging from a recovering alcoholic to one who misplaced a piece of top-secret intel on a train. River’s error seems quite minor in comparison, though, as it is soon revealed that the situation at Stansted was actually a live training exercise to test out River’s competency before he was involved in any serious job—the explosion and the casualty count were all make-believe. At Slough House, headed by a grumpy and cynical elderly man named Jackson Lamb, the team now looks into right-wing sympathizer and journalist Robert Hobden for having connections with far-right politicians and possibly extremist criminal groups as well. While River is given the task of going through Hobden’s garbage, his colleague Sidonie Baker is given the job of stealing intel from the man, and she does so with clever competence. River, though, is given the responsibility of taking the intel over to the headquarters at Regent’s Park, and he breaks into the case to look into the data on his own. The intel, which is data copied onto a USB drive, does not reveal much, though, as River and Sidonie both take a look at it without informing their superiors, and it seems like the whole matter was more of a set-up. Around the same time, Robert Hobden calls up his acquainted journalists and politicians, claiming that he has information about a big attack about to happen.
Two college students prepare themselves before a night of stand-up comedy—one of them writes the jokes but is too apprehensive about performing them, and the other says them out loud onstage. After the show with mixed reactions (because of jokes on religion, especially Islam, that upset a few) is over, a group of masked men kidnaps one of the students, Hassan Ahmed, who was the one writing the jokes. The kidnappers soon make themselves and images of their work public, claiming to be a far-right terrorist group named Sons of Albon, who have apprehended Hassan for his Pakistani roots (his grandparents had come to England from Pakistan) and intend to behead him in front of a live stream around twenty-four hours later. The MI5 quickly investigates the matter, and despite Lamb’s insistence on the Slough House team to stay away from any of this, River Cartwright breaks orders and begins to look into it on his own.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Does River Find? How Is MI5 Involved With The Crime?
River had always believed in his own competence as a security agent, and he was still firm in his confidence that he had not done anything wrong during the Stansted mission, but was instead fed the false information by his handler, James Webb. Webb now heads the HR department, but with a fancier name, of the MI5, and River visits him to indirectly realize that the MI5 did, in fact, know that the intel did not have any important information. With the help of Slough House’s obnoxiously confident tech expert, Roddy, he finds out that Hobden has no trace on the internet, and now decides to tail the journalist and look into his personal laptop at the first chance. At the Oval Cricket Ground, MI5’s deputy director Diana Taverner meets with another agent, Jed Moody, and learns that Moody had placed a bug inside Jackson Lamb’s office. Taverner uses this information to convince Moody to do a couple of off-record jobs that she personally wants done. That night, River reaches Hobden’s residence by following him, and sits around waiting for the man to fall asleep so that he can break into his house and go through the laptop when he is joined by Sidonie. She admits to having been following him throughout the day, and the two have a hearty conversation for a while, as they have been casually flirting with each other for some time. Sidonie now reveals that the only reason she was placed at Slough House was so that she could always keep an eye on River, and that she was directly ordered by higher authorities to follow him around. All of a sudden, they spot a masked man slipping into Hobden’s house, and quickly try to intervene in the situation. River finds the journalist held hostage by the masked intruder, who then runs towards the main door to exit, just as Sidonie tries to enter. The two clash, and the intruder shoots the woman in her head, fatally injuring her, and flees the scene.
A little while after River has gotten his colleague admitted to a hospital, two of his other colleagues, Min and Louisa, return to their office with some romantic interests in mind. Their plans are interrupted by the loud thuds that they hear, and soon they are attacked by the same masked intruder seen earlier. In a sudden moment, Min throws the man down the stairs, and kills him in the process; he is unmasked and identified as Jed Moody. Lamb and River also reach the scene, unaware of what has transpired here, as the boss managed to break his employee out of MI5 detention at the hospital. The veteran agent now realizes there is something seriously wrong among the MI5 ranks, and sets up a secret and urgent meeting with Diana Taverner. She now reveals more truth to Lamb—Hassan Ahmed is related to a high-ranking official in the Pakistani military, and the whole kidnapping of the boy is a planned roundabout mission of the MI5 to improve foreign relations. Taverner says that the agency actually has a man inside the kidnappers who will keep Hassan safe till the security forces roll in and act as saviors and heroes of the situation. She asks for Lamb’s help, telling him to go and check in on the apartment where the boy is held hostage, and manages to coerce him into an agreement by threatening to reveal his secrets. Lamb’s colleague, an elderly lady, named Catherine Standish, had recently asked him about the death of their mutual colleague and good friend, Charles Partner, many years back. Lamb seems to have had some involvement in it, and Taverner uses this against him.
