‘Slow Horses’ Season 2 Ending Explained & Series Recap – What Happens To Jackson & His Team?


Without a doubt, the 2nd season of Apple TV’s spy thriller drama series “Slow Horses” has heightened its scale to a grander level than the 1st season earlier. While it can be argued that execution and plot are not always at their best in this new season, the overall watching experience it provides is gripping and satisfying. The enemy faction this time is directly Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, who are successors of the old KGB, and the stakes are understandably higher. Led by their cocky but effective veteran spy leader, Jackson Lamb, the MI5 agents of Slough House set out to investigate the re-emergence of alleged Russian sleeper agents in England and to stop a sinister plan in the works.

Spoilers Ahead

Plot Summary – What Is The Second Season About?

Season 2 of “Slow Horses” begins with the murder of an elderly man named Richard ‘Dickie’ Bough, who happened to be a former member of the British intelligence force, having served the MI5 for a long time. Suspecting that his end was near, Dickie had left a message on his phone with a single word in it—Cicada. Despite all his evident faults and shortcomings, Jackson Lamb is fiercely protective of his associates, even though he does not show it, and the man, therefore, reaches out to informally investigate his old colleague’s death. The word “cicada” immediately grabs his attention, and this becomes the central piece in this season’s mystery. After all, “cicada” was a secret codeword used by MI5 to refer to suspected Russian sleeper agents planted in British society by the KGB.

Meanwhile, James Webb of the main Regent Park office of the MI5 approaches Slough House agents Min Harper and Louisa Guy to appoint them for a security detail job. Webb was planning to set up a meeting between his boss Diana Taverner and a rich Russian oligarch living in the UK, Ilya Nevsky, for the diplomatic benefits of the home country. But in order to fix this meetup, he had to meet with Nevsky’s representative, Arkady Pashkin. It is to ensure that his meeting with Pashkin will go off without a hitch that Webb appoints Min and Louisa, but things soon take a dark turn. Min, who had been carelessly following two Russian security agents, gets killed in a very suspicious-looking bicycle accident. Once again, it is the Russians who seem involved.

Who Were The Cicadas? 

Soon after Dickie and Min’s suspicious deaths, the agents at Slough House find out that the man who had poisoned and killed Dickie was a Russian henchman named Andrei Chernitsky. From the security camera footage, it is clear that Chernitsky went to a private flying club in a village in the English countryside called Upshott. Lamb instructs River Cartwright to take on a new identity—that of a journalist working on an article on the lifestyle in the English countryside—and work undercover at Upshott. It is River who mostly uncovers the cicadas and their plan, sort of. His initial target is the owner of the Upshott Flying Club and a recognized face in the village, Duncan Tropper, as the man is serious at most times and is rather suspicious of River. Duncan’s daughter Kelly befriends River and shows him around the village, but the spy stays cautious and keeps trying to find more information. Around the same time that the agents at Slough House discover that Chernitsky had not actually left the country as had been previously thought, River sees the assassin walk into the Tropper’s house as a close friend and guest of theirs. River, who is also a guest at the Tropper house at the time, is now sure that Duncan is definitely working with the Russians. When Chernitsky leaves the place, River follows him and is led to the flying club. The undercover agent now decides to expose his real identity and confront the Russians. He approaches Chernitsky and another man named Nikolai Katinsky, and then Duncan’s wife Alex emerges out of the shadows. Alex tries to convince River that the three of them were actually friends and were planning for Duncan’s upcoming birthday. River does not obviously buy this, but what he does not notice is that Alex has been inching closer to him, and she then brings him down with a taser gun.

