The Last of Us is spectacularly brilliant and inexplicably frustrating at the same time
Still from the series The Last Of Us
  • Original Air Date: – 15/01/2023
  • Platform: – Disney + Hotstar
  • Cast: – Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsay, Anna Torv
  • Creator: – Neil Druckmann, Craig Mazin

Cordyceps (a type of fungi) has mutated for some unknown ecological reason and has started taking over any human that comes into contact with it. The infected lose their minds and are practically transformed into bloodthirsty, constantly metamorphing zombies who are all connected with each other and whose sole purpose is to infect or rip apart others.

Joel (Pedro Pascal), a single parent finds himself in the middle of the mayhem on the first day of the outbreak of the pandemic. He then loses his daughter to the mindless slaughter that is the control of the pandemic and willfully surrenders himself to his fate. He lives out the next 20 years pulling odd jobs in what remains of his city which is now a fortified fortress and is run by a totalitarian military dictatorship known as FEDRA.

Over the years people start rebelling against the FEDRA and a rebel organization known only as the Fireflies is born out of the frustration, chaos, mayhem, and mindless slaughter that is let loose on the masses by FEDRA. The Fireflies capture a young girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) who they believe could lead to finding a cure for the fungus. They need to somehow smuggle Ellie out of the fortified city but are quickly running out of options to do so.

Joel and his partner Tess (Anna Torv) are in desperate need of a battery to power a vehicle that they need to go looking for Joel’s younger brother, who is a Firefly himself and has gone missing. Joel and the Fireflies’ desperate needs align and Joel is tasked to deliver Ellie outside the city to the backup team of the Fireflies in return for the battery that he requires. Joel and Tess agree and so begins a brutal, bleak, heartbreaking, and ultimately liberating adventure that not only changes the lives of Joel and Ellie but also helps them to find solace and love in each other’s company.

The best video game to screen adaptation: –

The Last of Us is one of the most spectacular video game adaptations that I have ever seen. The video game that it is based on was essentially a human story wherein the action took backstage to drama and storytelling and it made for the perfect story to be told using the long format of web series. The creators of this series are Neil Druckmann, who was a co-creator of the game, and Craig Mazin who made the masterful Chernobyl. The sensibility of these two men came together to ensure that the purists of the game were happy with the transformation of their beloved game from the console to the screen and also that the story was dealt with and executed in such a way that anyone who had never played the game would also be instantly hooked by the narrative and would have enough in it in terms of drama, character development, action, thrills, and entertainment to contend with.

Captivating storytelling and thrilling propagation of the events: – 

I was captivated by the storytelling whenever the creators played to their strength. How the story begins and how the pandemic is set up and what we are shown in the first episode of the series were so exasperating and emotionally draining that I quickly forgot that I was watching a video game adaptation. The characters felt real and their tragedies felt overwhelming. The threats that they were up against felt insurmountable and there were moments when I felt that the protagonist would end up dead. There are very few recurring characters and the makers ensure that we are able to quickly form connections with these characters. They then purposefully and brutally snatch these characters from us adding to our dismay and giving us the indication that none of the characters in the series are safe.

The creature design and execution will send shivers down your spine: –

The design and execution of the infected are thrilling. The amount of creativity that goes into their design and how it is seamlessly integrated into the nature of the pandemic was wonderful to watch. There is a prolonged sequence in the 2nd episode where we are given a clear idea of the nature of the threat and how the only way to save what remained of the world was to annihilate a large chunk of the population. This bit of the series was so immensely impactful for me that I find it difficult to remember when something so outrageous impacted me to this extent and made me think was a zombie apocalypse the next thing coming our way after COVID-19? Every faceoff between the characters and the infected is tense, brutal and invariably leaves the characters short of their loved ones. These sequences are built up perfectly and end with a bang.

Documenting the evolution of society after the pandemic: –

The creators also dwell a lot on how society and people have evolved for 20 years coping with the pandemic. In a poignant scene, Joel tells Ellie that there are worst things out there in the wilderness than the infected and through the course of the series we get to experience what exactly he meant. We come across a town of ordinary people who have taken to cannibalism to survive. We see our protagonists barely make it out of the territories of a woman who has broken through the shackles of FEDRA and is now running her own town handing out death in the name of justice to whoever she deems fit. The series also shows us the tender love story between a gay couple that interestingly turned out to be one of the most engaging episodes of the series even though it added nothing to the story. It wasn’t critical to the plot either but what made it special was that it was able to show us a different facet of the impact of the pandemic on people who were willing to take it differently.