But the mayhem only begins once Lamb and his team reach the hostage spot and stumble upon a bloody sight where a man has been beheaded. The victim is identified as Alan Black, the agent Taverner had placed inside the operation, and Hassan, along with his three Sons of Albon kidnappers, are missing from the scene. To manage the crisis, MI5 and its deputy director now put the blame on the Slough House team, claiming that Lamb and his employees have gone rogue and have been directly involved with the Sons of Albon. Taverner quickly orders that every Slough House worker be picked up and brought in for interrogation, but most of them escape arrest, other than one named Struan Loy. Diana puts pressure on Loy to try and establish a false connection between Lamb and agent Alan Black, to fabricate a story that Alan was a rogue agent who joined the Sons of Albon for his nationalist right-wing ideals, and was helped by Lamb and his team in preparing for the kidnap. Taverner and her close security agents continue with this narrative and try out a number of arrests, but a final turn is pulled out of the bag when River finally remembers where he had seen Alan’s face earlier. As part of his security service training, River had been given the task of tailing Taverner for an entire day without her knowledge, and he turned in photographs of his work to her the next day. On that day, the MI5 deputy director had met with Alan, and River had taken photos of this; he now realizes that the Stansted job was not a mistake or a miscommunication, but rather an orchestrated blunder designed by Taverner so that he would be released from serious service and instead placed at Slough House. River and Lamb present this information to Taverner, along with the photographs that River has now stolen back, and threaten to release all of it unless the Slough House team is relieved of false blame. Diana Taverner now finally has to yield, and the two MI5 teams now work together to find and rescue Hassan Ahmed.
What Is The Fate Of Hassan?
Since being kidnapped, Hassan was kept at a predetermined London apartment not very far from the authorities’ reach. Although Black was an MI5 agent inside the team as a mole, the rest of the team was not aware of the actual plan and was really part of an ultra-nationalist radical group. However, things start to mess up when one of the kidnappers, Curley, finds a burner phone inside the apartment and starts to grow suspicious of Black, codenamed Moe. In a moment of built-up rage and hatred for the mole, Curley beheaded the agent with an ax and then fled the scene with the others. While Curley remains calm and focused on the goal—to behead Hassan publicly and set an example for Muslims and other non-Britishers living in England, the other two are shocked by his actions. They reveal that they actually had no intentions of harming Hassan and were doing it all just to create an effect on liberal society, but Curley does not want to let their hostage free. Hassan tries his best to get out of the situation. He had earlier tried to escape the apartment, and now he tells his kidnappers about the money his uncle can potentially give them, but to little avail. Their van soon runs out of fuel, and they hesitantly stop at a fuel pump and send Hassan out, as all three of them have blood on their faces and clothes. Although Hassan gets enough chances to try an escape, he probably does the most intelligent thing he could do at the moment—he leaves a big tip for the fuel pump worker. The abductors make a plan among themselves where they would let Hassan go in the middle of a forest and then themselves escape the country from Harwich Port, but Curley again has a change of heart and even kills one of his gang members.
