Friday, April 1, 2022

REVIEW: 'Slow Horses' - One Mistake Leads Cartwright to a Job Posting With No Actual Work Being Done in 'Failure's Contagious'

AppleTV+'s Slow Horses - Episode 1.01 "Failure's Contagious"

River Cartwright is ousted from MI5 and finds himself in a place worse than purgatory: Slough House, dumping ground for failed spies.

"Failure's Contagious" was written by Will Smith and directed by James Hawes

River Cartwright is certain he is important. He must be tasked with the greatest missions that come across MI5's desks. He is so annoyingly entitled. He's not even the most impressive or capable agent at Slough House. He is sentenced to work at this office for agents who've made massive mistakes. He doesn't believe he belongs there. It's been months since his screw up. He was lucky to even receive this posting. His grandfather had to plead on his behalf. He deserves a career in the intelligence community. He isn't smart or aware enough to come across as a good agent. That's the point. Slough House isn't suppose to be an enviable posting. It's Jackson Lamb's job to make the agents working under him miserable enough so they'll want to quit. They have no true responsibilities. They aren't being tasked with anything important. They simply have menial jobs. They are still technically part of MI5. They have no respect. To Cartwright, it's humiliating when he returns to his former office solely to deliver a package. He must be escorted around the building. Meanwhile, the people truly to blame for the training mission that went awry still have offices in the building. He can mock them for essentially being demoted to HR. They still have respect. Cartwright has nothing but his own ego. He is deluded to the point where he truly believes people single him out for a reason. He must have been asked for by name to deliver the package to the main office. In truth, he is simply the available agent. Sid received the acknowledge Cartwright believes he deserves. It doesn't match up with his reality. He doesn't want to become friends with any of his new colleagues. He ignores them until he needs something from them. Sid is much more observant than he is. She can be trusted with some actual work. And yet, that's not what the purpose of this job is suppose to be. She has to be punished for something as well. She did something to land here just like everyone else. Lamb has essentially given up on his life having meaning. Instead, he is simply meant to make this job miserable for those still clinging onto the hope of having a career in intelligence. They refuse to leave. They aren't cut out for this life. The cruelty is the point. That's how Lamb conducts himself at the office. It's also the main plot that seeks to unravel a much bigger conspiracy. One that Slough House is monitoring and actually believe they can make a difference over. Lamb doesn't feel that hope. Cartwright certainly believes he must be drawn into the mission. That's rational in his mind.

This is a rough premiere because it requires the audience to tolerate Cartwright's behavior despite being in the wrong. He targeted the wrong man during the training session. He was doing so before his supervisor required him to confirm visual. He was given bad intel. However, he also chose to ignore contradictory details. He was told the target was incoming. Meanwhile, he singled out a person who was already in the station with him. And so, he goes on this elaborate chase. It still leads to a mass casualty event. He can't be trusted with any true responsibilities. He was in the field and proved himself incapable of conducting himself to the standards of the agency. That's why he is punished more severely than others who also made mistakes. He can't seem to reckon with that. He believes he should be in the field just like any other agent. He doesn't understand why this punishment continues. He has given his time to Slough House. His attitude hasn't changed though. The situation can't be reassessed now that he has learned better. That lesson has yet to be taught. It's up to him to undergo that self-reflection though. Lamb isn't looking to inspire him. He no longer resembles the capable agent he apparently once was. Cartwright can't believe the stories told about Lamb because they don't match up with the reality he lives every day. He struggles in questioning the information told to him and knowing when to trust it. And so, he believes he must find a way to prove himself. It's not simply by keeping his head down and doing the work. That's meaningless in this environment. It's good enough just to be forgotten and overlooked. That's the biggest aspiration anyone can hope to achieve in this place. That doesn't exactly inspire greatness. And then, the story shifts to a kidnapping plot. It's strange and alienating. It's meant to play into the expectations that the white comic is the man under the hood. Instead, it's his Pakistani friend who was taken simply because he looks like the Muslim stereotype amongst the far-right community. It's not subtle. The world is pretty blatant with these prejudices and hatreds. It's not suppose to reveal something true within our society. It's simply a plot that creeps up that should be dealt with by those with actual power and trust. It's not a job left for Slough House. Cartwright believes it is based on the connections to the case he already is working. He makes those connections even if they aren't there. That's an entitled sense of purpose built on ego. It's consistent even if it's pretty annoying as well.