In any given society, people have a wide variety of fears that keep them awake at night sometimes. But one fear that feels almost universal at times is a condition that is attributed to age quite often. Dementia is typically something that one associates with old age, though it can be experienced by those that haven’t reached their golden years. In The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey though, the loss of the main character’s memory, or the blockage of his working memory, is something that probably strikes far closer to home for some folks. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, anything and everything to do with the loss of memory is terrifying for a lot of people since despite varying from one individual to the next, the fact is that one can’t really understand the hell of living in one’s own mind and finding it tough to impossible to recognize anything or anyone that had at one point been a fixed point in their memory. Samuel L. Jackson has taken this role on Apple TV+ and run with it, and so far this miniseries has proven to be well-crafted and full of emotion that feels extremely real.
Ptolemy is an elderly man that lives on his own in an apartment that is filthy, filled with junk accumulated over a lifetime, and a mind that is slipping dangerously into oblivion. Upon entering the show, it can be seen that Ptolemy is being taken care of, kind of, by his nephew Reggie, who does what he can to keep Ptolemy safe and fed but also appears to be kind of tired of doing this. To avoid being too cynical of Reggie, one has to take into account what it means to take care of someone that can’t remember much of anything from one moment to another. It becomes very obvious that Ptolemy sometimes sees things, faces, and visions from the past, and that he’s entirely unsure of himself outside of his apartment. His bathroom facilities don’t work since they’re back up and filled with junk, it’s tough to move around his apartment, and in many ways, his life has become as close to hopeless as it can be.
But again, Reggie does take care of him since he takes Ptolemy to the bank, he does the shopping for his uncle, and he keeps him from going stir crazy. But when Reggie is shot and killed, another member of Ptolemy’s family, a hoodlum by the name of Hilliard, comes to his apartment and takes him to the funeral. When Ptolemy has to confront the idea that Reggie is dead he breaks down, as he can’t figure out why Reggie was killed, or that he’s really dead. When Robyn, a young woman who’s the daughter of a family friend, is sent to help Ptolemy out, she begins to bond with him and ends up cleaning out his home and getting rid of a great deal of junk. In the process, she gets to know Ptolemy better and comes to understand that he’s a very interesting old man. In time she even becomes protective of him. But when Ptolemy is referred to a doctor that is using an experimental drug that can restore his cognitive memory, Robyn makes it clear that she doesn’t think its’ a good idea. While the doctor feels a bit cagey, he doesn’t lie completely since he does mention that while the drug will help Ptolemy, it will be a short-term effect, as, despite his mental strength, Ptolemy will recover quickly and with great effect, but his condition will eventually worsen, and become even more extreme than before.
This prompts Ptolemy to try and find out who killed Reggie, who had a reason to do so, and to set a few things right as he lets Robyn into his life, even more, telling her of his deceased wife, Sensia, and his days as a young boy in Mississippi. Seeing Ptolemy come back to himself and experience a huge uptick in his mental health is a highly positive thing that’s still fraught by old, painful memories of his life, leaving him afraid and uncertain at times. Robyn remains with him, and in turn, they begin to rely on each other by the fourth episode as Ptolemy continues to place the pieces of his life back into place.
Watching the first four episodes of this miniseries is interesting and it’s familiar to those that have been around those with dementia and have dealt with its effects. There are a handful of actors that can mimic the effects that such a disease can have on a person and those that try to help them. Samuel L. Jackson is thus far turning in a great performance that can’t be understated and is undeniably one of the best that he’s turned in over the years. How it’s going to end has already been written, but the story has still been great enough that one can’t help but want to see as much as possible of Ptolemy’s life before it’s set to end.