‘Slow Horses’ Season 3 Episode 1 Recap & Ending Explained: Who Is Sean Donovan?


AppleTV+’s hugely successful spy thriller series Slow Horses is back with a bang, as the show’s third season has finally arrived. The interesting premise with veteran spy Jackson Lamb, played by the fantastic Gary Oldman, and his crew of MI5 rejects continues as newer challenges and problems come their way. Based on Mick Herron’s novel “Real Tigers,” the new season introduces fresh crises, which our rather sloppy heroes rush to avert with a more personal urgency. In the pilot episode 1 of the 3rd season, the base of the situation is introduced, along with reappearances of some of the beloved characters seen earlier.

Spoiler Alert

Who is Sean Donovan?

Season 3, episode 1 of Slow Horses begins in the picturesque city of Istanbul, miles away from the usual London, or some British countryside village, where the show has been placed so far. A couple spends some loving moments together in their apartment, planning ahead for a small vacation in the coming weekend, possibly to some other parts of Turkey. It seems like there can be nothing wrong between the two until the situation completely changes very soon, and the love seems to be only a ruse. As soon as the woman leaves for the kitchen to cook up some breakfast, the man jumps out of bed and frantically searches for something on her work desk. It is evident from his still-naked body that he is in a terrible hurry.

This man is later introduced as Sean Donovan, someone who is going to be integral throughout the length of Slow Horses season 3. The woman with him, his apparent lover, is Alison Dunn, who is soon revealed to be an MI5 agent. At present, Sean gets caught by Alison while going through her things, and the woman immediately understands that her supposed boyfriend has been sent after her for a specific purpose. When confronted, Sean does not beat around the bush at all, as he explains that the British intelligence service had given him the task of retrieving a file that Alison had in her possession. It was believed by the agency that Alison was about to leak this file to some external source, and they were desperate to prevent this, therefore sending Sean on this mission.

Although Sean keeps claiming that he was almost forced to take the mission and that he has genuinely developed feelings for Alison over this time, she refuses to believe him anymore. Once Alison forces Sean out of her apartment, she quickly pulls out a hidden burner phone to call someone and confirm that she wants to hand over the confidential file. This file, codenamed Footprint, had indeed been in Alison’s apartment for all this while, and she deems it too risky to hold on to it any longer. Having confirmed the meeting, the woman quickly gets ready and leaves the apartment, driving towards the vacant lot of a stadium in the city, where she is supposed to meet her contact.

Sean has obviously been hanging around, as his important professional mission is at stake, along with his personal relationship with the spy he had genuinely fallen for. As he claimed, the MI5 did not know about their real love affair, and he tried to stop Alison a number of times, intending to tell her that there was some other plan in the works. However, the woman has had enough of Sean, and she cleverly evades him to deliver the file to her contact. By the time Sean reaches the scene, he sees a man driving Alison’s car out of the stadium, and this is indeed the contact the woman had just met. Sean is immediately alerted by this situation, and he desperately goes searching for his lover, only to find Alison lying dead on the ground. The contact had pushed the woman to her death after taking away the confidential Footprint file, as had been his plan for all this while. Despite this rather lengthy introduction to Sean Donovan, we do not know anything further about the man or what his past is, despite his appearance later on in the episode.

What happens to Catherine Standish?

As we are finally brought back to London, to the very center of the main action—the Slough House building—two of the very beloved characters, River Cartwright and Catherine Standish, are seen arguing over the general tidiness of their workspace. Since Slough House is essentially just an administrative office for the MI5 with no actual investigation work directed there, the inhabitants of the place are all MI5 rejects who had been demoted at some time in their careers. As the previous two seasons of Slow Horses had shown, though, this very neglected branch of the service sometimes becomes the very unusual center of attention for major cases. The present time seems to have no such case coming the way of Slough House, however, and so the two characters are seen bickering over small matters.

At the end of this particular workday, Catherine leaves the Slough House and walks towards a destination she regularly visits without failure—her AA meetings. Catherine had once been terribly addicted to alcohol after the death of her beloved husband and a secret mole in MI5, Charles Partner. The woman had to deal with great distress due to her addiction, and it was also as a result of this that she had made her permanent place in the Slough House office. But Catherine had importantly decided to change her ways, and so she has been trying to stay sober for quite a long time. The woman, therefore, regularly attends an alcohol addiction support group, meetings of which take place at a local community center.

