Pour one out for Min Harper, who died as he lived — making terrible errors in judgment. Of the misfits at Slough House, he was always the one who seemed like he genuinely belonged there, having earned his place not through internal MI5 politics or some personality quirk, but through leaving classified information on public transit. In the field last season, he was so distractibly smitten with Louisa that he neglected to make sure their car was fueled up when they were en route to nab the bad guy. And now, after his Russian counterparts spotted him huffing on his bicycle to get more information about them, he winds up flattened on road, ostensibly because he drank-and-biked. He should have been suspicious of the entire situation, given that his drinking buddies just had a gun to his head earlier in the evening. But, he’s Min — or was Min.
In this terrific, fast-moving hour, there’s enough of a pause to comment on how agents absorb the loss of one of their own. The surprise is that Lamb, our almost performatively coarse hero, displays some flicker of humanity, as does Taverner at Park, who seems even colder, but has surely seen many agents killed. Lamb is taken aback a little by Louisa’s request to stay on the security detail for Webb, despite losing Min, and he’s outright revolted by Roddy shrugging off Min’s death with a scathing (if accurate) assessment of him. “A shame,” says Roddy. “He was okay for an average guy.” “Fucking hell,” replies Lamb. “I hope you don’t get to write my obit.” Taverner, who isn’t the sentimental type to say the least, scolds Webb for calling the death a “win for the service.” She lives to knife Slough House in the back, but seems at least to realize that an agent is an agent.
Perhaps true grief will come later, to be suppressed by the bottle as Lamb suggests. Or perhaps Louisa is in the denial phase, when she can still be useful in her job. But she does feel committed to following through on her commitment to the security gig, despite the curious fact that she doesn’t seem to question that Min was killed by accident.
Acting on an ominous call informing him that one of his agents is dead, Lamb swiftly works to get to the bottom of it, starting with learning the identity of the seemingly normal woman who reportedly drove the car that clipped Min and who looks legitimately broken up about it. Through a secret meeting at a laundromat — he’s annoyed that the washer costs four quid, and probably more annoyed he has to wash his clothes — Lamb gets a file on her that suggests that she knows Russian and has spent some time in Vladivostok, which is making the accident look a lot less accidental. Confronting the woman at her apartment, Lamb calmly retrieves a cash-stuffed envelope from her handbag and appeals for her help, saying “They’re gonna know I was here. They’re going to assume you talked, so you might as well.” In the end, Lamb learns that she was not, in fact, the person who drove the car that hit Min. She merely played that role convincingly.
For Louisa and Webb/Taverner to move forward with the Nevsky meeting at all seems like madness, given the mistrust that should only be building between the two parties, but perhaps they have their own contingencies in mind. (I haven’t read the book and never watch ahead of my recaps, so I’m legitimately in the dark on this.) Louisa and her new partner, Marcus, meet up with their goonish Russian counterparts for a tour of the Glasshouse space itself, ending with a friendly chat with the mysterious Pushkin, who considers himself a “roving operations manager” for Nevsky, but has a preternatural calm that seems suspicious rather than reassuring. When Marcus pauses the tour to “take a call,” you think that maybe he’s up to some spycraft, but he tells Louisa later that he’s got a gambling problem and was on the horn with his bookie. (Meet your new partner, Louisa. Same as the old partner.)
Two other story strands converge beautifully, as River heads off to Upshott to poke around for cicadas while Roddy and Shirley try to figure out the hows, whens, and ifs of Chernitsky fleeing to Estonia after killing Bough. River’s cover as a journalist in Upshott sent to do a story on small-town life is hilariously transparent even before he books a room under the name “Johnnie Walker.” When the pretty bartender takes an interest in him — and seems to consult, ominously, with her father later on — River wisely suspects that he’s been found out, but he continues to play the part, which includes a harrowing trip in the bartender’s single-engine plane and a cookout at her family’s home. Meanwhile, Shirley scans airport CCTV footage and discovers that Chernitsky didn’t actually go to Estonia, but his phone did, courtesy of a traveling folk band. The moment she and Roddy make that revelation, Chernitsky appears to River in Upshott, glad-handing him as “Leo,” a friend of the bartender’s dad.
Once again, Slow Horses ends on a life-or-death cliffhanger. River will presumably have better luck than Min in this situation, but he has very little power, other than perhaps a mutual desire to keep this charade going. Who knows what about whom here? If he’s so deep undercover that he has a wife and daughter who know nothing about him, how willing is the bartender’s father going to be to act out in front of them? River seems to know he was making himself the bait in Upshott — and Lamb flatly admits it — so surely there’s a plan for what happens when he’s in real danger, right? Right?! “Tune in next week” moments don’t get much more delicious than that one.
• River’s expanded pitch for his story on Upshott doesn’t even make much sense. He talks about exploring the crosscurrents between locals and vacationing Londoners who want a short trip out of the city. But the bartender tells him upfront that there’s nothing for sightseers to see, other than the inside of the pub.
• The stages of grief, according to Lamb: “denial, anger, drinking, more drinking… something else…. I know acceptance comes in.”
• One other small development involving MI5 doing security for a conservative Home Secretary in the middle of an anti-capitalist march surely isn’t unrelated to our main story here, especially since Glasshouse is also involved in his plans.
• Clever maneuver on River’s part to stack his wallet, phone and keys in a such a way that he’d know if anyone rifled through his locker.
• Roddy, leaning into the being a creep when Shirley notices him checking out Louisa: “I reckon I’m in with a chance now that Harper’s in a freezer drawer.”