The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey takes a tour through the past this week and finds clues to its central mysteries. The Apple TV+ show, based on Walter Mosley’s book of the same name, continues to be one of the best shows on television, with actors Samuel L. Jackson and Dominique Fishback leading it to greatness.
The Last Days might be the best investment in a TV show Apple TV+ has yet made. All the right people will be talking about this series for years to come.
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey recap: ‘Coydog’
In this week’s episode, titled “Coydog,” Ptolemy Grey (played by Samuel L. Jackson) has remembered where his long-buried treasure, given to him by his long-gone friend Coydog (Damon Gupton), is. He and Robyn (Dominique Fishback) dig it up in the middle of the night.
The cache contains gold doubloons, it turns out, and they might be worth a fortune. Ptolemy remembers seeing Coydog lynched, and how with his last breath he killed the men who were trying to kill him.
Robyn is nervous about all this money, having lost her father to gambling debts and seen her mother sink to unthinkable lows to pay the rent. So when Ptolemy also pulls out an old suitcase with his Social Security money in it and offers to buy her a bed, she’s reluctant.
She opens him a checking account and he buys her a futon. He also invites over Roger (Patrick Walker), the guy who used to work with Reggie (Omar Benson Miller) — and who has eyes for Robyn.
Ptolemy mostly wants to grill Roger about Reggie’s murder in as friendly a fashion as possible. But he also likes that the guy is from the South like him.
More memories …
Ptolemy’s meeting with Roger shakes another recollection loose, something he didn’t catch before his memory came back to him. Reggie told him his wife had a boyfriend from back when who was finally out of jail and had been coming around. Reggie figured if he moved them down to Texas, the guy wouldn’t follow them because it would violate his parole. Maybe that‘s the guy who killed Reggie? But who is he?
Ptolemy takes the doubloons to a friend of his, an antique dealer, and relearns that they’re worth $50,000 each. Robyn is stunned again. She has come to love the old man by now; they’re the only people on earth who really care what happens to the other.
Just as they’re talking about it, the cops sent by Hilliard (DeRon Horton) and Niecie (Marsha Stephanie Blake) arrive to make him seem incompetent. This show has a beautifully anti-cop attitude. Ptolemy’s having one of his good days, so he talks circles around the representative, but their business isn’t concluded. Ptolemy’s gonna have trouble with the city, mark my words.
Hilly gives up the ghost when Ptolemy stops by later that day. The young man opens the door and says, “I thought social services took ya?!” There’s a great scene where Ptolemy dresses down Niecie and Hilliard that sings like a bird. Righteousness bottled. This show is beautiful.
That’s above our pay grade
I had missed that cinematographer Guillermo Navarro had turned to TV directing in the last 10 years. Navarro shot some of the prettiest films of the last two decades (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, The Devil’s Backbone, all by Guillermo del Toro) and some of the most memorable pulp (The Long Kiss Goodnight, Pacific Rim, I Am Number Four, From Dusk Till Dawn, Cocaine Godmother).
Navarro does marvelous work this week on The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, lighting interiors with just the right immediacy.
There’s a moment where Ptolemy and Dr. Rubin (Walton Goggins) are talking about memory. Could it be that Ptolemy learned or accumulated too much information — that he wanted to lose it all? It was in that moment that my love for this show was reaffirmed.
Ptolemy has no reason to trust this guy beyond the fact that his experimental procedure — that’s going to kill Ptolemy — worked for a little while. But they hug all the same. What matters to Ptolemy is that people tried. Tried to be good. I could feel writer Walter Mosley‘s touch in that hug. Everyone’s just trying to do their best. And everyone who isn’t? Well, there’s a reason Ptolemy wants to find Reggie’s killer.
The scene of Robyn and Ptolemy having a heart to heart about life and what it means — and what they mean to each other — might be even better. “You’re the first person I was ever close to that I didn’t want to die,” she says. I had to clear away the tears in my eyes before writing about it. This is one of the best things on TV.
Mosley has done a wonderful job translating his work for television, an unforgiving medium to say the least. I’m just happy I get to write about it.
Watch The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey on Apple TV+
New episodes of The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey arrive on Fridays.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.