Now that all the cover is blown, as it is Alex Tropper, who is a cicada sleeper agent, and not her husband Duncan, the Russians set about executing their plan. When River confronted the group, he had seen large quantities of fertilizer and other ingredients used to make bombs and was sure that a dangerous explosive was being prepared. The next morning, when River wakes up inside the flying club with his hands and legs tied, Alex leaves the scene on her small private Cessna aircraft, and it is evident from her words that she is carrying a bomb in the plane to fly into the Glasshouse building in London. Once River is left alone at the club, he manages to find Alex’s phone and contact Kelly and Duncan, who come over and help him out. The family is obviously in utter shock and disbelief that the woman they have known to be their own for all these years has kept such a fearsome secret from them. River directly contacts MI5 Second Desk Officer Diana Taverner and calls for “code September,” warning the authorities of a suicide bomber plane headed towards the Glasshouse. At this very same time, two very important and crowded affairs were going on at the Glasshouse area—first, an anti-capitalist march organized by citizens against the growing atrocities of corporate houses, and second, the conservative Home Secretary Peter Judd was holding a pro-capitalist speech at the area in order to strengthen his image as a fearless leader. River’s reporting and the government’s subsequent triggering of “code September” protocols obviously scare Peter Judd, as he is taken away to safety, and overall chaos strikes out at the location with people running whichever way they can, to find protection. The Glasshouse hotel is also evacuated, which becomes crucial for the cicada plan, but more on that later. It is only towards the end that River suddenly realizes that he has been played once again. He spots the fertilizers and bomb ingredients still inside the hangar and realizes that the whole bomb plan is actually a hoax. The cicadas, or Russians, simply wanted the Glasshouse hotel to be cleared, and for that, they had created this false situation of emergency.

Who Is Leading The Cicadas In Their Plan?

Along with the major crowds gathering at the Glasshouse hotel area, the building itself is also important because the meeting between Pashkin and James Webb was also taking place there. After Min’s death, Lamb pushed for an investigation into it and found out that his agent had indeed not been killed in a road accident. The woman supposedly driving the car that hit Min admitted to Lamb that she was related to the Russian gang and had been contacted by them that night. After she went there, she witnessed the Russian security guards and Chernitsky kill Min. Lamb suspects from this very moment that Arkady Pashkin was also involved with this, and he investigates further into it. Going over to Ilya Nevsky’s house in London, Lamb and Shirley find out that the oligarch had been killed only a short while ago in a most bizarre fashion. A radioactive metal was left exposed with a Geiger counter to remind one of the radiation levels, and Nevsky was left to rot in such a manner. Scared of a painful death, Nevsky had shot himself with his gun. Lamb is now sure this was the act of Arkady Pashkin because nobody else fit the bill. However, he soon finds out that the whole operation is being led by someone he knows very well.

After first getting a hint about cicadas from the dead Dickie, Lamb approached an ex-KGB spy named Nikolai Katinsky, who had been living in England for many years after having been driven out of Russia. At first, Katinsky says that he had witnessed the so-called leader of the cicadas, Alexander Popov. But a while later, it became evident to Lamb that Katinsky was now directly working for the Russians. Katinsky even admits this, saying that his home nation had asked for a favor from him many years ago, making him promise that he would help them whenever the time was right, and now he was doing just that. Later on, along with the findings of River Cartwright at Upshott, it becomes clear that Katinsky is not a server of the Russian spy network as a cicada, but he is actually the man leading the cicadas into their mission. Katinsky is the legendary Alexander Popov himself, and at the end of “Slow Horses” season 2, he directly meets with Jackson Lamb for a direct confrontation.

What Was The Real Exact Plan Of The Russians?

Ever since the death of Min, his colleague turned lover, Louisa, was very suspicious of the security detailing job, as she believed the Russians to be involved with something else. Louisa convinced Lamb to keep her in the mission and not sit her out, and on her own, she carried out an investigation. Making her way closer to Pashkin, she had a strong feeling that the man was impersonating someone else. But before she could act on such suspicions, Lamb called her up and informed her of Nevsky’s death at the hands of Pashkin. He asks Louisa to stick to the mission and accompany Webb to his meeting with Pashkin the next day and pretend to know nothing about Nevsky. Another new Slough House agent, Marcus Longridge, had also been appointed in place of the fallen Min to this security mission. Louisa and Marcus turned up as usual to the meeting inside the Glasshouse hotel but failed to notice that Pashkin and his men had smuggled in a handgun. As chaos breaks out following the government’s announcement of the bombed plane flying towards the area, Pashkin pulls this gun out and, in the process, shoots Webb before escaping the room with his men. When Louisa interrogates one of the injured Russian guards at the same time that Lamb meets with Katinsky, the whole extent and reasons for the Russian plan are revealed.