On this particular day, a new member of the support group introduced himself during the meeting. Despite the man having seemingly attended a few meetings in recent times, it is now that he speaks up about his problems with alcohol. After the end of the meeting, though, the man approaches Catherine and suggests she be his sponsor in a friendly manner. This man, who is the very same Sean Donovan seen earlier, tells Catherine how he feels she is the most trustworthy individual and accompanies her to a local restaurant. Here, he tells her about his distressing times in Istanbul, where he had lost someone very close to him and had gotten addicted to alcohol due to this. It is clear that Sean has some specific reason for having joined the same AA group as Catherine, and now this becomes apparent to her as well.

Catherine spots a young man entering the restaurant, and Sean looks at him with some intent. At the same time, Sean also reveals that he wants some information from the woman about Jackson Lamb. Catherine tries to escape the place, but she is ultimately caught by Sean and his group, who kidnap the woman. Towards the end of the episode, the elderly woman’s plight is shown some more, as she is kept hostage at a house in the countryside, with her hands and her mouth tied. Sean and the others bring her out and hold a gun to her head to photograph the act as an intimidating ransom message, soon to be sent to Slough House.

What are the other characters up to?

Slow Horses season 3, episode 1 also spends some time bringing back the old characters and presenting what they were up to before and after Catherine’s disappearance. Jackson Lamb’s first appearance of the season comes while at a doctor’s office for an appointment. The man has seemingly developed some terminal illness, because of which the doctor has told him to cut down on his cigarette and alcohol consumption. However, as can be expected from him, Lamb is not concerned about any of these suggestions, and he acts almost as if he is doing the doctor a favor by keeping up with timely appointments. The man’s health problems are quickly moved aside, though, when he realizes that Catherine has been missing for almost an entire day. Lamb is still devoted to protecting Catherine, which is perhaps because he was the one who killed her husband. Therefore, the head of Slough House immediately appoints everyone to try and find the missing agent.

Shirley and Marcus have become good friends, as the latter shares about his troubles with his colleague. Like previously, though, the brash tech specialist of the group, Roddy, still creates menace for his co-workers, as he presently blackmails Marcus over the fact that he is still gambling, as opposed to the promises made to his wife. Shirley is less patient with Roddy, though, as she does not shy away from punching the cocky colleague, settling the matter at hand. The next morning, when news of Catherine’s disappearance is shared, Shirley and Marcus reach the woman’s apartment to confirm that she has not returned there. Roddy is given the task of going through the medical records to find out whether Catherine has fallen sick or had an accident.

Louisa is still most disturbed by the incidents of season 2, as she still grieves the loss of Min. The woman is truly changed, and despite men approaching her very frequently, she is seemingly not open to love anymore. At the end of season 2, the Russian crook Arkady Pashkin had tried to escape with his stolen diamonds but had been ultimately killed by Marcus. Although the MI5 authorities had secured the diamonds after this, one piece of the extremely expensive rocks was still missing, and the agency was still desperately searching for it. Incidentally, it was Louisa who had stolen this diamond, and she still kept it hidden in a regular-looking ice cream tub in her fridge. Undoubtedly, she intends to use it at some point. For now, Louisa goes to the restaurant where Catherine had been last seen, and she spots the security cameras to have been disabled, making it clear that someone had very carefully kidnapped the woman.

On the other side of MI5, the deputy director-general of the agency, or the Second Desk, Diana Taverner, is still frustrated by her superior, the DG herself, Ingrid Tearney. The DG is seen working closely with Nick Duffy, the leader of the Dogs tactical unit. Taverner seems to be up to some more political conspiracy, as she has privately ordered some classified files to be brought down to a new shelter. While the workers believe that Tearney herself asked for this action, it seems like this has completely been the decision of Taverner.

Finally, River Cartwright still remains dedicated to any work he can find at the Slough House, and the fact that there is almost no interesting mission frustrates him. But in his very typical fashion, River misjudges the situation when Sean Donovan accidentally bumps into him on the road and only later realizes that the man was actually tailing Catherine at the time. At the end of episode 1, it is River who receives a message on his phone, in which Catherine is seen held hostage at gunpoint, with a message ordering him to reach a particular address within a short time. Without giving it any more thought, River rushes out of the office to help Catherine in any way he can.

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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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