The Last Panthers
As The Last Panthers begins the second half of its six-episode run, its thematic commitment has grown even more important. This is a story about people who cannot let go of the past. French policeman Khalil Rachedi (Tahar Rahim) and insurance-loss agent Naomi Franckom (Samantha Morton) are in a position to walk away from the diamond-heist investigation, but the ghosts of bygone days won’t allow it. Family ties also play a role, as Milan Celik (Goran Bogdan) has to return to Belgrade to save his brother, Adnan (Nikola Rakocevic), while Khalil realizes that it may be too late for his estranged sibling, Mokhtar (Kamel Labroudi).
Again, we pick up immediately after the end of the last episode. We’re in the German Rhineland with Milan and his former leader, Dragan (Boris Isakovic), whom he broke out of prison and saved from execution by the new boss, Zlatko (Igor Bencina). They’re hitchhiking when a German cop pulls over. He’ll take them to the petrol station. Or not! Milan and Dragan flee into the woods, and their cross-continent journey continues. Adnan is on the run too, trying to get to safety. Meanwhile, Zlatko is told he has an important meeting to attend with the money behind the airport deal.
Khalil is eating and watching cartoons when his sister, Samira (Camelia Jordana), confronts him about his relationship with their father and brother. It’s too self-aware a conversation, but it sets a solid foundation for why Khalil can’t let things go. He stayed away from home to punish his late father, leaving Mokhtar to fall into the wrong circles. Dad was proud and self-righteous, and those characteristics hurt people. Khalil takes after his father, even if he can’t admit it. That’s often how family works: Those who are the most similar get along the least.
Naomi’s boss, Tom Kendle (John Hurt), implores her to give up the heist investigation. The diamonds are gone. The case is dead. But Naomi didn’t even want to go to Serbia in the first place, and so now she wants to finish what she started. After Tom forced her to go, she can’t just admit that she pulled the skeletons from her closet for no reason whatsoever.
Last week, we learned that Khalil’s boss, Roman (Olivier Rabourdin), is playing both sides. So naturally, he wants to bump Kahlil off the diamond-and-gun case for something simpler, like fake SIM cards. But Khalil can’t let it go, either: Mokhtar is in too deep. He’s got to rescue his brother, much like Milan feels the need to do it all for his sibling. Khalil learns from Mokhtar how deep Roman’s corruption runs. He even warned him about the raid at Les Agnettes. After learning that Manu Esposito (Patrick Azam) is the boss, Khalil gets it in his head to take down both sides of the trade — Roman and Manu. Khalil will get the guns, then set up a sting with Mokhtar’s help. It’s almost hard to believe he thinks this could end without bloodshed.
Khalil puts his plan in motion, getting a colleague who’s engaged to the girl in the evidence room to get some guns. Mokhtar and Kahlil go to the tenements to collect another crucial player, Nadim (Adama Niane), who used to run the crime scene when they were kids. He owes them. He’s been out six years, but he has no choice. There’s the past again, baring its teeth. Even after a criminal serves time, their crimes can have repercussions years later. When Nadim says, “Shoot me, you little shit. I’ll haunt the shit out of you,” it sounds like a throwaway line — but it’s also thematically resonant. These people are haunted.
Zlatko is talking to the money behind the airport deal on a very nefarious-looking hunting trip. These meetings in ominous circumstances sometimes feel overwritten, like someone was inspired by a few too many Bond movies. Do criminals really have meetings in fields while toting shotguns? Anyway, they propose a new laundering deal to Zlatko. It turns out this hunting trip has put him into contact with the most powerful people he’ll ever meet. Would these bigwigs really trust Zlatko? He seems more like a follower than a leader. Perhaps the character is miscast or misdirected, but Bencina doesn’t quite have the charisma that you’d think the criminal Illuminati would require.
After some cross-cutting between operations — the hunt for Adnan, Naomi still looking for the diamonds — we move back to the gun sting with Mokhtar. Khalil got five guns from evidence, a sample that they can show to Manu. Again, I have a bad feeling about this plan. While Dragan and Milan continue their journey across Europe, Khalil asks Roman to go out for drinks to “make peace.” Naomi, who got some answers from Interpol about the diamond connection, wants to find Tom, who just happens to be in Belgrade, celebrating the airport deal.
On their long trip home, Dragan and Milan have a nice conversation in the woods by a campfire. Dragan notes that Zlatko doesn’t understand the values of the Panthers. Yet another theme of the show: How moral codes are abandoned in favor of profit and backstabbing. But Dragan misreads Milan. He claims they’re the same. Not really, though. Milan wanted out and was dragged back into the game. And he calls him on it: “We’re not the same. I was always your animal. Maybe you’re finished, but I’m not.” Later that night, Dragan is literally finished as men shoot their tent while he sleeps … but Milan got away.
Zlatko and his new criminal friends are celebrating at the airport party while the sting goes down in Marseilles. First, Roman and Khalil are drinking. His superior gives him an important lesson: “It’s a choice between bad and less bad.” A conventional war on crime doesn’t work anymore. It only creates a power vacuum — and that’s way deadlier than a crime lord. Anarchy is the last thing Marseilles needs. When they get a call about gun runners, Khalil convinces Roman to go, despite his suspicions. This is a really bad idea. One deal to take down a corrupt chief and the guy running guns out of Les Agnettes? Seems way too easy.
And it is. Immediately, Manu wants to know where the guns are from. He’s told he can have 200 at a good price when Khalil shows up with his gun drawn, as if he’s busting the operation. Manu asks Roman if Khalil is “one of theirs” and refuses to stand down. On the spot, he decides to shoot Roman and Nadim. Khalil shoots Manu. Both leaders are dead when backup arrives, about a minute too late.
While Naomi is at the airport party looking for Tom, Milan is still on the run. She tells Tom that the airport and the diamonds are connected. Duh. He told her to drop the case; he knows his associates are shady. He gives her a speech about hard decisions that’s not that different than what Roman was trying to tell Khalil. Let it go, Naomi. He fires her. See the stark divide yet? Roman and Tom: Willing to wade into moral gray areas to maintain order. Khalil and Naomi: Total belief in good and evil, with no crossover between the two.
Finally, as Zlatko’s men get closer to Adnan, we cut to Mokhtar coming to see Khalil. These two face grim odds of surviving — they feel like inevitable collateral damage. Khalil says they can get Mokhtar out of Marseilles. He wants to help. He’ll be promoted to acting chief. It’s finally time to protect his family. And then what? “Prepare for war.”
- I wish we knew Milan better. His arc has been largely reactionary, as he attempts to survive in a world he left behind.
- The MVP of the mini-series continues to be Tahar Rahim. I would still watch The Last Panthers if it were only about Khalil and the shady business in Marseilles.
- I mentioned this after the premiere, but it bears repeating: How perfect is David Bowie’s “Blackstar” to open the show? As director Johan Renck explained in October, Bowie approved the use of the song after watching a rough cut of the first two episodes.
- With only two episodes left, it’s time to fire up a “death pool” for The Last Panthers. Who do you think will survive? It seems like most of the characters could end up six feet under — even one or two of the leads.