This plan of the Russian cicadas and security agents was actually being handled directly by the Russian FSB, and the agents who had killed Min were all FSB agents. The original plan was to attack Ilya Nevsky, who had been vocally critical of the Russian government. The FSB decided to break into the computer terminals of Nevsky’s company, steal all the money he had made, and send it back to Russia. This computer terminal, or Nevsky’s office, was also placed inside the Glasshouse hotel, and the FSB hired Arkady Pashkin and Nikolai Katinsky, the old spymaster. Pashkin, who was probably a mercenary of sorts, then staged a meeting with MI5’s James Webb, most possibly to be able to enter the Glasshouse hotel without raising any suspicion. Katinsky then planned to get his old associate in Upshott, Alex Tropper, involved and carefully make it look like Andrei Chernitsky escaped the country from Upshott. This ensured that the Slough House agents got involved with the whole plan, as he knew Lamb would investigate Chernitsky and send one of his agents to Upshott. At the village, Katinsky again staged the scene to look like he, Chernitsky, and Alex were planning a bomb attack to ensure that River would call up the MI5 and inform them of this. The MI5 would quickly launch safety protocols for this, as it does happen, emptying out the whole Glasshouse area and, most importantly, the hotel building itself. The FSB also perhaps wanted to send a message to any critics, and they did so by not only killing Ilya Nevsky but also by making a gruesome deal with him at the last minute—they would give him the gun to shoot himself and avoid the pain of radioactive poisoning, but only if he allowed them to cut off his thumb. Nevsky’s severed thumb was needed to break into his computer terminal at the Glasshouse hotel without raising any suspicion, and that is what happens at the very end.

Along with this meticulous plan of staging false crises while real events took place somewhere else, Nikolai Katinsky also had a personal agenda to fulfill through this mission. All those many years ago, when he was still working with the Russian intelligence forces, he had a very strong and powerful double agent placed inside MI5. This man was nobody but Lamb and Catherine’s former colleague, Charles Partner. Lamb had found out about this involvement of Partner with the Russians and wanted to remove him then but was ordered by his superior not to do so. For some time, the MI5 intentionally fed wrong information to Partner, knowing that all this would be going to the KGB, and this made the Russians suspect that Partner had turned his allegiance back towards the British. This ensured that the reputation of Partner’s handler, Nikolai Katinsky, was also destroyed, and in the process, Katinsky’s career was over. This was why Katinsky had to flee to the UK and wait for his time here. It was only after all this that Lamb was ordered to kill Charles Partner, and Katinsky had been trying to find out since then who had killed his ally and mole. Now, as a form of payment for his help in bringing Ilya Nevsky down, Katinsky had asked the FSB for two names—those of who had killed Charles Partner and the name of who had ordered this killing. While the first was Jackson Lamb, as was shown in “Slow Horses” season 1, the superior who had decided the time for this killing was River’s grandfather, David Cartwright. Katinsky had found out this name, too, and had already sent his best friend and most effective assassin, Andrei Chernitsky, to kill the veteran MI5 spy.

What Happens To The Slough House Members At The End?

Jackson Lamb, the experienced man, had already guessed much of Katinsky’s plan before actually meeting with him. He was also possibly helped in this by Catherine Standish and her own investigation with another Russian informant, Viktor Krymov. Lamb had already come prepared to Katinsky’s office before this final confrontation, and he had already informed the police about Chernitsky’s attack on David Cartwright. In the end, Lamb walks out of Katinsky’s office after leaving a gun with a single bullet on it, making sure that Katinsky could use it only on himself. Surely enough, Nikolai Katinsky shoots himself with it, and Jackson Lamb walks away, as getting Katinsky arrested and getting him to talk to the police was never a real option.

Roddy and Shirley had been following Chernitsky as he drove through London, tracking him through River’s work phone, and had reached a train station near the Glasshouse area. Roddy boarded the train following him but soon found himself chased by Chernitsky, who easily understood that he was being followed. Shirley did come to Roddy’s aid, but the two are left crammed inside the toilet of the train while Chernitsky shoots multiple bullets through the door. As the Russian assassin walks away, though, it is revealed that Shirley and Roddy had laid down on the floor of the toilet and had thus successfully missed the bullets.

