Squawk Box: Reacher Season 2/Slow Horses

I enjoyed Season 1 of Reacher enough that I knew I was going to at least check out Season 2 to see where they went with this show and I'm glad I did because Season 2 kicks things up a notch in all the best ways. The second season is an adaptation of the novel Bad Luck and Trouble and opens with a man being thrown out of a helicopter to his death- but not before laughing at the bad guys in a last show of defiance and telling them he wishes he could be around when 'the big guy' hears about this.

Cut to Reacher (Alan Ritchson) who is drifting through Arkansas and making a pit stop to collect his pension check when he stumbles upon a carjacking while you, the viewer, may wonder just how common carjackings are in what seems like a fairly bucolic town in The Gem State, you also don't care, because Reacher does a Reacher thing and is very entertaining about it. A military distress code embedded on his ATM receipt, however, sends him back to New York City.

There he contacts Neagley (Maria Stein) who informs him that the man dropped from the helicopter was Calvin Franz (Luke Bilyk), another former member of their Unit. Together, they recruit a third member, David O'Donnell (Shaun Sipos), and start digging into what happened to Calvin. They soon realize that someone is targeting all the living members of their old unit and the three of them join up to track down those responsible for the death of their friend.

Yes, that's right: Reacher is getting the band back together.

I love this move for the show because it fills out the backstory of what Reacher was like in the Army and shows us that despite his eccentricities, he can actually work in a team. He is capable of winning friends and influencing people- even if they all kind of give him shit for going out on his drifter lifestyle and being impossible to contact, they forgive him for that because he's 'the big guy.'

They soon figure out that a company called New Age Technologies seems to be behind this and their Chief of Security, Shane Langston (an excellent Robert Patrick) is working with an unnamed terrorist who goes by the initials A.M (Ferdinand Kingsley). It turns out that there's a project called Little Wing that New Age is about to sell to A.M and when installed in missiles, it renders all electronic countermeasures useless- meaning that they always hit their targets.  

So now, Reacher and Company not only are out for revenge, but they've got a genuine terrorist/national security problem to stop. And stop it they do, in their usual Reacher fashion. At the end of the season though, there's a mild twist: they're left with 65 million dollars that was earmarked for the terrorist they've eliminated, so they divide it amongst themselves and the families of their fallen comrades and go their separate ways.

Overall: I think you know what you're getting with Reacher at this point. I do like that they had him 'put the band back together' and reassemble his old unit to get some good old-fashioned revenge. It sort of smoothed out some of his eccentricities which they leaned into pretty heavily in the First Season. (As a character, he is pretty weird when you think about it. He just... wanders around the place.) I liked that. I appreciate that they wanted to have some semblance of continuity with Season 1- so we take a side trip to Boston that doesn't feel too forced, but while we're there: coincidence of coincidences, we meet up with Detective Finlay (Malcolm Goodwin) who returned to Boston after the events in Margrave in Season 1. Missing from this season, however, is any mention of Roscoe (Willa Fitzgerald) from Season 1, which means I think they have to find a better way for Reacher to explore romance. Maybe it's consistent with the character in the books that he just sort of hooks up with various women and leaves it at that, which is fine, but it doesn't translate well to screen. If you're going to insist on the connective tissue between seasons and bring back Finlay for a moment, you can't just brush by Roscoe and just have Reacher move on to the next lady.

It was good, though. I enjoy this show and I'm getting convinced enough that I might pick up the books one of these days to see what they're like. My Grade: *** out of ****

Slow Horses is on Apple TV and I had no idea what I was getting into when I started it. I'm always a sucker for a good spy show, but this one (based on the Slough House series of novels by Mick Herron) instantly got my attention because it starred Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas amongst other people. 

Slough House is administrative purgatory for MI5 agents who screw things up but not badly enough to get fired. Those consigned there are known as 'slow horses' and their boss, Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) assigns them dule, paper-pushing tasks along with mental abuse, his bouts of drunkenness, and his flatulence being spread around the place freely. I went into this show, thinking: "All right, I'll check out a season of this" and ended up watching all three seasons more or less immediately.  

Much like Reacher, each season is based on one of the novels in the series. The first covers Slow Horses, where we're introduced to River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) who gets assigned to Slough House after a disastrous mistake in a training exercise. His grandfather (Jonathan Pryce) who is retired from MI-5 advises him to take his lumps and do his time and he does, meeting the other members of the team. Catherine Standish (Saskia Reeves), Sid (Olivia Cooke), Roddy Ho, the computer expert (Christopher Chung), Louisa (Rosalind Eleazar), Struan (Paul Higgins) and Min (Dustin Demri-Burns).

(In subsequent seasons- which cover Dead Lions (Season 2) and Real Tigers (Season 3), they're joined by Shirley (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) and Marcus (Kadiff Kirwan).)

The basic hook of the show is that somehow, the Slow Horses seem to find themselves where they're not supposed to be: namely in the middle of actual MI-5 operations. In the first season, they race against time to rescue a kidnapped British Muslim student from being beheaded by far-right extremists. In the second season, they race to stop a plot by a Russian sleeper agent who murdered another retired agent and friend of Jackson's and in the third season, they race to rescue Standish from rogue agents who kidnapped her to try and get the truth of an operation revealed. 

Opposing them or at least actively hindering them and being very, very annoyed by them is the rest of MI-5. Kristin Scott Thomas is Diana Tavener, the head of operations and 'Second Desk' with an eye on the 'First Desk' currently occupied by Ingrid Tearney (Sophie Okwendo). She and Jackson have an adversarial relationship but wheel and deal as necessary to get what they both want at various points throughout the series. Everyone has secrets in this show- whether it's their pasts or what landed them in Slough House in the first place.

Am I being coy about this show? Somewhat-- because I don't want to spoil anything. But be real: has Gary Oldman been bad in anything he's ever in? Has Kristin Scott Thomas? Those two names alone make this show worth checking out at least, but the rest of it sucks you in and makes this the most binge-able show I've seen in a long time. 

Overall, get thee to Apple TV and watch this. (And yes, I'm going to have to read the books as well.) My Grade: **** out of ****

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