Previously on The Last Panthers, Mokhtar and Khalil agreed to go to war with Les Agnettes. As it turns out, Khalil thought “war” meant the methodical investigation and arrests of a thorough judicial process, while Mokhtar had more of a pile-the-bodies-high sort of interpretation. That’s a strange leap for Mokhtar. As the run-up to the sting makes clear, he pales in comparison to his brother, violence-wise. He’s the black sheep of his family and kind of a pipsqueak in Les Agnettes. A few weeks ago he was ready to run scared from Marseille. Since when is he Michael Corleone?
As this is my last chance to bring it up, there’s something funny about the episodic quality of The Last Panthers. Since every episode is written by Jack Thorne, you’d expect a pretty good handle on continuity week to week. The same guy that wrote Mokhtar and Khalil’s sting is also writing their “war.” Yet there are almost always slight discrepancies. In this case, both Khalil and Mokhtar aren’t quite where they were when we left them. Khalil’s ultimate take on “going to war” slightly sells out the thrilling moment he agreed to it in the first place. And Mokhtar’s latent ruthlessness, organization, and Walter-White-level talent for simultaneously taking out several threats hollows him out so completely that he pulls a gun on his brother during a tussle and just sits there at his Scarface table when his brother plainly means to kill him. It practically drains his finale of drama. The poor lost stray has become a cartoon pit bull.
There are two reasons for Mokhtar’s sudden change. The first is one of the episode’s surprises, the revelation that Mokhtar armed Milan and company for the Marseille heist. Meaning Mokhtar sold guns to the men who killed that little girl. The first victim of the series goes back to Mokhtar, and somewhere along the way Mokhtar’s darkness went from the force he’s trying and failing to resist to the force he’s embracing. But how much more dramatic would this be—how much greater a challenge to our sympathies—if it were just a regrettable mistake from the family fuck-up instead of the origin story to the new Joker?
The second reason is to maneuver Khalil to his final dilemma: How do you solve a problem like Mokhtar? In this scenario Mokhtar’s the Fredo. He wants to become the new Manu just as his brother is the new (provisional) Roman. But Khalil has already rejected Roman’s approach to keeping the peace in Les Agnettes. He refuses to be actively impartial. So, with his brother mad with power, Khalil looks out to the horizon to summon his courage and makes the decision to kill Mokhtar. When he finally pulls the trigger, he’s so startled he makes a face and jumps a little. It’s funny. If Khalil hadn’t saved Mokhtar earlier, Mokhtar would still be dead, but several others would be alive. How is Khalil supposed to do that accounting?
Don’t let the betrayal of his values get lost in the betrayal of his family. His whole mission is to deal with these criminals the right way, through police procedures. Killing is the exact method he rejects. And a way to arrest his brother instead of killing him falls right into his lap. When Khalil gets the call that he needs to come pick up his Milan in London, Mokhtar urges his brother not to arrest Milan, because Milan could identify him. All Khalil has to do is go through with the Milan arrest, and Mokhtar could be behind bars instead of dead. Why doesn’t he? Is he concerned about Mokhtar tattling on him for the sting? We don’t know. The Last Panthers doesn’t show us how Khalil arrives at his destination. It’s only interested in getting him there.
Only Tom’s portion of the epilogue has some thematic bite. Khalil’s is strictly focused on the character drama, giving us that wonderfully guilty Shane Vendrell moment where his mother tells him to find out who killed Mokhtar. But my question is what now? One thing we can be pretty certain of is Les Agnettes crime will continue. And instead of having someone in charge he can (occasionally) get through to, Les Agnettes will be completely foreign to Khalil going forward. Marseille is more out of control than it was at the start. No wonder Khalil’s leaving town for a bit.
The other half of the story gives better suspense, tragedy, and ironic distance, and it even offers some sense of relief. The first part is Naomi begging Milan to walk away, to leave the cycle of violence while he still can. But he’s a determined shark, and Naomi latches on like a remora, hoping to provide some drag at least. And then Naomi visits Tom. She wants to preempt Milan’s plan to kill Milomir and Zlatko by arresting them instead, and she thinks she has a case with Milan and herself as eyewitnesses and the watch from Guillaume von Reeth. I feel like that’s not nearly enough to accomplish what she thinks, but she’s also further along than I ever expected. Maybe she has a shot at this. Maybe the law can offer a way out of the violence. How naïve. I guess I forgot what show I was watching.
