The Last of Us HBO series is a mixed bag. There are parts of this show I really liked and other parts I despised. The main trouble is that there are two full episodes which are completely irrelevant to the plot. Frankly, you could skip episodes three and seven and not miss a thing. These episodes are just fanfare for the critics and add nothing to the story. Particularly episode three. I’ve never seen such a random addition to a series. What’s so astounding is that the flashback in episode three keeps going. About halfway through, the viewer realizes that they really are going to have to watch these two old men live and die, all so Joel and Ellie can get a truck at the end. It’s some of the worst and most obvious propaganda I’ve ever seen. You might not find yourself angry at the end of episode seven, but if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself wanting to scream by the end of episode three.
As for my general reflections on the characters and how they’re portrayed in the series, Joel and Ellie’s relationship is pretty consistent with the game, but I would say that the character’s interactions at the beginning are much harsher than they need to be. In the original version, there is a vulnerability to the characters that gives the entire story a somber feel that just isn’t present in the show. Too many times, the actors default to anger, especially in the beginning. But the actors soften the relationship between Joel and Ellie over the course of the series and do a good enough job building their father-daughter relationship to off-set the over-the-top hostility portrayed earlier.
With a Couple Exceptions, a Successful Adaptation
Although, the writers did devote two entire episodes to nonsense, the moments they weren’t trying to preach stuck very close to the original material, and I have to give them credit for that. It’s very rare for a show’s writers not to decide that they know better than the original author and take the entire series into a completely new direction. So, for the sake of the fans, I’m happy they stuck so close to the game, even when they portrayed scenes from the source material I didn’t care for.
But there were still moments where the writers veered off in a completely unrelated direction. The moments depicting David as a religious nut were as cliché as they were tedious. I’ve seen the bad preacher so many times, I almost have his lines memorized. And it’s a shame because the actor who played David, Scott Shepherd, did a fine job. You almost wanted to like him at certain points, and conflicting emotions for a villain can make for a compelling story. Then there were characters like Tommy’s wife, Maria. She was the single most unlikable character in the entire series: pretentious, judgmental, and an advocate for communism, which should always serve as a red flag (pun intended) for anybody. And the fact that the writers chose to try and paint communism in a good light was laughable. These writers evidently have not studied the Pilgrims and have no idea how communism actually works. It’s just not capitalism, so that makes it good, I guess.
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey did a fine job as Joel and Ellie. The Joel in the series is clearly not the Joel in the games, but a good actor is going to add his or her own twist to a character to make the role their own. Any faults I had with their performances, I would attribute to the directing and writing rather than their talent.
And like a said in the previous review, I don’t think the morally ambiguous question presented at the end—when Joel saves Ellie instead of letting the Fireflies kill her in the hopes of finding a cure—is really that ambiguous of a question. I think what Joel did was right, and it was an obvious choice, but the whole point behind writing morally challenging situations in a story is to let the viewer make up their own mind, and the writers didn’t try to give their opinion one way or the other. I appreciated that. Leaving things open-ended is what made the game great, and it’s what makes the show worthwhile as well.
Overall Worth the Watch
So, on the whole I’d say The Last of Us HBO series is worth your time . . . if you skip episodes three and seven. You can watch them if you like, but you’ll be wanting your time back. The series did the game justice.
Alas, I’m not looking forward to season two, and I have no doubt that there will be a second season. Fans of the game know that The Last of Us is not only known for its morally ambiguous ending, but also for one of the most infamous bait and switches in video game history. Since I’d like to spare you the travesty that is The Last of Us Part II, I’m going to spoil the “twist.” So, if you’ve decided that you want to see what happens after the first season, then don’t read on. But I’d rather not recommend the second half of the series given what happens.
Basically, the creators insisted the sequel would be another adventure with Ellie and Joel. However, during the first portion of the game, Joel is killed, and the player is forced to play as his murderer through a large section of the story. The defense for this decision was that the game was a cautionary tale against revenge, but even if that was the creator’s intention, the fact remains that those same creators lied to their audience and baited everyone into buying a game they knew their audience would hate. And so, for this reason, I have no interest in reviewing the second season because I would prefer to remember Joel as he was, a man who found a daughter, a daughter who might be suspicious about his actions, but is alive, and can, perhaps, bring about a better future for humanity.