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AppleTV+ slow horses was quite the Gary Oldmastravaganza, the veteran actor-turned-unlovable slobbo who fueled the series’ critical acclaim. And so he returns with a fresh set of episodes, playing the Michael Scott of Slough House, an office full of MI5 rejects: “A bunch of damn losers, but they’re MY damn losers,” he says in a synopsis of the first season . Will they keep losing almost endearingly in season two? Allegedly.

opening shot: Rain is pouring down in front of a porn shop; The rack focus shot slowly focuses on a white haired man working at the counter.

The essentials: Our porn shop man hangs a blistered dildo on a pegboard and suddenly notices a man outside: bald, hat, talking on a cell phone. He walks away and Porn Gent follows him. Through an alley, crowded streets and a train station, then onto a bus. We flash back to Younger Porn Gent, who is kidnapped and tortured by the bald man who violently pours alcohol down the poor guy’s throat. Porn Gent finds a seat several rows behind him – and looks increasingly desperate. pain it seems. With trembling hands he pulls out his mobile phone, types something, stuffs it next to his seat and tilts his head back. Porn Gent is dying. Poor porn genus.

In a basement archive, a woman pulls out a file with a profile of Porn Gent. RETIRED FIELD AGENT, it says. She puts a new stamp on him: DECEASED. Cut to the bus station, to Jackson Lamb (Oldman), a sad old F- pretending to be a different kind of sad old F-. Posing as the offended brother of Porn Gent, he persuades the bus driver to leave him at his deceased sibling’s final resting place. He takes a moment. Pretends to “feel” his brother’s “presence.” When the driver’s back is turned, Lamb pokes around, finds the phone, turns it on, finds the Notes app open, reads the word “Cicada” and replies “F—”. I think that means something. cicada, not f—. We already know what f— means.

Now we’re catching up on some characters left over from last season: River (Jack Lowden) is interviewing for a job at a private intelligence agency, but all his interviewers want are funny stories about Lamb. Cuddle couple Min (Dustin Demri-Burns) and Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) consider taking on a security role with a Russian oligarch, and you know that anything involving a Russian oligarch is bad news. Tech hacker Roddy (Christopher Chung) grumbles about having to share an office with new agent Shirley (Aimee-Ffion Edwards). The character of Olivia Cooke is still considered kaputskies.

Lamb sets an agenda to find out what the heck happened to Porn Gent, which may have a name but isn’t as funny as Porn Gent. River consults with his retired grandfather (Jonathan Pryce), who seems to know more than he’s willing to share. Min and Louisa prepare for surveillance. Shirley proves her meddling by stealing hard drives from a security company’s server room. River figures out what “cicada” means and sits down to share the information with Lamb while gulping down noodle soup at a restaurant like a monkey. The intrigue builds with every disgusting slurp.

Gary Oldman in Season 2 of Slow Horses.
Photo: AppleTV+

What shows will it remind you of? slow horses boasts the site’s most ridiculous collection of misfits archer.

Our opinion: Season 2’s Cold Open astutely nails it – it’s a crisply executed, suspenseful sequence designed to pique our curiosity. From there, within that framework, the episode builds its villain’s character gallery, sort of considering no one else seems to want to show up at the office. I think that’s what happens when you work for an aggressive guy like Lamb who looks like he smells like BO, bad breath, bad whiskey and whatever he ate yesterday and spilled on his shirt. Really charming guy here. But Oldman makes him the guy you like to hate — to get a whiff of it (rimshot).

Without Oldman disgustingly chewing baby seeds and joking with his tired and cynical subordinates, slow horses would probably work on a charisma deficit. The most compelling development isn’t the Pryce character biting his tongue or whatever Min and Louisa are doing, things that seem like a mere plot development. No, it’s Shirley, who proves to be smarter than a couple of Minimum Wage security guards (a rock-solid performance in the context of Slough House) and plays like a solid addition to the team who could be just a low-level sociopath. Where the plot takes us is fine; What she does to enliven it (and likely replace Cooke) may be what enlivens it.

gender and skin: none.

farewell shot: Zoom out Lamb parked in its place in Chinese restaurant.

sleeping star: Edwards is incredibly deadpan as Shirley, a sleazy but not as sleazy spy like Lamb who actually seems relatively competent at her job.

Most pilot line: River asks Shirley what she did to end up at the Slough House: “It was the second punch that made it happen. He said I hit like a girl. After that he never got up again.”

Our appeal: Of course, you’ll want to see Gary Oldman play his wits out and make it look like second nature — he’s wearing slow horses through its more boilerplate scenes. Stream it and hope Lamb never gets better.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more about his work below

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