We're at the midpoint of The Last Panthers, a gripping show that sometimes feels a bit vague in its purpose. Take this week's episode, which starts as a strong commentary on how the past influences the present — heavy with flashbacks and regret — but ends in a place not much further down the road than where it began. Perhaps that's the point. These characters are spinning their wheels, stuck in a mire of history and corruption.
Kahlil (Tahar Rahim) is surveilling a gym club, the same one attended by Mr. Belair, the guy who ended up shot on the side of the road in last week's episode. Something fishy is going on at this club. Kids from Les Agnettes roam around out front, which leads Kahlil to suspect the gun trade that provided weapons for the diamond heist is being run through it. Then he spots Mokhtar (Kamel Labroudi), his old friend from the tenements. He looks startled. Can he continue his sting if it brings down someone he knows?
Back in Belgrade, Milan (Goran Bogdan) is in a secluded garage, helping to seal guns into cars. Tourists will take them across the border like they're going on a road trip. Milan is in it for the money, and his old buddy Zlatko is getting dangerously bored with the whole thing. Neither are good for a criminal operation. We're reminded again that Milan is back in this world because his brother, Adnan (Nikola Rakocevic), needs a heart transplant, but we also see his "Animal" side emerge. Zlatko (Igor Bencina) wants the ruthless guy he knew to come back, but will he regret that?
In London, Naomi (Samantha Morton) is going to a meeting when she spots her ex-husband, Michael (Joseph Mawle). He's also working the case, which almost feels too fabricated for plot's sake but we'll let it slide. It certainly gives Morton another shade to play, almost like Naomi wants to prove something to someone who knows how the past has damaged her. Anyway, they have a lead on a major player, who may be laundering the diamonds. They'll be monitoring his calls.
Kahlil is in trouble back at work. His boss, Roman (Olivier Rabourdin), basically tells him the case is dead. "You're pursuing something that no longer concerns us," he says. Think about it: The gun bust went horribly and the diamonds are long gone. They have other crime to deal with in Marseilles. Roman orders Kahlil to work a case involving SIM card fraud, but we know he won't be able to let it go. Rahim is great in this scene, subtly playing Kahlil's frustration and awareness that he's going down a road he probably won't want to see the end of.
Meanwhile … Rajko! Remember the dude from episode one who ended up in the dumpster? The guy who got shot? The only actual link remaining between the heist and Milan? He's alive! But what good is he now? He's at Les Agnettes, where the gun trade is getting desperate because Zlatko and the Serbs have basically closed the pipeline. They're moving on to the airport gigs. The river has gone dry.
We get another flashback to a young Kahlil and Mokhtar. They're putting a bag in the boot of a Serbian car. Was Kahlil helping out with the gun trade as a kid? Does he now have to stop the people he used to work with? Kahlil finds the car and jimmies the trunk open. He finds a duffel bag of guns and a guard dog bearing down on him when Mokhtar comes to his rescue. He's saved him before. How could Kahlil ever sell him out now?
Next, we get a great sequence that parallels two surveillance gigs: Naomi and her team trying to pinpoint the diamond launderer and Kahlil keeping an eye on the gym and his old buddies. It's a delicately edited pair of scenes, which share the same score to maintain dramatic cohesion. Kahlil breaks into a garage and creeps down some stairs. (Remember, he's supposed to be off this case.) He sees the guns being taken out from under a car. In London, Naomi calls in a bomb scare to isolate her suspect and track him more easily.
Adnan tries to warn Milan about getting back in business with Zlatko. In the past, Zlatko always sold him out. "Every time you've done something stupid, it was his idea," he says. Sure, but without Zlatko, they won't have the money for Adnan's operation. Adnan promises to hold out if Milan doesn't go. He knows his brother is making a bad decision, even if it does save his life.
Meetings are underway about the new Belgrade airport when Tom discovers that Zlatko and his team are already working security. He spots him and gets a picture of his distinctive tattoo, which he sends to Naomi.
Kahlil, still flashing back to early days with Mokhtar, meets up with him in the present timeline to encourage him to get out. "For once, make the right choice," he urges. Unfortunately, Kahlil strikes the wrong tone by talking down to his old buddy, and Mokhtar is not having it. They tussle and Kahlil gets him in a hold before letting him go. Later, Kahlil flashes back to a murder of one of his buddies. He went to confront the crime lord who killed him, proving his fearlessness and frustration with the criminal underground. We're witnessing the birth of a police officer.
While Naomi's ex-husband confronts her for the reckless bomb scare — he talks down to her in much the same way Kahlil did with Mokhtar — Milan and Zlatko are planning something incredible. They're in Eben, Belgium, where they're going to break the true godfather of their organization, Dragan, out of prison. However, the restless Zlatko has ulterior motives: "The new Caesar has to kill the old one." He's going to break out Dragan (Boris Isakovic), then murder him once they're clear. Will Milan stop him?
Tom (John Hurt) meets with the head of the Belgrade airport and warns him about Zlatko. "If you do not remove him and his team from the project, your planes will become vessels for smuggling," he says. The guy already knows that, but he doesn't care. As he explains, Serbia has value for the first time in his life. They finally have something others want, and he's going to allow the Panthers to get a piece for the greater good of his country. "He'll make the airport safe," he suggests. Again, this sounds a lot like the Jersey construction projects in The Sopranos. It's better to make a deal with the devil than leave him out of the loop.
The prison break is fascinating. Milan, Zlatko, and some dude with an awesome scar are aboard a helicopter, which hovers just over the yard and drops a bag of weapons. Dragan's men grab the weapons and protect him as he moves to the now-landed chopper, and it takes off. Pretty simple. As Naomi learns back in London that they missed their target, the helicopter heads to Eben. Is Zlatko going to ice Dragan right here? They land and Milan moves quickly, grabbing Zlatko's gun. Zlatko tries to claim it was a loyalty test. Yeah, sure. Dragan gets in the car, Milan jumps in beside him, and they speed away. This is not good. Milan has an escaped prisoner in his car and the Serbian mob after him. He calls Adnan and tells him to run.
After some passive-aggressive chit-chat with her ex, Naomi has a revelation and goes to look at the footage again. It was the dog! Remember how they transferred the diamonds in the body of a dog? Well, that dog was handed off in the footage. It was right in front of theirs face the whole time. Naomi needs to find their suspect's daughter. They do, but it's too late. The dog is cut up and dead. The diamonds are long gone.
Finally, Kahlil follows Mokhtar on a late night to a meeting … with Roman! Kahlil's boss is playing both sides. No wonder he pushed him off the case. They deliver Rajko to Roman — the final diamond thief is all tied up, like a macabre gift. What is he going to do with him? It turns out Rajko has no real value any more. Roman doesn't want him. His captors let him go and then shoot him in the back. Roman can claim he got the bad guy. And then, he's told that they need his help getting the gun trade up and running again. The next day, Kahlil hears someone in the station say, "We got our man." He knows it's not that simple.
- As I've mentioned before, the ambition of The Last Panthers is laudable. The mini-series plots multiple characters through multiple timelines with few direct collisions between them. Our three leads — Kahlil, Milan, and Naomi — haven't even been in the same COUNTRY in ages.
- Although I like this theme of the past clouding present-day judgment, this week's episode is a bit too reliant on flashbacks. We're halfway through, so let's pick up the action while there's still time.
- How great is Samantha Morton? She's always been a fantastic actress, but it's especially wonderful to see her in a juicy drama. I hope a network like Showtime or HBO taps her for a lead role in a full series.