‘The Last of Us’ Episode 1 Review: ‘When You’re Lost in the Dark’
The chilling symphony of the opening episode destroys one world and creates another, expertly setting up a season of precision and punishment on television.
(Editor’s note: Included in the following review spoilers for “The Last of Us” Episode 1, “When You’re Lost in the Dark.”
Let’s take a moment to consider the “Last of Us” prologue, a bit of heavy lifting done so elegantly and tactfully that it takes a few viewings to fully appreciate. On top of that, it applies to the biggest meta element that works both for and against the show, the idea that the word “pandemic” has been turbocharged in the years since the original game came out a decade ago. He dismisses the idea of cordyceps as an occasional option rather than underlined with a giant red pen. He hands over the floor to the scientists to hint at the mayhem that’s about to happen, instead of some FEDRA lackeys doing it after the fact.
It shouldn’t work Big Head and Jonathan Carnahan outline the stakes of societal breakdown that we’ll see in waves throughout the season. But the combination of “We’re Losing” and the intermittent, cut-to-commercial reactions that lead directly into the opening mystery is a clever piece of TV framing that instills as much confidence in the viewer as it does anxiety.
While the game has found success in following the natural outgrowths and aftermath of the Outbreak, this opening episode finds great value in Outbreak Day 2003 and what might come of it. Of course, a high school student living in Bush-era paranoia greeted the end of the world with “Terrorists?” Of course, the soundtrack to The Last Normal Breakfast Ever would be a Dido song. Everything is normal until it’s not, that’s the reality that this show effectively draws from our past few years.
In directing this episode, Mazin is smart about what to take away from past crash stories. Gradual cracks in the dam before everything falls apart, police cars passing nearby windows, a neighbor testing someone on how to deal with the ‘enemy’. But the really effective touches here are the ones he leaves in the distance. Just the tiniest glimpse of what happens to the neighbors after Tommy (Gabriel Luna) runs them over is terrifying. That tells you everything you need to know about the spread of the thing better than watching what Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tommy saw around town or a ham-handed TV news report explaining it all.
It’s also an incredible starting point for the doomed van ride, a very savvy way to use the game’s visual language without sacrificing tension or storytelling. It’s perhaps the most effective in-car 360-degree camerawork since the “Childres of Men” ambush, and the nighttime setting really adds to the feeling of the three people in that car driving to hell.
When they get there, it’s a carefully orchestrated brand of mayhem that escalates even as the audience knows all hope is lost before they get there. The drive into town was oozing with terror: the house was on fire, the family was trying to get a ride (you could barely hear what they were yelling at the passing car, the sonic equivalent of Joel’s neighbor turning into a cordyceps dinner in the distance. a few minutes before), and that distinctly white-knuckle feeling when you drive the wrong way on the freeway. Once they arrive in town, the giant groups of terrified Austin citizens are almost even more unsettling in their uninfected form. Joel banging his hands on the instrument panel is almost like a conductor trying to keep time when the orchestra has crashed. Then the plane crash, the car overturns, and everyone’s fate is pretty much sealed.
Sarah’s (Nico Parker) bait-and-switch as our main entry into Eruption Day, only to die hours later is pretty horrifying. It’s the way this scene plays out that sets up an early expectation that the show isn’t meant to pull any punches. How many times have we seen a tearful death with a poetic farewell moment? This is completely missing here. Sarah dies in utter fear without offering any real last words to Joel. He clings to that hour because he doesn’t have much else to keep from that night, either physically or in memory. Even the face of the officer who shot them can’t be caught, only the beam of a flashlight. That alone is enough to make someone as hard as Joel.
