Last time, we looked at the first episode of The Last of Us and talked about how it was well written, but if you are aware of the controversy surrounding this game and its sequel, then you know bad things are on the horizon. Once we reach episode two, the writing quality drops a little but not much. It’s still pretty good, at least, when it’s consistent with the source material.
Ellie wakes up to find Joel and Tess staring at her with a loaded gun. Her guardians are having a hard time believing that she is not infected with the virus despite the fact that her wound has healed. There is a brief debate about whether or not to continue the mission, but of course, they decide to finish the job. They continue their trek into the city, entering a hotel, which Joel and Tess refer to as, “the long way.”
Close to the top of the building, there is a pile of debris blocking off the hallway, but there are doors on either side, and Joel and Tess only make a cursory effort to try and open them. I mean, they have guns, boots, supplies. Am I supposed to believe they can’t open a locked door? Tess—a little too quickly—opts to climb through the rubble, and the reason for this contrivance becomes apparent. They want Joel and Ellie to have a moment. Sadly, it’s not much of a moment, and the first major issue with the series is revealed.
The video game did a remarkable job showing the facial expressions of the characters, adding a hint of sadness, vulnerability, and desperation to the eyes of Joel and Ellie even as they exchange harsh words with one another. However, during this scene, the actors are doing what my acting professor in college referred to as “playing into anger.” This is when an actor comes across a particularly complicated scene where there are several levels to the conversation that must be communicated through body language, tone, and facial expression, and because the actor either doesn’t understand the source material or doesn’t feel they can communicate the emotions required by the scene, they will say every line as if they are angry because anger is the easiest emotion to convey, both on screen and on stage. Sometimes this can work, but often, the tone delivered by the actor will feel out of place because the actor does not understand the subtext behind the dialogue. So, when Joel and Ellie have their first scene where the subtext clearly is that they are trying to decide whether or not to trust each other and also subconsciously hoping the other character can fill a hole in their lives—for those who aren’t aware, The Last of Us Part 1 is a Father-Daughter Story—instead of timidly asking each other questions at the beginning and either bonding or having the conversation devolve into a fight, the characters instantly start smarting off to one another, and the scene becomes a wry and snide argument rather than a conversation where either one or both characters attempt to form a bond.
Joel and Ellie exchange quick and, somewhat, witty banter that the actors and director try to pass off as funny, but from the point of view of the audience, it feels like a waste of time, and it really shouldn’t. As far as I can tell, it’s not the dialog that’s the problem. The fault either lies with the actors for playing into anger when it’s not appropriate, or the director for not instructing the actors properly when explaining the purpose of the scene. This is unfortunate because the main driving force behind The Last of Us Part 1, the thing that separates it from all the other dystopian zombie stories, is the relationship between Joel and Ellie, as mentioned before, the show is a Father Daughter story, so for the actors to struggle with building this kind of connection is a real problem.
Finally, Tess manages to crawl through the rubble and unlocks one of the doors from the other side. They reach a balcony and see that their path is cut off by zombies, so they decide to take a separate route through a museum. Here, they encounter what are referred to as Clickers. These zombies basically use a form of sonar to see. The three of them are attacked, but ultimately, escape, or so it would seem.
After this close call, they reach the building where the team of Fireflies are supposed to be waiting for them, but once they arrive, they find that all the men who were meant to take Ellie to her next destination are dead. This causes Tess to panic, and it’s quickly revealed that she has been bitten.
Here, is one moment where the show parts ways with the video game, and I don’t care for the reason why. In the game, it’s FEDRA who shows up and confronts the three of them. Tess sacrifices herself to buy Joel and Ellie time; however, in the show, it’s the horde of zombies that show up, and Tess makes the same decision as in the game. However, in the show, she dumps a bunch of barrels of oil all over the floor—no one seems to know why these barrels are even there, but anyway—then she pulls out a lighter just as the zombies come pouring in. At this point, the writers decide to do that tedious and lame thing where it takes forever for the lighter to start, and while that’s going on, one of the zombies comes up to Tess and kisses her for no reason. Apparently, the writers wanted to gross out the audience and were willing to rewrite the story just for a visual. Chances are, we’ll never find out the point behind that kiss.
The episode ends with the lighter finally starting, the building exploding, and Joel and Ellie walking away, devastated by the loss of their friend. It’s not a bad episode, but the zombie kiss was ridiculous, and it has a few slow moments. But those tedious parts have more to do with the acting or directing rather than the writing. Still, so far, the show has remained strong over all…but then, we get to episode three.