‘Slow Horses’ Season 3 Episode 5 Recap And Ending Explained: Is Catherine Finally Rescued?


Last week’s episode 4 of AppleTV+’s gripping spy thriller series Slow Horses put protagonist River Cartwright in a rather sticky situation, in the lonely depths of the MI5 archive facility. While River and Louisa were busy guiding the rogue Tiger team, led by Sean Donovan, Ingrid Tearney had ordered her team to execute all of them. River, Louisa, and the rest of the Slough House team have to deal with this dangerous order now in Slow Horses episode 5, and more information about the appointment of Sean Donovan is also revealed.

Spoiler Alert

Who had informed Sean Donovan about the secret footprint file?

Slow Horses season 3, episode 5 begins right outside the archive facility, where Nick Duffy has gathered with the Dogs team as well as the private militia from Chieftain. Going through the architectural design of the building, Duffy makes the plan to follow Tearney’s orders. Every other exit from the facility is blocked off, except for one hatchet, the end of which is heavily guarded by him and the Dogs tactical unit. Meanwhile, the Chieftain team is to go inside the facility and flush out the four targets from the place, and if the latter can avoid death inside the building, they will surely be shot dead once they are outside. But before the episode covers more of this tense action, we are taken to the office of MI5’s second desk, Diana Taverner.

Unlike ever before in the previous two seasons of Slow Horses, the internal rivalry between the first and second desks of the MI5 takes a very central role in this year’s plot. It had seemed very likely that Diana Taverner was more involved with the rogue Tiger team than she was showing, while Ingrid Tearney had also been trying to put the former under the bus. Taverner had been envious of her professional superior, and she now finally admits, in episode 5, that she had been engaged in a master plan to oust Tearney and take her place as the Director General. This admittance comes after Tearney confronts her, though, and the next few minutes in Taverner’s office are tense and gripping, with rising animosity between the two women.

It was for the very first time in the history of the MI5 that two women were holding the positions of First and Second Desk, as Tearney points out, but unlike her, Taverner was not at the very top, and she wanted to reach the position very dearly. But since both of them were almost the same age and because of Tearney’s otherwise spotless professional records, there was a very possible chance that Diana Taverner would never be able to become the MI5 DG. It was for this very reason that she had now hatched a plan to oust Tearney and get herself promoted to the highest post in the intelligence service. 

At the end of Slow Horses season 2, Diana Taverner and the Home Secretary, Peter Judd, had been seen teaming up in order to help each other attain their goals. Taverner had come up with the whole plan of hiring a Tiger team to test the capabilities of the MI5, and she had given this idea to Judd, knowing well that he would go to his good friend Sly Monteith for help. Monteith ran the Chieftain private security firm, and so Taverner had to infiltrate this organization, which she did by recommending James Webb to Monteith. Just like with Judd, this recommendation worked marvelously for the woman, too, as Webb was hired by Chieftain because of his past employment with MI5. After all, private security firms like Chieftain saw MI5 as a rival, and so any employee with past ties to the state agency was valuable. As the whole base of her plan was now ready, Taverner personally recommended Webb hire Sean Donovan for the Tiger team job.

Taverner knew exactly who Donovan was and how he was still vengeful about the MI5 killing his girlfriend, Alison Dunn, in Istanbul. Once Donovan was hired by Chieftain, Taverner anonymously got in touch with the man online and guided him towards the location of the Footprint file that had gotten Alison killed. River Cartwright was also hooked up in this plan when he was required, and thus, Taverner had managed to cause harm to the MI5 without her tracks being discovered, as all this was officially Peter Judd’s plan. But the Tiger team going rogue was not the ultimate plan, as the very file that Donovan has been looking for is extremely important for Taverner’s scheme.

The matter regarding Istanbul is also finally revealed in its entirety in episode 5, as we learn that a year ago, Ingrid Tearney had given her permission to test a newly invented device that could remotely hack into encrypted computers. Although the DG now claims that her intention was to get this device used to take down enemy closed systems, the decision had a devastating effect in Turkey. A senior North Korean spy was almost killed by MI5, while multiple people, both agents and civilians, were left hospitalized because of the aftermath. But the worst effect it had was when Alison Dunn found out about this secret device and got hold of the Footprint file, which described this secret mission in detail. This file reaching the hands of enemies or activists would immediately endanger MI5 and Tearney, and so the woman got Alison killed off.

