We have entered the PlayStation era of television. What was once the swan song of the PS3 is now leading a flock of games-to-television adaptions. The bar has been set high by a multitude of factors. The Last of Us games are two of the highest rated games of all time. The show is apart of HBO’s premium lineup, with leading Game of Thrones alum to boot.
There is quite a bit riding on the wings of The Last of Us‘ success, not just for Naughty Dog, HBO, etc., but for the future direction of PlayStation as a whole. With four movies and three TV shows in the works, ranging from Twisted Metal to God of War to Horizon, PlayStation is investing in expanding their IP outside of video games.
I mention all this to convey one thing—pressure. The Last of Us has never known life without pressure. It was a gamble for Naughty Dog to split in to two teams at peak popularity. After smashing every goalpost, work on the sequel began. That development was long and filled with strife as the team chased ambition with a bold, divisive story and gameplay direction. Now there is the studio’s first standalone multiplayer game, also set in the world of fungi, and the rumored Part III. And now this television adaption is shouldering a part of this legacy.
In the world of the game/show, Joel doesn’t know life without pressure. A single-father raising a daughter, only to have her ripped away at the beginning of a global pandemic. An older brother trying to help and keep the younger alive. A smuggler dancing the delicate line of staying out trouble and staying aloft. And at the end of episode one, a man charged with delivering the cure of the disease to the Massachusetts State House.
All of the main characters in the show life under pressure. Sarah worries for an overworked father struggling to makes ends meet. Tess is trying to keep her and Joel alive. Robert tries to sell bad merchandise–twice. Marlene is leading a failing rebellion when the possible cure falls into her hands. Ellie is charged with knowledge and a secret.
To top it all off, there’s the expectation put there by the world, the fans, and myself. Expectation is dangerous. If there is too much and the whole thing will be crushed; too little and it can swell to impossible size the next time around. Expectation can get the better of all those involved.
Despite all of this weighing down on the franchise, the companies, the creativity, and (most importantly) the people involed, the first episode does not crack. The tone, emotional, and captivation are all there. It’s a strong start, but that’s just where we’re at—the start. I was eager to watch it all unfold before the premiere, but now I am even more so. I hope the expectation doesn’t get the better of me.
So, that wasn’t the direction I envisioned taking that review, but here we are! My personal goal is to review each episode this season. I’ve never reviewed a TV show (in the traditional manner), so I thought this would be a good creative exercise for the year. I know the review above doesn’t dig into the episode itself, so I wanted a list of the bits and bobs I noticed in the episode. I may do this with each episode. We’ll see.
- Poor Jimmy was rewritten to be the owner of the burning farm, rather than the neighbor that turns.
- I had not heard that spores were swapped with tendrils. I’m not thrilled with this decision from a artistic perspective, but I do understand the logic behind it. The clouds of spores offer such a visually striking opportunity. The gas masks are gritty and it provides an in-world way to convey Ellie’s immunity to other characters without having to explain the whole scar. On the other side though, animating tendrils in the video game would have been way harder than spore clouds. The inverse applies to the show, the spore clouds would keep things foggy and hide actors’ faces, while tendrils provide a spooky visual that conveys danger. C’est la vie.
- The makeup and site design are spot on. The infected caked in the wall is stunning. I cannot wait to see Clickers next week.
- I loved the twitchy, fast nature of the Runners. Feels like the right adaption of them to film.
- Marlene and Ellie’s relationship has been (at least so far) fundamentally changed. In the game and the comic, Ellie has known Marlene her whole life. It’s no mystery to Ellie why she is in the FEDRA school/orphanage. Marlene stills knows Ellie in this adaption, but I feel like keeping Ellie in the dark her whole life until this immunity revelation robs Ellie of that direct line to her mother. It isolates her and her drive to do good in an effort to make her mother Anna and Marlene proud.
- Having a truck battery be the merchandise from Robert is better than weapons we never see. It ties into the motivation in Bill’s Town (assuming the show sticks with that) and with Marlene’s need to get out of the city. It’s more cohesive.
- Joel is the little spoon.
- Tess came off as subdued to me. She wasn’t as powerful as her in-game incarnation. The show has her a prisoner of Robert at the start. The game, Tess was no one’s prisoner and was a far clearer leader in the community. This version is more broken and therefore probably more human. It may grow on me here, but how much time do they really have left?
- Bella Ramsey nails Ellie. Her delivery of a few lines got me to laugh out loud. Captivating performance and introduction. Excited to see her’s and Ellie’s range be explored.
- Joel was the character I had the most issues with. Pedro is fantastic; all my nitpicks stem from their reworking off the character.
- Joel has clear ties to Tommy still. Heck, his drive to leave Boston in the first place is to go save Tommy. Their falling out in the game is a creative void were the player imagination soars. How dark was the time for Joel as a Hunter that it drove Tommy away? Now, I’m not sure how fractured their relationship is, especially if Tommy is at least checking in with his brother. It’s different. We’ll see how it pays off.
- I don’t care for Joel drinking and taking drugs. This is a clear break for me from the game where he doesn’t “want…one” when Tess offers whiskey. This feels like a crutch to convey sad dad energy. Joel was absorbed in his own depression just fine in the game. I wouldn’t surprise me if Joel did have a substance abuse issue in the past of the game, but not partaking conveys a much lonelier place and the show has lost that.
- The snapping and murder of the guard also felt out of touch with the source material. I do appreciate the situational PTSD and conveying that. It works for the show. But Joel defending Ellie felt too soon and conveys to the audience care for the girl he shouldn’t quite have yet. Perhaps they’ll weave more PTSD scenarios that help Ellie peel back Joel’s layers. It is certainly a change forced by being an adaption. Now, we need to see how they leverage the medium.