While aboard the train, Roddy received a call from River, who had just realized that the whole plot of Alex Tropper flying with a plane full of explosives was a hoax. River was now trying to get the MI5 to stop causing any harm to Alex, who had technically not done anything wrong yet and was not intending to either, but Diana Taverner simply said that they would fire at her if Alex did not comply with warnings. Thankfully, Alex did pay heed to the warnings, as she knew that her job of distracting was done, and she finally accepted to fly to the nearest military base accompanied by defense helicopters. With this settled, River was still trying to find ways to be useful to his squad when he learned from Roddy where Chernitsky was, and from the train’s destination, he could guess very quickly to whom Chernitsky was going to pay a visit. River had earlier spoken about the cicadas with his grandfather, and he had noticed the look on the latter’s face that made it evident that he knew something about all this. In some moment off-screen, River quickly informed David of the assassin going to his house, and the man was already prepared when Chernitsky rang his doorbell. Although the Russian was already armed with a handgun and ready to kill David Cartwright, the ex-MI5 agent simply responded quicker and blew off Chernitsky with his rifle. The police SWAT team and River himself (who had convinced Kelly to fly him to the place) both arrive at the house seconds later, and both River and David are safe in the end.

Catherine Standish had been sent to the Glasshouse hotel by Lamb to try and protect Louisa and Marcus and somehow bring them out of the situation. The two Slough House agents protected James Webb, who was ultimately saved, and then made their way toward Arkady Pashkin, who was nowhere to be seen. Louisa learns from one of the fallen Russian guards their true mission and finding another guard dead meant that Pashkin had betrayed the FSB at the final moment too. Pashkin instead got swayed by his greed, and he stole Nevsky’s diamonds for himself and got rid of all the remaining FSB guards. He then goes to the rooftop and calls in an air ambulance to flee the scene. Louisa catches up with him, though, and confronts him about why he killed Min. Pashkin says that he had done so only because Min had seen him with the Russian security agents when he should not have. Although Min had not yet officially met with Pashkin, he would have recognized him the next day when the official meeting would have taken place, and that would have blown off the entire plan. In the end, Pashkin prepares to shoot Louisa, but he is himself shot dead first by Marcus. Louisa, Marcus, and Catherine all escape the Glasshouse building unscathed.

Diana Taverner had earlier been asked by Home Secretary Peter Judd to support him in his bid to become the next Prime Minister. Diana now makes use of this offer to her advantage by convincing Judd to stay quiet about the false hoax of the plane bombing attack. Instead of letting the blame get to her agents or River Cartwright, in particular, she convinces the Home Secretary to put the blame on faulty defense systems and the man who denied upgrading them—the current Prime Minister. This works out both for Judd and for Diana Taverner, who now pushes to become the MI5 First Desk. In the end, all the Slough House agents break into St. Leonard’s Church, which commemorates all intelligence agents who have died, and put up an unauthorized memorial plaque for Min Harper. Before leaving, Lamb also sticks a piece of paper on the wall with Dickie Bow’s name on it, which serves as a very short-lived memorial for the fallen ex-spy whose death had started the whole affair.

What Should We Expect From Season 3?

The teaser for “Slow Horses” season 3 is already included in the last minutes of season 2, episode 6, just as the second season had been teased at the end of the first. It is rather thrilling to think that “Slow Horses” will return soon with yet another action-packed unraveling. The third season teaser seems to show the main point of the crisis to be the kidnapping of Catherine Standish, as she is supposedly held hostage by a new threat. This kidnapper, who is possibly well known to Catherine, is also looking to reach their own target through her—Jackson Lamb himself. Along with all this, there seem to be promises of more action and a menacingly beautiful diamond also somewhere in the narrative. Jackson Lamb also now seems to work directly with Peter Judd, who might become the Prime Minister by then. There also seems to be a difference of opinion between River and his grandfather David, as the latter claims that the stakes of national security are sometimes higher than one’s personal safety. Overall, “Slow Horses” season 3 looks quite promising, and it would be worth waiting for this next iteration.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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