Spoiler Heavy review of The Last of Us
So the season finale of the highly acclaimed show, The Last Of Us has come and gone, with many reviewers and critics losing their minds about how great this show was and all the wonderful things the writers were able to accomplish in this post-apocalyptic world filled with fungus-infected zombies and overall horrible survivors. Before anyone starts yelling at me, I realize this wasn’t a zombie show per se, but an infection caused by Cordyceps. And, although highly unlikely that these Cordyceps could ever infect humans, there is always the possibility that a mutated gene can cause the mayhem that this science fiction video game story indicates. Now that this is out of the way, let’s talk about the actual screen translation of this video game, created by Naughty Dog studios.
Helmed by as many directors as episodes, the creators Neil Drukmann and Craig Mazin create the ultimate post-apocalyptic backdrop for a journey theme rich in sub-plots, stand-alone stories, and character development. The setting alone for The Last Of Us is nothing short of miraculous and deserves all the praise anyone can possibly afford to throw at them. However, this is where the accolades need to stop. First, let’s talk about what the show does right. The stand-alone story episodes; Long, Long Time and Left Behind are the two lowest-rated shows in the series, yet provide the best individual stories in which we truly get to know characters, and offer a unique perspective on how some people may have survived through to the end of the world. Long, Long Time is a touching story of a gay couple finding love and building a home in which they are able to survive for many years after the fall of civilization. The episode is an absolute tear-jerker when the couple ends their lives on their terms, feeling content that they did the best they could for each other and found the most happiness anyone could hope for. Was it the fact they were gay that gave this an IMDB score of 8 compared to the episodes of Ellie and Joel walking aimlessly for an hour a score of 9.5? Speaking of gay relations, the other lowest-scored episode featured a lesbian kiss to boot. These were the only two episodes that held my attention through the sub-plot and kept the pacing relatively moderate compared to the slow-burn pacing the rest of the season offered. So much for letting fanboys review shows based on video games.
We are hinted at Joel’s (Pedro Pascal) past throughout the season. The underlying theme is that Joel is not the good person that he is throughout the present-day story, yet he never really does ever live up to the hero role in which he is being portrayed. Instead, he is presented as the reluctant hero and the eventual savior of Ellie (Bella Ramsey). This would have worked out better for the show if Joel was played by an actor capable of showing the smallest amount of emotion, and empathy, or even had a personality. This lack of depth in acting is consistently contrasted with Ellie cursing simply for the shock value of a young girl being allowed to swear, and the constant whining about how she is essentially useless and not able to grow as a character any more than Joel is able to show a hint of emotion. More on this soon.
The real nagging issue I had for The Last Of Us is it is supposed to be a zombie show, (or Cordyceps-infected humans) so where were they? We see a small handful in the first episode that looks strikingly still human, there is a couple of infected people in the action sequence resulting in Tess’s (Anna Torv) ultimate demise, one in a mall, and one in the finale. There was almost a hope that this could be an action show when the horde did present themselves in episode 5 Endure And Survive, but we never see them again. What was the point of introducing a new monster (a Bloater, or was it the Clicker?), without ever exploring what it was? Leaving these tidbits of information only available to the minority of viewers who played the video game is unfair and just bad writing.
How do the writers captivate their viewers with the “River of Death” and show the most beautiful scenery ever filmed, and no death? This was set up with Joel indicating caves in the rock formations, but are left unexplored and a missed opportunity for scares.
In the season finale, Look For The Light Joel kills the Fireflies before returning back to Jackson with Ellie under a lie about what happened at the hospital and nothing else is also a clear missed opportunity. Would this not have been a great time to reintroduce the horde of infected and build anticipation for a possible second season? Nope, the whole show becomes a pointless walk across the midwest with nothing accomplished, and no real antagonist to endure past the end credits. Not to say there weren’t antagonists throughout the season, they were just under-utilized and not very intimidating in the first place. For example, Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) is the most unlikely leader of a military unit and David the cannibal preacher lacked the charisma to ever get an entire town to consume human flesh. But they were killed off too quickly to ever really ever be a plausible force. I guess the writers were leaving the villain role to the invisible infected creatures that were talked about but never encountered.
Overall The Last Of Us suffered from bad pacing, underdeveloped characters, lackluster action, and predictable storylines. How many times is there going to be a gun pointed at the two travelers the moment they feel safe? The saving grace for this predictability is in the season finale where Joel lives up to the anti-hero and kills the people who legitimately seem to be the true heroes trying to save humanity and discover a cure. Of course, this renders the entire plot mute as the many miles of walking and talking about finding the Fireflies should have circled around a possibility they would operate on Ellie to get the immunity out of her, why did this end up being a surprise to Joel? The overeagerness to kill off characters that hold such potential ultimately is the undoing of this show.
Did I enjoy The Last Of Us? Actually, with all the negative comments I am throwing at it, yes I really did enjoy it. The sub-plots where we go to know Bill and Frank, the back story involving Riley, and the birth of Ellie where she comes into Marlene’s care are excellent instances of storytelling and plot development. The cannibal town was able to do in one episode that took the Walking Dead an entire season to cover, was a clever touch. And the overall premise that the world can end from a fungus lends to the horror element. Would I keep watching, yes, there was amazing potential for this show to grow and build on the world it has created. But in the end, I feel this show has received more praise than it ultimately deserved, hence the log winded review you have just read.
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