The Last of Us season 1 episode 1, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness”, offered an exciting debut as the video game makes the jump to live-action.
When video games get the live-action adaptation treatment it commonly gets raised eyebrows and instills a little bit of hesitancy. So, of course, The Last of Us video game fans were worried.
Typically, in the realm of gaming, you have narrative and storytelling that just can’t always be translated effectively to a different medium. Masterpieces in one form don’t always remain masterpieces when adapted elsewhere. So you can imagine the fear that many fans of The Last of Us series had for the beloved story and characters due to seeing them possibly ruined. *cough* Netflix’s Resident Evil *cough*.
I’m here to tell you to put aside your fears because The Last of Us season 1 episode 1, “When You’re Lost in The Darkness”, is a beautifully crafted premiere. From the very beginning, the groundwork is laid for what we’re getting ourselves into as the audience. Two scientists in 1968 warn the general public on a talk show about their thoughts on what could end the world and humanity as we know it, and to everyone’s surprise, it’s not famine, viral disease, or even war, but…. fungi.
Fungi that actually already exist in the real world. It’s the type of fungi that currently hijacks ants and puppeteers them and spreads itself to other ants keeping them in suspended animation; almost zombie-like. The theory that a fungus could mutate and evolve to prey on humans could very well be a real possibility. The entire scene is short and sweet and it immediately lets us know exactly what kind of antagonist we are dealing with.
Fast forward to Texas in 2003. We are introduced to Sarah (Nico Parker) a young, intelligent, and very likable girl who is the daughter of Joel (Pedro Pascal) a 30-something blue-collar, single, father whose entire world is about caring for his daughter, his younger brother named Tommy (Gabriel Luna) a former military soldier, working alongside his brother and occasionally getting himself into trouble. The major focus during the flashback is Sarah. We see how much she cares about Joel. The way she gets her father’s watch fixed for his birthday and their overall dynamic tells a lot about her character.
I found it so interesting that so few popular post-apocalyptic zombie films always begin before the world has been utterly ravaged and annihilated. We hardly ever get to see the beginning stages of frenzy and panic as the world descends into chaos. Following Sarah as the episode begins to turn the dial higher and higher each minute works well. From news reports to military planes flying overhead and increased police presence, the audience feels the atmosphere begin to get more unsettling. There’s a sense of anxious anticipation with everything leading to Sarah finding herself face-to-face with a crazed infected old woman feasting on her family and all hell breaks loose from that point. And can I just say that the parasitic tendrils that come from the old woman’s mouth are one of the most disgustingly awesome things I have ever seen! I just sat there quietly whispering, “What… The… Efffff?!?!”
With Joel, Sarah, and Tommy escaping in their pickup truck, we got an awesome sequence showcasing the world falling into utter chaos, The freeways are at a standstill of traffic. Planes are making emergency landings damn near past their heads. And the streets are overrun with infected and non-infected individuals who are completely unidentifiable during the sheer madness. Fire is set to houses and buildings. Cars are slamming into crowds of people. The camera work is phenomenal. It places us straight into the pickup truck as Tommy desperately tries to find safe paths through fields and narrow alleys all the while avoiding innocent and infected alike. Watching a plane fall out of the sky in a massive explosion sending everyone flying was such a harrowing climax I couldn’t help but be amazed and also on the verge of a panic attack. It was brilliant!
It puts into perspective the idea that no one can be trusted. For survival, selfishness is the only option. Joel’s love for his daughter surpasses all of that. And when they are confronted by a soldier ordering their execution. It ultimately leads to Sarah’s death. I have to rave about this for a second because Sarah’s death was so heartbreaking, ugly, and truly horrifying. Nico Parker’s performance was so believable as her face translated fear, confusion, and unimaginable pain. I was in tears. And Pedro Pascal going from consoling to begging for her to stay with him as Sarah took her last frantic breaths, it just broke me. It was at this point that I knew The Last of Us is going to be a show the redefines video-game-to-live-action storytelling.
A final time jump to twenty years into the future, it’s 2023, and the world as we know it is gone. Nature has retaken Boston. Quarantine zones controlled by military factions keep the people safe but under strict rule.
We are introduced to the rest of the cast. Tess (Anna Torv), is a hardened, tough, street-smart smuggling partner of Joel’s. The rebel faction is known as “The Fireflies”, fighting to free themselves from FEDRA, the near dictator-like military force led by Marlene (Merle Dandridge), who is a headstrong strategist with some yet to-be-explained guardian-like relationship to Ellie (Bella Ramsey). Ellie is a loud mouth, aggressive, and impulsive young girl who it seems may be immune to the parasitic fungi and as such she must keep it secret so as not to be made a target.
Through crazy circumstances, Joel and Tess are entrusted by Marlene to smuggle and protect Ellie out of the Quarantine Zone, a mission that could very well get them executed if they are to be discovered by FEDRA and out into the wilds outside the protection of the QZ walls. As they carefully sneak through the rubble outside of the walls, narrowly evading armored trucks, guard searchlights, and even military helicopters, in a downpour complete with thunder and lightning, you can feel the tension.
The pressure culminates to a boiling point when a soldier catches them, triggering Joel’s PTSD and sending him into an uncontrollable rage, savagely beating the soldier with his bare fists. The closing scene reveals to both Tess and Joel that Ellie is in fact infected, but she’s shown no signs of transforming, letting the audience believe that Ellie is the only one immune to the effects of the fungi disease, now called “Cordyceps brain infection”.
And the closeout to Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” was just *Chef’s Kiss*.
The premiere episode is an hour and twenty minutes long and wastes absolutely none of it. It’s thrilling, heartbreaking, suspenseful, and bleak and it just does it all effortlessly. I must say it’s a perfect joining of writing, acting, and directing. From the camera work to the atmosphere, it was all expertly crafted and I can’t wait for what episode two and beyond has in store for our characters as they venture away from the QZ walls.
What did you think?
Let us know.
And for those interested, you can watch Farid’s recap of the episode on YouTube!
Author: Micah Carrillo
Micah is studying English and Digital Design. His love of geek culture spans across diverse mediums and genres. Comics, anime, films, you name it! He enjoys video games on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox.
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