‘Slow Horses’ Season 2, Episodes: 1 & 2: Recap & Ending, Explained – What Does The Message “Cicadas” Mean?


Apple TV’s exciting thriller-drama series “Slow Horses” is back with its second season, and so far, with the two episodes released, it seems like the old fervor and tone of the first season are intact. The focus remains on the collective men and women all rejected from the MI5’s classy and reputed Regent’s Park office into the slow and sluggish administrative works of the Slough House branch, with the main protagonists being the leader of this group, Jackson Lamb, and the young agent River Cartwright. While the group had earlier worked against the far-right Sons of Albion in order to save a kidnapped Pakistani student, they had also discovered that the MI5’s second in command, Diana Taverner, had planned the whole thing to gain political currency against the Pakistani militia. In “Slow Horses” Season 2, the agents at Slough House prepare for spying missions again as an old myth about KGB sleeper agents living in British society suddenly seems very real.

Spoilers Ahead

‘Slow Horses’ Episodes 1 And 2: Recap And Ending

The new season begins with a man well past his prime suddenly taking notice of someone suspicious right outside his shop. The man, whose name is later revealed to be Richard Bough, seems to know who is looking at very well, and leaving his shop open behind, he follows this person. With a distinctive appearance– well-built and completely bald, this person is perhaps not too difficult to follow around, as Bough follows him throughout the day and almost throughout the city. He takes a train, following his suspect, and then a bus too, when Bough realizes that something is not right. He swiftly takes out his phone and types something in before safely hiding the phone under the seat on the bus. Richard Bough then seems to doze off and is found dead at the end of the bus ride, and police find that he has died of a heart attack. However, Richard Bough has a certain history, for he was an agent of the MI5 during his professional days until he was discharged from the service sometime before the fall of the Berlin Wall. That, and probably also his sudden and slightly unusual death, makes Jackson Lamb look into the matter as the elderly man gets onto the bus posing as Bough’s brother and manages to find the phone the ex-agent had left behind. The typed message left on the phone by Bough had seemed like an extremely crucial note that he wanted to give to any investigators of his death and is now revealed to be just a single word, “cicada.” While we are still left in the dark about what this single word might mean, to Jackson Lamb, this word is clear enough to understand that something big is coming their way soon. He tells his team at Slough House about the case, and they try to find out more about the bald man whom Bough had been following. Basing this search on public security camera footage, their access stops at a point when the two men board the train, and to get hold of footage inside the train and station, they must get hold of the physical hard drive stored at the local train datacenter.

Meanwhile, back at the Slough House office, Catherine is still the one treating the office space with much care, opening up windows and letting light in every morning as she arrives. Hacking expert Roddy couldn’t care less about these things, and this time there is a new agent named Shirley Dander assigned to the office. Although Shirley seems to have been given the duty of sharing responsibilities with Roddy or at least has been given a table next to Roddy, she can hardly keep up with the obnoxious behavior of the young hacker. It is in the on-field spy-thriller missions that Shirley shines bright as she is sent to fetch the hard drives from the local train data center, and Shirley does so rather marvelously. Min and Louisa are now an official couple, and they often go about working as a pair. Early in the second season, they are approached by James Webb, the Regent’s Park agent who works in close contact with his boss, Diana Taverner. He offers Min and Louisa a job in security detailing, saying that an important meeting is about to take place between himself, and a man named Arkady Pashkin, who is the representative of the Russian oligarch Ilya Nevsky. Min and Louisa are supposed to run background checks on the guards that Pashkin would bring along and the place where the meeting will take place to ensure that all is safe and sound. It is later revealed that Webb does not actually receive orders from Taverner for doing all of this but has himself fixed a meeting with Pashkin in order to somehow get a meeting staged between Ilya Nevsky and Diana Taverner. Webb explains later on to Taverner that he has a strong feeling that such a meeting would be very good for both the British intelligence agency as well as for the British government. Min and Louisa go about this detailing job and meet with two men who represent the personal security force of Arkady Pashkin, but Min is suspicious that they are not telling them the whole truth about the meeting. He follows these security agents on his bicycle and only finds out that they had blatantly lied about where they were staying, but he loses sight of them before he can find out anything more.

River Cartwright, on the other hand, is seen at an interview, applying for a job at a private intelligence agency, as he is seemingly tired with the work at Slough House, but this interview does not get him anywhere. Both Jackson Lamb and his own grandfather, David Cartwright, seem to take his interview at a private agency with a hint of mockery, and it is clear that River’s fate is still bound to the sluggish work for MI5’s least glamorous office. After the footage from the train is watched by the whole team, River points out that the bald man had touched Bough’s arm at one point, pretending to casually do so while getting off the train, and Bough was later seen rubbing the exact spot on his arm as if something had hurt him there. It becomes evident that the man had injected some lethal poison into Bough’s body through his arm, and this had killed the ex-agent on the bus while also making his death seem like a heart failure. Next, River goes in search of more information at the station where the suspect got off the train. He manages to get in touch with the driver of the taxi that had driven the suspicious man, and from this driver, River gets to know that the suspect had paid him handsomely to lie about where he had taken him. After bits of serious interrogation and more of bribing the driver, he reveals that he had driven the suspect to a private airfield and that the man had promised to pay him more money if he lied about this information to anyone who asked. River goes over to this airfield at the Upshott Flying Club, but the taxi driver leaves him there and scampers before getting into more trouble. River then informs Lamb of his whereabouts and also presents his findings to him. The suspect had apparently met someone at the Flying Club before taking a private plane to Estonia. Lamb suspects that the man might have also wanted investigators to follow this trail, which might be a fake one, but then tells River that he is being deployed on a spy mission. With a dossier full of information about the whole case and a new false ID for himself, River Cartwright is sent back to the area of Upshott, where he is supposed to find out more about the meeting at the Flying Club.

