‘Slow Horses’ Season 3 Episode 3 Recap & Ending Explained: What Are The Grey Books That Sean Wants?

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After setting out the base for its 3rd season in the first two episodes, Slow Horses tightens its grip and creates even more entertainment with the new 3rd episode this week. In a sense, the show now reveals how most things that happened earlier this season were all a ruse, and yet it manages to create tension by the end, as the events cannot be completely discarded either. New details about the political plan behind Catherine’s kidnapping and also about the apparent enemy this season, Sean Donovan, are also presented in this exciting new episode.

Spoiler Alert


What was the political plan behind Catherine’s kidnapping?

The central event in Slow Horses season 3 has been the kidnapping of Slough House agent Catherine Standish, and episode 3 now reveals that there were greater political plans behind this throughout the entire time. Ingrid Tearney, the Director-General of MI5, meets with Peter Judd, who is still the Home Secretary, eyeing the position of the Prime Minister, and through this meeting, the details of the kidnapping are revealed. Catherine’s abduction had been carried out by a Tiger Team, which basically means a group of ex-MI5 operatives who were now working for the private security firm Chieftain. While this was mostly confirmed in the previous episode, it is now revealed that the plan was not really against Catherine but was posed to be against the very MI5 agency itself.

Peter Judd wanted to prove to the country that the MI5 was not secure and adept enough to continue serving as the nation’s defender with regards to intelligence. His intention was to let private security firms have a say in such matters and, in a sense, help such private companies infiltrate into MI5. Judd happens to be very close friends with the CEO of Chieftain, Sly Monteith, and therefore, the politician made a plan with this very company. After all, letting members of the Chieftain group have a say on internal matters of the MI5 would serve two purposes for Judd. Not only would he be helping his friend and therefore making relations with the powerful man better, but in this way, the politician could also himself have an influence over the internal operations of the agency.

In order to achieve their plan, Judd and Monteith appointed a Tiger Team, consisting of Sean Donovan and a few of his men and women, to basically test the strength and security of the MI5. The kidnapping of Catherine Standish was only a ruse, for Judd knew that abducting the woman would make the Slough House members terribly desperate to do anything to save her. River Cartwright was specifically targeted because of his nature of jumping in to protect a friend, or to be a hero, against all the odds. In fact, it is revealed later on in the episode that the ex-MI5 agent, James Webb, is also now working for Chieftain. It was Webb who made up the finer details of the plan and got River involved in the whole matter. After some convincing acting performance atop the bridge in the last episode, Webb and his associate, who was posing to be a sniper only with a harmless laser pointer, had sent River towards the Regent Park headquarters to retrieve the PM’s vetting file.

However, the point was not the retrieval of this file but to ensure that River actually infiltrated into the heavily guarded Regent Park office and acted as a live demonstration of a security breach in MI5. Following this lapse of security, the MI5 head, Ingrid Tearney, cannot help but hand in her resignation at Peter Judd’s office, and the politician makes use of this very chance to get Tearney onto his side as well. Very soon, it is decided that the Chieftain Security Group would be consulted by the MI5 on matters of internal intelligence. Judd had basically appointed a team to test the security measures of the intelligence agency, and both Catherine and River had been used as pawns in this whole setup. James Webb had also had a feeling of deep animosity against River and the entire Slough House team because they had earlier highlighted his shortcomings and, in a sense, ensured his exit from the MI5.

It is also revealed in the episode that Webb was actually given a choice by the MI5 after his decisions and plans had resulted in terrible consequences for the nation’s safety in the previous season. His options were to either willingly resign from his job at MI5 or be demoted to Slough House, where he would have to team up with the people he disliked the most. Webb chose to quit the service voluntarily, for he considered such a fate better than being a Slough House agent. However, it must also be remembered that Webb is extremely boastful and often ingenuine about his claims, and so there is no way to know whether his claims about all this are true. There would be no way to know so in future episodes either, since a terrible fate awaits the brash Webb very soon in episode 3.