Before she’s out the door Tom has called or texted someone. She rushes into her place and says they have to leave, but Milomir bursts in behind her and immediately starts shooting at them. It’s so sudden I couldn’t help but gasp, one of several instances throughout this action-packed episode. The fight goes deeper into the rectilinear maze of Naomi’s apartment and then back out once the balance of power shifts, ending with Milan standing over Milomir’s prone body in the parking garage. He wants to know who pushed Adnan off the roof. Milomir only spits and gurgles in response, so Milan kindly eases his suffering with a bullet. But what an interesting question! The answer is neither Milomir nor Zlatko physically pushed Adnan. In another sense, they and several of the other characters very much pushed Adnan. But in the immediate sense, Adnan fell off the roof of his own accord, an act of resistance and power. And Milan will never know. And because of that, Milan will go on perpetuating the cycle of violence.
The finale takes place at a conference for pan-European development that Julia describes as a photo op for the West to pat itself on the back for generously investing in the East, in this case funding a hydroelectric dam in Macedonia, high-speed rail to Montenegro, and of course the future of Serbia in airport form. While the elites are clapping for themselves, the Serbians are killing each other backstage. It’s so hard to run a good conference these days. Ultimately Zlatko chokes out Milan, and a distraught Naomi suddenly shoots Zlatko. Before he dies, Milan at least accepts responsibility for being an “angel of death” himself. Zlatko goes to his death the same buffoon as always, only with a David Cameron haircut. Yes, The Last Panthers saved its only joke for the finale, but it’s funny enough for the whole miniseries.
So what now? What happens to Zlatko’s shares? Do Guillaume and Julia need replacement Serbs for their business ventures, or did they already get what they needed from Zlatko? Are there any Panthers left? Again, The Last Panthers is not forthcoming. But Tom’s epilogue with Lord Belmaire says it all. “All good with our airport?” asks the noble. Tom answers, “Yeah, all as planned.” They agree it’s a good weekend to go golfing. It’s a fantastically aloof conclusion. They’re not oblivious. They’re distanced, and sheltered by that distance. It’s no skin off their noses if a couple Serbs die for their project. In fact, that’s more or less part of the plan.
Naomi’s ending is the last, best, and least ironic. She returns to Bosnia, to that spot in the hills overlooking the lake. I don’t think she could have buried the bodies there, but she has put up a memorial plaque to Pev, Adnan, and Milan, all of them with their original Bosnian Muslim surname, Begic. But this isn’t just about the plotting. This is Naomi escaping. The cold insurance investigator of the premiere is back in London. Life may go on for everyone else who survived, but Naomi at least is changed. This is also a micro counterpoint to the Europe First conference, a purer version of giving back. Naomi has literally invested in Bosnia with her memorial, a remembrance of three citizens whose lives were blown up by a history of invasion, military and otherwise. She embraces the memorial as we see the valley for the first time in the present, in full color, and it’s beautiful—the land, the tribute, and the escape.
- “The Last Panther” is written by Jack Thorne and directed by Johan Renck. As much as I’ve criticized certain narrative choices, The Last Panthers is all the résumé I need to get excited about what these two do next.
- As absurd as Mokhtar’s consolidation of power is, and as peppy as all the cross-cutting is, that assassination montage is a thrill. And at the end it sums itself up in a meaningful image, Khalil standing there in front of 12 body bags, no vacancies.
- The UK liaison asks Zlatko, “Is it your first time in London?” Zlatko answers, “No, we did a heist here in 2006.” Give it up for Igor Bencina, MVP of “The Last Panther.” I think it was the haircut.
- Julia: “The London property market is a solid investment. Your money is remarkably safe inside this piece of shit.”
- Khalil’s colleague offers the macro take on Les Agnettes (and by thematic extension, Serbia, Bosnia, and everywhere else the wealthy exploit): “When they kill each other, it’s not really our problem. Maybe you’re too young to understand that.”
- Tom steps out onto the balcony where Zlatko is smoking and says, “The great age of freedom.” “I’m sorry?” “We’re living in the great age of freedom where we are thrust into smaller and smaller places in order to indulge in one of the few great pleasures left in life. Smoking.” After a beat, Zlatko asks, “You’re on this fucking balcony for nostalgia reasons?”
- Tom reports that Milomir failed. “Which means we’re both in the shit.” Zlatko corrects him. “No, we are not. I am.” He’s never been more right.