We are once again shown Min at the end of “Slow Horses” Season 2, episode 2, as the man once again picks up the trail of one of the men he and Louisa had earlier met. With no other work at hand, Min decides to follow the Russian security agent around but is soon caught in the act by the guard. He is held against a wall with a gun pushed into his neck, and the guard, Piotr, seems incredibly close to shooting him, but episode 2 cuts to the end before we are shown the exact fate of Min.

What Does The Message “Cicadas” Mean? What Is The Faction That The Slow Horses Now Face Against?

As it is gradually revealed over the two episodes, “cicadas” actually refers to sleeper agents of the KGB living in English society and gathering information before coming out and causing havoc after many long years. Such a name is also due to the insect’s particular habit of staying hidden underground for a very long period of time before coming out. Around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there had been a scare among the MI5 that these sleeper agents, referred to as “cicadas,” were a very real thing in English society and that they were led by a master controller spy of the KGB named Alexander Popov. However, after some time and probably some investigation as well, the MI5 had concluded that the figure of Alexander Popov was completely fictional, created only to cause panic, and most also believed that there was no such thing as what they called cicadas. The ex-spy who is killed at the beginning of “Slow Horses” Season 2, Episode 1, Richard Bough, also had a connection with this theory, as he had reported having been abducted by Popov and some of his strongmen, who then poured alcohol down his throat as a means of torture. But the MI5 was trying to forget the ideas of Popov and the cicadas at the time, stating that these were mere fiction tales, and therefore Bough had been discharged from service, saying that he was making up stories to cover for his own night of disreputable heavy drinking.

However, the way Bough dies and the single-word message that he leaves behind for Jackson Lamb to follow make Lamb look into the matter with concern. He approaches a man named Nikolai Katinsky, who was basically an ex-KGB agent who had sought exile in Britain and had been living in the country for many years under the supervision and help of MI5. Nikolai had been one of the few agents who had confirmed the existence of Popov and the cicadas, but the MI5 brushed off his claims too. Upon Lamb’s asking, Nikolai now reveals that all those many years earlier, he had actually overheard a conversation about cicadas, or sleeper agents, from the very man himself—Alexander Popov. At the time, Nikolai claims, Popov was talking to a man whose voice seemed familiar to him, and he believed that it was a well-built, fully bald agent by the name of Andrei Chernitsky. It becomes obvious, both to Lamb and to us, that it is Chernitsky whom Richard Bough had been following around and who had ultimately killed Bough. But if Chernitsky was someone who actually existed in reality, possibly as a cicada or a KGB sleeper agent, and if Nikolai had heard this man have a conversation with Alexander Popov, then it seems extremely possible that Alexander Popov was also someone very real. It is with all this information and suspicion that Jackson Lamb meets with the MI5 Deputy Director-General, Diana Taverner. Lamb seems to call into play the favor that Taverner owed to him and the Slough House branch for having covered her role in the earlier fiasco in season 1 and convinces her to let them investigate this matter about cicadas. It is with Taverner’s help that Lamb prepares the file and fake identity for River, as the latter is sent to Upshott to continue the investigation into cicadas.

What Should We Expect From Episode 3?

“Slow Horses” Season 2, Episode 2 ends with the fate of Min in a bit of turmoil, and while he might not be killed right away, the agent might be taken hostage by the Russians to gain leverage. There seems to be some mystery about this Russian group, including Pashkin and Nevsky, as well, as they are seen to be living and operating out of an import-export warehouse in London. On the other side, River Cartwright is going to take on his new identity and investigate matters at Upshott, which is expected to reveal more about Chernitsky and the feared cicadas who are supposed to create some havoc. The fact that the MI5, even at present through Taverner, tries to downplay the whole existence of these cicadas and their leader Alexander Popov looks fishy, and why such an attitude is kept might be revealed in the episodes to come. When River makes mention of the cicadas and the death of Richard Bough to his grandfather, the established ex-MI5 agent also seems rather suspicious in his responses, trying to deny the existence of any such sleeper agent network. Overall, there is plenty to look forward to from “Slow Horses” season 2, and the personal relations between the agents, especially the banter-ridden relation between Lamb and River, is also something to keep high hopes for.

See More: ‘Slow Horses’ Season 2, Episode 3: Recap And Ending, Explained: What Does River Find In Upshott?

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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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