The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, the Apple TV+ series based on the book of the same name by Walter Mosley, unwinds more of its central mysteries this week.
Ptolemy (played by the excellent Samuel L. Jackson) learns a little more about the deal he’s made with the doctors to get his memory back — and what it will cost him in the long run. However, he’s got too much to do with the extra capacity the operation gave him to stop now. If he can’t solve the many problems and questions swirling around him before he loses his memory, it will be too late. He’ll die not even realizing how close he came to peace.
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey recap: ‘Sensia’
In this week’s episode, titled “Sensia,” Ptolemy is having a dream. He’s 12 years old again (played by Percy Daggs IV) and going with Coydog (Damon Gupton) on a mission in the middle of the night. He takes him out and, when he’s done with a quick lesson about the unfairness of the world, Coydog tells him that the other day he was in the home of a brutal white property owner named Clive Miller, who killed Ptolemy’s father.
Coydog got this man drunk and took something from Clive’s house. Treasure, he calls it. It’s at the bottom of a well now, and when Coydog runs (for reprisals are surely incoming after stealing), it’s going to be Ptolemy’s. Now to get his mother’s bible. Surely they won’t be waiting for him at his home….
Ptolemy wakes from this dream with a start, which startles Robyn (Dominique Fishback). She’s been watching him mostly sleep for the last few days. The doctors are waiting for Ptolemy after his attack. He gets himself up, showers, shaves and sits down to breakfast. He tells Robyn his memory’s doing better — but he can’t remember where he hid Coydog’s treasure.
Dr. Rubin (Walton Goggins) says there’s nothing to worry about. Robyn’s less sure. And considering the language the doctor keeps using to describe the treatment, she thinks he’s lying.
A deal with a doctor
Ptolemy knows he’s signing away a longer life but he can’t help but want to pursue the easy solution for a few good weeks. He has things to do. Those include romancing Shirley Wring (Denise Burse ), the woman he lent $40 to at the post office the day of Reggie’s (Omar Benson Miller) funeral.
While he’s doing that, Robyn is out shopping and runs into an old co-worker of Reggie’s (Patrick Walker). He wants to drop by and talk to Ptolemy about Reggie, and offer his condolences, but then he really takes in Robyn’s appearance and asks if he can walk her home. Everyone’s getting a taste of romance today. Even Robyn’s friend Billy (Martin Bats Bradford) gets hit on by a diner waitress.
Hilliard (DeRon Horton) is feeling put out by Robyn leaving, so he puts a little revenge plan in motion. He tells his mother Niecie (Marsha Stephanie Blake) that Ptolemy’s rich and out of his mind. Wouldn’t they stand to benefit from him being put in a facility? Maybe they can get their hands on all that Social Security money he’s been hoarding all these years.
Ptolemy has a dream about his wife Sensia (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams) that night, about the first time they met, how Sensia almost killed her ex-boyfriend (William Catlett) when he came over, jealous and mad, to beat them both up with a baseball bat. The dream shakes something loose in Ptolemy. He remembers where he buried Coydog’s treasure.
Better don’t sound so bad, do it?
Hanelle Culpepper directed this week’s episode, and she’s got a lighter touch than Ramin Bahrani, who directed the show’s opening episode. That means that maybe some of the images don’t have the same heft. But it also means Culpepper lets visual ideas breathe a little without putting her thumb on the scale until we realize how important what we’re seeing really is. The good stuff here is more casually presented, which means that you get to just kind of enjoy the vibe. But it does feel a hair more like ordinary television.
Jackson’s in good form this week, having settled on a decent rhythm for Ptolemy this episode that it isn’t so jarring to take in as it was at the end of episode 2. The chief virtue of The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey is that it’s just about people, and the plot takes a back seat to nice moments of behavior.
Before Sensia’s vengeful ex Ezra comes in, they have a very nice conversation about why they like each other that lasts about three or four minutes. Incidentally, they do a pretty good job making Jackson look 50 years younger, but the mustache they gave him is a little much.
Ptolemy is a show about people who know time is running out, whether that’s the hour before your night gets ruined or the month before your dementia kills you. What will you do with the little bit of perfect time you have?
That’s so rare a thing to see on TV that I’m more than willing to look over a bad fake stache or two to get to the good stuff, which is abundant.
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.