What are the Grey Books that Sean Donovan wants?

The entire plan of hiring Sean Donovan and getting River Cartwright involved had been facilitated by James Webb, who was always very confident about his ways and could never imagine his plans going wrong. However, the man had made a huge blunder in not realizing that the leader of the Tiger Team he was hiring—Sean Donovan—had his own personal motives behind this plan. The first episode of Slow Horses season 3 showed a personal loss for Sean that he had to experience because of his profession. Although it has not been spelled out yet, Sean must be seeking revenge because of this loss, and his intention through accepting a role in this political plan is to ensure his own demands. Even though the kidnapping mission is technically over, since the MI5 headquarters have been infiltrated by River, Sean Donovan and his team do not let Catherine go. Instead, they also kidnap the Chieftain member who was working with them on this entire plan.

In reality, Sean had only accepted Webb and the Chieftain group’s job to kidnap Catherine Standish and essentially mess around with MI5 agents, only to get closer to his own mission. Now, with two hostages from both sides, the man wants to keep both the Slough House and the Chieftain group under pressure for the time being. The real motive of Sean Donovan is found out by Marcus and Shirley, who go over to search Donovan’s apartment without yet knowing that Catherine’s kidnapping was a ruse. However, as they have already broken into the flat, the two agents take a look around the place and find extensive plans about the kidnapping as well as a second part of the mission. It is clearly this second part that Sean and his team now begin, as he intends to get his hands on the Grey Books kept by the MI5.

The Grey Books refers to the compendium kept by the MI5 about conspiracy theories, debunking them as well as storing classified information about cases in which such theories are involved. The reason behind Sean’s search for this compendium has not been revealed yet, but it seems most likely that the death of his beloved girlfriend and colleague Alison Dunn had been swept under the rug by the agency, and the Grey Books could reveal the hidden truth about it. It is surely because of this that Sean now demands the compendium and keeps two hostages in order to confirm a meeting with James Webb. It is also mentioned in the episode that the Grey Books are actually part of the records and files that Diana Taverner had been removing from the Regent Park archive and storing in her own department. This means that even if Webb would ever want to help the rogue Tiger Team leader, it would be almost impossible for him as the records were taken away from the headquarters. Although Webb and his CEO, Sly Monteith, manage to secure a deal to have Chieftain work with MI5, Diana Taverner’s personal archives are surely beyond the reach of this private security firm. In this regard, it would still be pertinent to mention that Taverner might be more involved in the matter, the revelation of which might come in the following three episodes.

When James Webb finally goes to meet Sean Donovan at their secret spot, the man tries to once again exert control over the situation and terribly falters at doing so. He initially tries to convince Sean to give up the two hostages and end the entire matter, but when the latter does not pay much heed, Webb outright threatens the man. He mentions having read Sean’s file and knowing about the dirty affair he had with his professional colleague, and this is enough to enrage Donovan beyond his wits. Sean is clearly doing all of this for the love of Alison, and no amount of money or blackmail can deter his ways, it seems. Sean strikes Webb with a single blow, which is sufficiently powerful to kill the man. This will definitely lead to more difficult situations for Sean, though, as he had not intended to kill anyone, yet he has now unintentionally murdered an ex-MI5 agent.

During this time, Jackson Lamb had helped River be set free from captivity at Regent Park, and he then also met with Sly Monteith to inform him about how his Tiger Team had gone rogue. This meeting had made Monteith quickly order Webb to somehow get the hostages released, but it had instead resulted in the latter’s death. At the end of episode 3, Lamb makes his way into the meeting between Monteith and Peter Judd, revealing to both of them that their plan of checking out the safety measures of MI5 had gone terribly wrong, for the ex-agent they had hired had now gone completely rogue. Along with the other gradually revealing elements in the show, the most exciting matter for now in Slow Horses seems to be how the death of Alison Dunn ties in with the Grey Books files, which deal with conspiracy theories.


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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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