The performances are consistently brilliant: –

Pedro Pascal turns in a poignant, thoughtful, nuanced, and restrained performance that sells the complicated character of Joel wonderfully well. His camaraderie with Bella Ramsey felt absolutely on point. This was developed at a pace that aided the change of heart of a man who initially wanted to just dump the girl for something that he needed to someone willing to do anything to save her life and ensure her survival. This contributed to enhancing the impact of the dramatic scenes between the two as the story progressed. Pascal is able to wonderfully capture the emotional nuances of the character and makes us feel the weight of his tragedy and then his predicament involving Ellie.

Bella Ramsey had some issues with emoting an entire range of emotions and fails to capture the sense of fear and dread in some of the key moments. Thankfully, she grows in confidence as the series progresses. and towards the end of it comes into her own. Her lighter scenes with Joel are beautifully realized and these are the scenes where she does her best. Episode 7 of the series is all about her and her relationship with a fellow cadet from the FEDRA and she does exceedingly well in this episode even though this episode is easily the most pointless, unnecessary, and frustrating episode of the entire series.

Anna Torv is there for only two episodes and yet she leaves a major impact on the series and impresses with her rendition of Tess. Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett as a gay couple who lived out 20 years in each other’s company are wonderful. This was the best that I have seen of Nick Offerman and Bartlett gives him able company. Nico Parker as Joel’s daughter Sarah is brilliant in her rendering of the fear, claustrophobia, mayhem, and terror of the first day of the pandemic. She was able to make me care for her character in the very first episode of the series and this went a long way to ensure that the tragedy involving her character was best realized.

Scott Shepherd as David in episode 8 was sufficiently creepy and effective. What I liked in his act was the civil discussion that he was shown having with Ellie even though everything in that scene from his mannerisms to the atmosphere told me that there was something sinister lurking in the air. He was able to sell that feeling with his performance throughout the episode.

We needed more Zombie violence since it was so good: –  

One of my issues with the series was a frustrating lack of Zombie violence. Yes, there are atleast two episodes where the zombie violence presents itself in its breathtaking physicality and that also reminded me of how great the series could be when it played to its strength. Sadly, as the series progresses, the focus shifts from the infected to the people who survived the pandemic and the various aspects of their survival and how they have become bigger threats than the infected themselves. While this was an idea that was consciously taken in the game and was merely recreated here, I felt that when you are making a series that is 9 episodes long, it makes sense to take a few detours from the original content and introduce some more action.

Episode 7 should have been dropped completely: – 

Episode 7 of the series was one such episode that didn’t need to be. It takes us back to that one night of Ellie’s life that shows us how she came to be the person that she was. It was sufficient for us to know these details through a dialogue. To tag along with Ellie for 1 hour to see her prance around with another lesbian and finally get infected after almost an hour of nothingness was not amusing one bit. This episode came as a serious roadblock at a moment when the story was at an all-time high in terms of tension and thrill as the protagonist was near death and Ellie was scampering to find means to save his life.

Even episode 3 could have been avoided but that episode’s placement was good as after the exasperating first 2 episodes it came as a welcome change of pace. It is also a fact that Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett turn in such engrossing and haunting performances that the material of the episode gets instantly elevated and intrigues us with the narrative.

Climax could have been grander and the ending a little more ballistic: –

The climax of the series was strong keeping with the game and hence there is nothing to complain about it. However, I would have loved for the series to go out with a bang and have some scintillating action at the end. The same was there but it didn’t involve any zombies. That was somewhat of a letdown for me. In its defense, it can be said that the series was always an exploration of the human condition and not so much a zombie “shoot them up”.

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Final Words: – 

The Last of Us is easily one of the best or dare I say, the best video game adaptation to screen ever. It has wonderful performances, it has tension from start to finish, it is peppered with thrilling moments throughout, it looks gorgeous and even though the majority of the series is shot handheld, it will rate as one of the best-looking series of late. The action is scintillating when it needs to be and the story doesn’t leave us on a cliffhanger in the end. It is one of those series that you need to watch at least a couple of times to soak in all that it has to offer in terms of quality, performances, technicalities, and entertainment. This should be at the top of your watch list.

 Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not reflect EastMojo’s position.

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