Therefore, Taverner now relies on Donovan to get hold of the Footprint file and leak it so that Tearney’s role in the secret device and the death of Alison could be revealed to the masses. This would surely end the senior woman’s career, and Taverner would be promoted to the post of Director General. At present, the clash between the Dogs and Chieftain employees on one side and the four rogue agents on the other would also have a very direct effect on the MI5 hierarchy. If River and Donovan are able to come out of the facility alive, then Taverner would win, while the authorities managing to kill them would make Tearney safe, and she would definitely fire Taverner in that case.

Is Catherine finally rescued?

Amidst all the developments at the MI5 archive facility, Catherine Standish is still a hostage at the countryside house where the Tiger team took her. It would be wrong to call her a hostage, though, as Catherine has now become more like a guest at the place. Sarah, the remaining member of the rogue team, invites Catherine down to the house from the attic, where the elderly woman had been kept for so long. Sarah asks her why exactly she had helped Donovan with the location of the file, and Catherine now reveals how she too has been mentally turning against MI5. She is of the opinion that the service, under the leadership of Ingrid Tearney, has been losing the high standards and the totally helpful nature that it once had, replacing the positives with more complicated strategies that often hurt the very agents.

Catherine is delusional with respect to the very positive space that she believes MI5 to have been in the past, for Charles Partner had been a foreign spy, and his death was also an internal execution. But this statement also reveals how the woman is still affected and upset about the death of Partner, and after a couple of adventures at Slough House, during both of which the complexities of the MI5 had been made clear, the woman does not mind taking a stand against the very service. Catherine did not hesitate to believe the Tiger team when they told her about the death of Alison, and while it could be that the woman is now ready to believe anything against the MI5, it could also be that she already knew something about the Footprint file and its contents.

By this time, Jackson Lamb had been able to track the location of the safehouse through the names of children that Catherine had intelligently shared through her photograph that Donovan had sent to River. Lamb and Roddy now go to the place, and the Slough House leader is able to enter the house as well after taking down Sarah, even though there was no need to. Catherine tries to tell Lamb about what has been happening and the personal mission that Sean Donovan is on, but the man is not interested in listening to it at the moment.

He wants to escape the place with Catherine and bring her back to safety, but as they are about to leave, a car rolls up in the driveway. Lamb immediately suspects that Tearney has sent men to eliminate Catherine, as he is well aware of the vicious decisions that the MI5 leaders are capable of taking during moments of crisis. This suspicion is correct in all probability, for Tearney’s order to kill anyone associated with Donovan in the past few days also includes Catherine as well. What ultimately happens to Catherine and Lamb will be revealed in the season finale episode next week, but the fact that Roddy is also in pursuit of the intruders will definitely come into play.

What happens to River and the others trapped inside the archive facility?

River Cartwright and Louisa Guy are initially clueless about what Sean Donovan and his companion, Ben, have been looking for inside the MI5 archive facility building. Donovan’s revelation that he was not after the Grey Books, after all, confuses River, for he had no clue about what the rogue agents wanted. As the two Slough House agents try to blame each other for the unwanted development, the nervous guard of the facility, Douglas, informs River about the gathering of soldiers outside the place. The situation gets more and more out of control for the protagonist as the Chieftain soldiers shoot down the security cameras and eventually cut down the telephone lines as well.

Right before the phone lines are taken down, River manages to call Lamb, asking for help, but the man refuses to believe that there is any danger for his agents. However, given how shrewd and plotting Jackson Lamb can be, it will not be too surprising if he is revealed to be in on this entire plan either. Although Lamb had earlier turned down Tearney’s offer to work with her, he might have gotten involved with the other side, i.e., Diana Taverner, since Lamb and Taverner had made professional agreements with each other in the previous seasons. After Lamb refuses to go help River, he tells him to call the Slough House building, with the hope that Shirley and Marcus might still be there. River follows the suggestion and is able to inform the two recently fired agents about the emergency situation. This seems to have helped him greatly, for Shirley and Marcus reach the facility and engage in a shootout with the private militia. Although the final result of this gunfight is not seen, the two agents might be able to help River and Louisa in the next episode.

Back inside the facility, Donovan and Ben refuse to give up on their search for the Footprint file, even though the Chieftain soldiers break into the facility. The search finally results in success, as Donovan finds the file and carefully carries it with him. However, tragedy strikes when Ben tries to cover for the three others and gets shot fatally. Donovan, River, and Louisa still wait for a window of escape, but then a grenade gets thrown into the room suddenly. It is with the powerful blast of the explosive that Slow Horses season 3 episode 5 ends, leaving the fates of the three characters unclear. Whether the Chieftain attack can be stopped in time by some higher order and whether Tearney’s controversial decisions will get punished remain to be seen in the finale episode next week.

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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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