‘Slow Horses’ Finale Postmortem: Director Breaks Down That Shocking Backstory Reveal

“You’ve got secrets within secrets and truth-telling that isn’t the truth,” director James Hawes tells TheWrap

Slow Horses
Gary Oldman, Rosalind Eleazar and Dustin Demri-Burns in “Slow Horses" (Apple TV+)

Apple TV+’s British spy thriller “Slow Horses” dropped its Season 1 finale on Friday and it was a nail-biter.

(Spoiler alert: This article contains plot details from the finale.)

In the finale episode of Season 1, agents from Slough House tried to outmaneuver Diana Taverner’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) “dogs,” as well as a crazed kidnapper to save the day, but not everything was tied up in a neat package by the end.

In a new interview, director James Hawes addressed the shocking secret Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) has been keeping about his involvement in the death of former colleague Charles Partner (James Faulkner) and much more.

TheWrap: Let’s talk about that bombshell revelation about Jackson Lamb. 

James Hawes: There was a huge discussion about how we toned the backstory. There’s all sorts of character baggage there; there’s all sorts of darkness and secrets. What we love about that is the promise of more things to come. You spend six hours and you think you’re getting to know these characters. And it just feels so true to the genre that you’ve then got secrets within secrets and truth-telling that isn’t the truth. 

The biggest challenge for that was really calibrating it through the season, deciding where and when we leaked out those little tidbits and from whose point of view. Was this something Standish remembered or was this something Jackson Lamb remembered? If you were to look at it now, you would see that mainly we give the flashbacks to Catherine Standish, until the finale, and then it’s handed over to Jackson and you find this very dark moment. It was more about the conceptualizing that then execution that made that the challenge.

And now we’ll see that play out in a second season, which I don’t think a lot of people knew was happening until we heard it had already been shot.

The plan always was to do 12 episodes, two blocks of six and six back-to-back. I wasn’t the director on the second six. That really would have been a stretch. Those six are in post now. There is talk of more to come, because it seems it’s being very well received. 

We see that most of the cast will be back in the Season 2 trailer at the end of the finale. What about Olivia Cooke’s character, Sid?

I can’t possibly tell you that. I’m giving you a hint that there might be some secrets in there. Anybody that’s read all the novels will know that there is a discussion to be had. I could possibly say that you are surprised again in some way about several characters.  

How hard was it to juggle the tension of the series — the question of whether the kidnappers will actually behead Hassan — and the humor?

That was the thing that scared me most at the beginning and [we knew] we had to get this right. This is not just another spy show, it’s an evolution of a very British genre. What makes it special is the way real jeopardy — I mean, the guns are loaded, people bleed —  sits right next to jokes about flatulence and bad choice of curry. That was a challenge and it literally was scene by scene, how did we navigate that? How many fart jokes are too many fart jokes? It’s about keeping the humor dark and about keeping the humor honest to character, rather than imposing it from some contrived situation. 

One of the funniest scenes in the finale was Jackson singing along to The Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),’ which isn’t in the book.

There are a lot of inventions there that were never on the page. I think that’s the combination of the writers’ room with [the novel’s author] Mick Herron being part of that team in the early part of that process. He was there very much as the oracle and also the guardian of the characters. So he was able to say, ‘Yes, I can completely believe that Roddy Ho would do that, or no, there’s just no way that River Cartwright would go that far.’ When someone says to me an adaptation isn’t true to the book or whatever, I don’t necessarily take that as a criticism. It’s a different form. On this occasion, people have said, ‘It’s so true to the book.’

Min is also hilarious, largely because he’s such a terrible spy.

Dustin [Demri-Burns] did a fantastic job of being hugely empathetic, but such a failure. He’s just so wonderfully, deliciously inept. And yet stupidly brave at times. He does go for it, like the moment when he and Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar) are stalking around the office because they know somebody’s in there, there’s a bit of guts involved in that. I’m really, really pleased that people’s response has been to be entertained and yet kept tense. That was the mission we had and we seem to have roughly achieved it.

Would you want to return as a director if there’s a third season?

Probably not. Six hours of TV back-to-back is a big ask of the stamina of any director. The joy I have is in the world-building and setting it all up. That’s such a thrill. Would I come back, yes? Gary has started talking about a Christmas special. I don’t know what that looks like, but if it’s there, I’m in. I loved the gang. It was a fabulous world that I enjoyed being in. But part of the fun is moving on rather than going back. 

Are you getting a producer credit on the second half?

No, I’m not and clearly that’s wrong. (Laughs) No, I’ve just done the first six and I think that speaks to the way [production company] See-Saw likes to work with their directors. They give them almost feature film status within the project to come in and be the key creative during the production period, so I guess they don’t really need last season’s director in any form. And that’s fine. 

But you’ve set the world in motion.

Yes, I’m very pleased. And that’s what Gary would say, “We’ve built the kitchen, now everyone can come in and play with the ingredients and cook it slightly different.”

The full season of “Slow Horses” is streaming now on Apple TV+.