In just three minutes, Oldman makes a lasting impression—and arguably the best cameo of the year (sorry to the guest pop-ins in The Flash). It underscores the even crankier role he’s been playing in Apple TV+’s Slow Horses, currently in the middle of its third season. The sharp and addictive spy thriller, based on Mick Herron’s book series, features a group of disgraced MI5 agents who have been kicked out of Regent’s Park and shipped to Slough House, where they work menial tasks to prove they’re not complete failures. Inevitably, each season, they put their mostly useless heads together to pull off various intelligence operations and keep England’s democracy afloat.

As Jackson Lamb, the grizzled former Cold War agent in charge of this motley crew, Oldman runs the inconspicuous headquarters with a weary, exhausted outlook and a sense of humor drier than the Sahara. He’s over it, a sentiment he wears on his dirty, rolled-up sleeves, in his greasy long hair, and in his bloated belly that accommodates frequent trips to the noodle shop. He slurps, then smokes, then farts, then snores—a smelly symphony inside his cluttered office. The slovenly appearance camouflages his much sharper field IQ. Lamb still knows the players, knows the game, and knows exactly where to be and who to call. His frequently profane insults and outbursts—mostly to River Cartwright (Jack Lowden)—are cut with righteousness. He’s a callous asshole. He’s also allowed to be.

Lamb and his bite-sized Truman share some similar traits. They’re burdened with direct-reports who challenge their authority, knowing they must still bear the blame when shit hits the fan. They also have easily-triggered tempers. (If Lamb had been in the Oval Office, he’d probably have told Oppy to “fuck off.”) But Lamb isn’t just a smelly tyrant. He’s the kind of broken boss capable of tenderness in the right setting and mood. As the show has progressed, Oldman has seemed to relish the creative put-downs, the F-bombs, and the eyerolls more and more. And yet his brilliance is the way he turns these personal barbs into endearing, backhanded compliments.

Consider the end of the first season, when Lamb gathers his slow horses in the park, in the midst of a dangerous operation, for what seems like an obvious motivational moment. Oldman starts with something sentimental, acknowledging the high-risk nature of their endeavor. Then he lets the silence linger: “You’re fucking useless, the lot of you,” he says. “Working with you has been the lowest point in a disappointing career.” Then he walks away, hardly a coach firing up the team at halftime. It’s a pitch-black punch line, but Oldman delivers it so ruthlessly, you can’t help but smile. These might be rejects, but they’re his rejects.

Though he’s committed to a fourth season, Oldman told The Sunday Times last year that retirement isn’t too far away. “I’d be very happy and honored and privileged to go out as Jackson Lamb—and then hang it up,” he said. It would be a fitting and ironic end to the 65-year-old’s career, letting him give nuanced life (and his last legs) to the kind of cliched cranks he’s had to wait years to play. These might not be vanity projects, but there’s something special watching an actor repeatedly sink into—and find his true calling in—the role of a wise old bugger. He’s having more fun than anyone.

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