Soon after, Roddy manages to track down the kidnap van by tracing rental records and now has its location. The Slough House team informs the Regent’s Park about it, and the two teams rush towards Harwich. The tip that Hassan had left had made the fuel station worker instantly remember him, and the security force was greatly helped by this. The abductors have another change of plan, though, as Curley, now totally in control, stops the van in a forested area and brings the two others out. His intention is to make a video of himself beheading Hassan, but his plans are ruined when Larry, the other remaining kidnapper, turns his support towards Hassan and cuts the boy free of his ties. Larry then gets back into the van alone and drives to Harwich to get on a ship, but the MI5 team already awaits him there. The team, acting on the orders of Taverner, shoots the man dead even though he was unarmed and surrendering, to prevent any potential leak of the news of an MI5 agent inside the kidnapping operation. On the other hand, Curley once again takes hold of Hassan, and the two walk towards a medieval-looking castle, which Hassan later reveals to be a fake one, recently made to look much older. Curley believes the site to be the best-suited place to make a video of him barbarically killing a Muslim man, and thus create nationalist furor and strike fear amongst all those he believes to be outsiders in his beloved England.
‘Slow Horses’ Season 1: Ending Explained – How Does Taverner Try To Hide Her Tracks From The Crime?
River, Lamb, Min, and Louisa drive towards Harwich when they receive the news of the absence of Hassan in the van that has already reached the port. With Roddy’s help, they reach the last location where the van had stopped, and realize what Curley was up to. River reaches the castle, just in time for Curley to be about to kill his hostage. River interrupts with gunshots, and Hassan makes use of the chance and knocks Curley down with a heavy stone thrown in his face. The MI5 helicopters arrive on the spot, and prepare to kill Curley, the only remaining perpetrator in order to hide their involvement in it. However, the Slough House workers gather around the man and drag him to a rock shelter, hiding him away from any clear shot that the security forces can take, and they finally have to step back. Hassan is rescued and returned to his family, while Curley is arrested and will be put on trial for his crimes. Taverner is ordered by her superior to make sure that the word of inside involvement never gets out, and she reassures her by giving personal aid to Hassan. Curley might still be able to speak out about it, but the MI5 would possibly manage to hush him up by either blackmail or even putting an end to the already gravely injured man.
On a personal level, the involvement of Hobden had made things more difficult for Taverner. Hobden had overheard her plan to stage such a kidnapping and rescue mission, and had seemingly hated it for the Muslim support and thread of multiculturalism that it would promote. He had instantly started contacting journalists and politicians about it, but nobody really took him seriously as his own direct involvement with the British Patriotic Party had been leaked some years back. Taverner had realized Hobden’s position and had first put the Slough House team after him, and then sent Moody to possibly kill him. But after Hobden had managed to escape, he had directly approached the right-wing MP, Peter Judd, to listen to him and do something about the whole act. When Judd also did not take him seriously, Hobden had even threatened him about some possible leaks, but that did not work either. However, as Peter Judd’s name ultimately reaches Taverner as she looks into Hobden’s call records, the MI5 deputy director and the MP meet at the latter’s house. Here, they come to the realization that it is Hobden alone who poses a threat to both of them, with him possessing secretive information about them, and the best outcome would be if the journalist was wiped off. Sure enough, after Hassan’s rescue and Curley’s arrest, Hobden is seen walking down the streets of London when he is suddenly pushed in front of oncoming traffic by an MI5 agent, instantly killing him. This ensures Taverner’s own safety as all potential sources of threat to her have been eliminated, other than Curley, who might be dealt with soon enough.
At the end of “Slow Horses” Season 1, Lamb and Taverner meet again, and exchange envelopes—Lamb hands over the photographs of Taverner and agent Black, while Taverner gives him the file of Lamb’s former colleague, Charles Partner. Back in the Slough House office, Standish inquires about Charles’ death again, and Lamb seems to tell her everything—it was right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with rising tensions amidst the Cold War, Charles had told him that he was scared some rogue agents were coming to kill him, and had asked him for a gun. Like a supportive friend, Lamb had given him his own gun, but Charles had instead shot himself in the mouth with it while taking a bath. Standish seems to understand the situation and is fairly content after knowing the truth. However, as Jackson Lamb lies down on his office couch and lights up a cigarette, he recalls the real truth—he had entered Charles Partner’s apartment while the latter was in his bathtub, and he himself shot Charles in the mouth and then placed the gun in the dead man’s hand. This job had been seemingly given to him by the MI5 headquarters, and it is after this mission that he decided to step away from the head office and move into the Slough House. Whether he did so out of shock and guilt of having killed his friend, or whether to hide his involvement in it, is kept unknown.