It’s understandable that “The Last of Us,” a visual medium that needs to translate internationally in a way that even movies and TV aren’t forced to, can capitalize so well on light touches that aren’t necessary. any explanation. Using Boston’s children’s shoes as a signifier is the kind of nonverbal storytelling we’re used to seeing on screen, especially when it’s an entry point into a new world. Things like the introduction of the red/green testing system, which is haphazardly done off-center and unemphasized, making the “after” half of the episode feel immediate and relatable. This extends until Joel dragged the child to the mass grave. they put him to sleep. He carries the boy the same way he did with Sarah at the end of his last peaceful night with her. Instead of gently putting him to bed, he throws more fuel on the funeral pyre. A ruthless, effective way to show just how broken this guy has been in two decades.
Seeing this and knowing that co-creator Craig Mazin’s last show was “Chernobyl” gives this opening an even creepier feel in retrospect. The previous series was rooted in the idea of institutional ignorance and failed to hear the answers offered by well-intentioned experts. The post-2003 world of “The Last of Us” is even more of a wasteland because there is barely any scope for these specialists to exist, even if they were to find working answers. Here, it is not the scientists who speak directly to the authorities, but the rebels who try to bypass the authorities. Who knew a show could crave the cold shoulder of entrenched political bureaucracy?
This opening episode sets up the world as best it can, even if it does have to build the idea of Fireflies from scratch out of a bit of gnarly necessity. The cult epithets, the creation of the power structure, Anna Torv’s Tess, which adds an extra octave to the last word of “I’m not a SÜNZBOGÁR”. – these are all embarrassing and annoying. Such is the nature of time jumps, and they present a world where everyday life has been irrevocably changed. Mazin (who directs this episode in addition to co-writing it) supports this idea with some subtler touches. Joel asking for the Ziploc bag back is a shortcut to explaining the scarcity of resources in New Boston. It’s not just the idea of Joel jumping the line to get into the radio room, but the fact that he and his relationship are friendly enough that the other guy feels comfortable enough to feed one of his kids with his own hands ( “…the smart one”, not the other one…”).
When Ellie is brought into the fray, Bella Ramsey makes her almost play a role in survival. Yes, we get that she grew up in agonizing circumstances and has legitimate reasons to have trust issues. Ellie as a character, however, seems to straddle the line between projecting trash and living it, as if she’s seen that the only people who can survive in this world—senseless smugglers, guerilla rebels, the decidedly not… defunded police— with the same basic antagonism that helps them get what they want. Ellie doesn’t want to defeat them or join them, but sticking closer to the latter seems like the better option. It will be interesting to see how this outer shell holds up as it experiences the horrors outside the walls of Boston.
While the 2023 part of this pilot hints at the show to come, it’s not driven by the obvious “today is the day” feel that you might expect. Even as they try to get out and find Tommy, it’s crucial that Joel and Tess are surprised by the circumstances that set their journey in motion. The idea of the two of them spilling out into Firefly’s hideout corridor (we don’t see it after a shootout) is a nice twist, and the subterfuge is made even better by the fact that the audience can join in on the same discovery. (A quick note: this is a good time to point out that this week and the coming weeks I’m approaching this from the perspective of a newcomer to “The Last of Us.” Outside of the events of the first four episodes, I know very little about where the game is headed or the history of the show.)
A tense hallway showdown with great gun choreography and Pedro Pascal eyebrow dancing is the last thing before Joel, Ellie and Tess are sent off to the Great North East. After the truth is revealed about Ellie’s condition (again, the effectiveness of the red/green system!), and some hammer blows to the head of Officer Bullets-and-Pills, it ends with a clear objective and a sense of limitless possibilities. to get there. Pretty much the best script for the opening episode of a huge TV adaptation. Even the closing song selection strikes the right balance between the familiar and the new. Presented with a Depeche Mode song option, it avoids simple (and thematically in-brand) choices like “Enjoy the Silence” or “Shake the Disease.” Instead, it’s “Never Let Me Down Again,” with its 80s drums, echoing keyboards, and Dave Gahan, that sends that tiny ray of hope into the night. All they have to do is watch the world pass them by.
“The Last of Us” airs Sunday nights at 9:00 PM on HBO and can be streamed on HBO Max.
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