The Last Panthers
The Last Panthers ends the way it began: as a promising mini-series that never quite transcended its flaws. It exists in a tier below recent greats like Show Me a Hero, The Honorable Woman, and The Night Manager. I’ll remember the performances more than the plotting, which often felt a little overwritten, especially in this finale.
Last week’s series-best episode took place almost entirely in 1995, giving us crucial background to the dynamic between insurance-loss agent Naomi (Samantha Morton) and jewel thief Milan Celik (Goran Bogdan). We also saw Milan’s brother Adnan (Nikola Rakocevic) leap to his death rather than give Zlatko (Igor Bencina) the satisfaction of killing him. Now it’s time for vengeance. While Milan tries to track down his former partner, Khalil (Tahar Rahim) realizes that the power vacuum he inadvertently created two episodes ago is far from a good thing.
Milan has a gun and he’s tracking Zlatko. Meanwhile, Khalil is trying to keep his family safe. Again, The Last Panthers returns to the theme of collateral damage, and how our ties can keep us in danger as much as they define us. Without his connection to Adnan, Milan never would have returned to a life of crime. Without his connection to Mokhtar (Kamel Labroudi), Khalil might have made a few smarter choices. He just wants his family to be safe, so they will stay on a boat, away from the chaos caused by the power vacuum in Marseilles.
After a few shots of Milan following Zlatko, we get a crucial scene in which Mokhtar gives Khalil a list of 12 names that must be eliminated to ensure their family’s safety. Khalil suggests arresting them, but that won’t work. They’ll be out for vengeance when they’re eventually released. It’s kind of naïve on Khalil’s part, given what happened with Manu and Roman the last time he tried to put a plan in motion. A similar issue has plagued the show since episode one: Smart characters are made just dumb enough to justify the plotting, making them inconsistent on a character level. Wouldn’t Khalil be in total panic and eager to listen to Mokhtar, who knows the street better than he does?
Zlatko is in London for another meeting about the airport operation. He jokes (or does he?) about robbing a Harry Winston the last time he was in the U.K., then he’s shown inside a house where a large chunk of his money is invested. It really is the new Europe: Serbian jewel thieves are stashing money in London real estate.
While Zlatko reaches a new strata of the criminal enterprise, the bottom rungs of the ladder are being eliminated in Marseilles. People are being publicly executed all over the city. It’s chaos. It’s brutal. This is what happens when no one is in charge, and it’s clear that everyone on Mokhtar’s list has been targeted. When Khalil goes to meet with his brother, his own flesh and blood brings a bodyguard. He trusts no one. As he says, “I told you I’d do it.” Will Khalil arrest him? This violence might be all that’s keeping them alive.
After helping Milan get to London, Naomi tries to talk him out of his revenge plot. Zlatko is hobnobbing with the elite while Naomi tries to ask Tom (John Hurt) for help. She tells him about the planned vengeance killing of Zlatko and why Milan wants him dead. Naomi claims that Tom is the only one who can solve this without more people getting hurt. She even threatens him a bit: “If you do nothing, things are going to get a lot worse.” As much as I love the line, “There’s no being actively impartial on this one,” I don’t buy this line of thought. She knows how powerful Tom is. She wouldn’t tell him about Milan.
Why not? Because Tom knows where she lives. He not only knows Milan’s location, but that Naomi is a dangerous loose end. Zlatko’s muscle goes to take Milan out, shooting as he barges into the apartment. He’s not a very effective bad guy, though; he can’t even get a jump on two people standing in a kitchen. Milan chases him downstairs and shoots him in the back. After the goon spits on him, Milan shoots him in the head. Then, he asks Naomi for the picture of his father, which was taken during the one happy moment in the entire series. In a rather overwritten scene, he admits he was responsible for his father’s death. “Everything is my fault,” he says. It feels like Milan is going to end this in grand fashion, perhaps by martyring himself as he kills Zlatko.
Back to the other man who can’t save his brother. Khalil is totally lost. In an interesting twist, Mokhtar suggests that they could become the next Manu and Roman. Mokhtar would lead the criminals, Kahlil would protect him from his perch as police chief. Moments later, Khalil gets the call that Milan has been spotted in London. He needs to race to England and arrest him. Mokhtar is worried; if arrested, Milan will identify him as the guy who sold the guns for the diamond heist. (That definitely should have crossed Khalil’s mind, right?) He grabs Mokhtar, who responds by shoving a gun in Khalil’s larynx. “Things have changed.” Indeed they have. Khalil’s decision to go after Roman has turned his brother into the next crime lord. It’s too late to go back.
It turns out that Milan got shot and he’s in the bathroom trying to tend to his injury. Just some blood, some pain, and a paper towel in an open wound. No problem. He stares dead-eyed into the mirror. He has run out of reasons to live, aside from killing Zlatko. Will it be the last thing he does?
Tom meets up with Zlatko and talks about the “Great Age of Freedom.” This is followed by some annoying monologue about barbarians and the changing times that have allowed them through the gates. Zlatko’s response is his most truthful line: “You people talk too much.”
Meanwhile, it’s over for Khalil and Mokhtar. While Milan seeks vengeance for his brother’s death, Khalil has to shoot his own sibling. He can’t arrest him. He can’t let him stay in power. Khalil has become completely useless and stuck. So what does he do? He kills the brother he abandoned, the brother he helped make into a monster. And then, points the gun to his own head. But he can’t do it.
While a speech about a “true Europe where East and West no longer matters” happens a few floors below, Milan finally catches up with Zlatko. There’s no hesitation. They shoot at each other, then Milan literally jumps on Zlatko and the two men wrestle. Zlatko stumbles away, looking like he’s hurt, and Milan is still injured. Milan catches up in a bathroom. It’s a brutal fight, and a long time coming. At least one isn’t walking out of this room. Milan smashes Zlatko’s head against a counter while Naomi walks in slow motion down a hall. Milan gets behind Zlatko and starts choking him. Zlatko pushes his fingers into a bullet wound in Milan’s shoulder. He bashes Milan’s head into the floor tile. He chokes him. We watch the life flicker out of Milan’s eyes. Zlatko choked him to death. A shot goes off. We pan to Naomi holding a gun. She weeps. Zlatko is dead.
Three months later, Khalil is leaving his family. He’s told to “find the one who did this,” when we know that he’s the one who killed his brother. Why didn’t he go to London to get Milan? Even if news of Milan’s death got back to Marseilles, I would think Khalil would have a few questions for Naomi. Logical leaps aside, we see Naomi sitting on a hill, the wind blowing in her hair. It’s finally over.
- Who’s your MVP? I loved Morton’s performance in episode five, but Naomi was particularly underwritten in this finale, so I’ll go with Tahar Rahim.
- Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the film-caliber production value of this series. It was remarkably well-made.
- Having said that, The Last Panthers ultimately feels like a near-miss. I loved episodes one and five, but the flawed writing of the other episodes really undermined the series as a whole.
- If we learned one thing, let it be this: Samantha Morton and Tahar Rahim deserve more work. They’re both phenomenal actors, and I look forward to seeing them again soon.