The Last Of Us - Episode 01 - When You're Lost in the Darkness Review
*It’s rare that we at Player 2 cover anything that isn’t in the video game realm, but with it’s roots firmly in gaming, and the prestigious talent involved in it, HBO’s adaptation of The Last Of Us is an incredibly fascinating project. So join us, each week as we dissect the newly released episode, from the series’ first to its last.*
It’s fairly well known in this local scene that I’m a fan of The Last Of Us, and in fact, to me, the 2013 smash hit, and every rendition of it since, from The Last Of Us Remastered on PS4, to 2022’s The Last Of Us Part I remake on PS5, is the best game has had to offer in the last ten years, and one of the absolute greatest games of all time. So the thought of The Last Of Us being adapted to TV was both an exciting and terrifying prospect. Could what Neil Druckmann and the broader Naughty Dog team had created in 2013 be diminished by this TV series? Or would it be of equal quality, and something that would be additive to the world of the game? So with the first episode is going to air as you read this, how much does it honour the games, and how much can it possibly forge its own path?
Episode 01 of The Last Of Us was both incredibly faithful to the source material, but also it respectfully expands upon it. The series begins in a haunting fashion, a group of news anchors and experts in 1968 discussing the remote possibilities of a virus that could completely destroy the world as we know it. Dismissed as a horrifying but near-impossible prospect, the panel would, just a mere 35 years later be proven to be correct. It is post the opening credits where we first meet the loving father/daughter combo, Joel (Pedro Pascal), and Sarah (Nico Parker) simply going about their normal lives, Sarah to school, Joel working. The bulk of the time focuses on Sarah, building her character out to be more than the key plot device that we know she will soon become. Meanwhile, the world around her is starting to change; tensions are rising, and unusual stories are emerging – the virus is beginning to take hold. Throughout, Sarah comes tantalisingly close to the cordyceps virus without even knowing it, most notably during an encounter with the neighbouring Adler family, an encounter that is all the more horrifying if you’re a pre-existing fan and know what to look for.
The day comes to a close peacefully for both Joel and Sarah though, they return home, Joel much later than he had planned, but the duo have some heartfelt moments celebrating Joel’s birthday. They sit down to watch a movie, Sarah’s eyes close, and they only open hours later when the beginning of the end of the world kicks off. There is some unbelievable tension extracted out of the scenes that follow, from Sarah’s tentative exploration of her own home and the terrifying scenes at the Adler’s as she sees the immediate impacts of the virus, first hand. A quick escape leads her to Joel and a desperate escape attempt that, after several near misses, ends in a soul-destroying and tear-jerking way, Sarah dead, and a broken Joel and brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) left to deal with the fallout.
20 years later and the narrative picks up with Joel in the Boston Quarantine Zone. Emotionally scarred and physically battered, Joel has been doing what it takes to survive, from labour for FEDRA, to law-breaking work with other local factions, or alongside the Fireflies. He’s been working with co-conspirator Tess (Anna Torv) but when Tommy hasn’t returned to the QZ for three weeks, Joel is fighting of every fibre of himself to get out there and find him. Joel and Tess being the forceful and resourceful duo that they are, quickly building a plan to rescue him. Despite numerous cards not falling their way and several other variables impeding their path as well, the pair decide on, and execute a plan to get their hands on a much-needed car battery from the rebel Fireflies group.
The Fireflies have been busy though too, holing up a young girl with a mysterious, world-changing immunity to the cordyceps virus. Ellie (Bella Ramsey) was bitten by an infected but hasn’t turned so the head of the Boston Fireflies, Marlene (Merle Dandridge) seeks to find a way to extract her and perhaps use Ellie to find a way to save the world, but when conflict breaks out, and Joel and Tess suddenly emerge amidst, a wounded Marlene realises that the best chance we have for survival is to leave Ellie in the care of the smuggler duo or risk Ellie’s death – her world-changing immunity dying with her. The episode concludes with a chance encounter with a FEDRA agent exposing Ellie to Joel and Tess as infected, that serving as a gigantic cliffhanger dangling in front of viewers for the next episode.
As you read this, you will quickly realise that The Last Of Us’ first episode has remained quite true to the core of the first 60-90 minutes of the game, although there are a few more moments of direct character-building and others that are purely designed to sell the threat of the virus. Despite having played The Last Of Us multiple times, and knowing the big moments that were to come, the way with which Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have built out the backstory, and embraced the strengths of the medium, ensures that those moments, when they arrive, hit all over again in arguably more impactful ways than the 2013 game once did.
The casting is superb. Parker’s Sarah is so wonderfully depicted and the relationship with Pascal’s Joel is so beautifully plotted, such that the pivotal plot moments, and even the near misses on the way, all break through any emotional barriers you may have built up. Ramsey’s Ellie, despite having relatively limited screen time given the circumstances is the same, smart-mouthed, often obnoxious, but hardened and strong Ellie that we all know and love; the stage set for the challenges that she’ll soon face. Meanwhile Torv as Tess, and Luna as Tommy, as well as all other supporting characters do a stellar job, being the tools to elevate the two core relationships of the episode even further.
The world of Texas, from the peaceful, but soon falling Austin to the battered, broken, and clinging to live QZ of Boston have each been respectfully recreated but also tweaked through excellent environmental storytelling to further highlight the battles that lay ahead.
It’s only the first episode, but already it’s clear that there’s been no more faithful video game adaptation than The Last Of Us. The respect for the source material is apparent everywhere you look and with each performance delivered. Whether it is the core plotline, or the world-building layers that enclose it, everything about “When You’re Lost In The Darkness” exudes a love for the game content. It demonstrates that love by not simply recreating the wheel, but rather adding a few additional, supportive foundations that are sure to pay off later in the series.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a show that begins in a better fashion. This opening 80 minutes sets the stage for one of the greatest stories of all time to play out for a new, or existing, but both inevitably adoring audience.
The Last of Us is available to stream now on BINGE, with new episodes every Monday. This episode was reviewed with early access kindly provided by BINGE.