PM @ TILT: The Last of Us Season 1 Episode 1 Review – “When You’re Lost in the Darkness”
(ICYMI: I’m writing about The Last of Us over at TILT Magazine – every Monday, PM will post an excerpt from the previous night’s review).
The Last of Us may be the most unsurprising video game adaptation ever; after all, the 2013 PS3 title explicitly tries to not be a video game for much of its running time, one of many modern attempts to blur the lines between popular mediums – in what now, in 2023, feels like predictable ways. A conflicted protagonist, a bleak, well-realized world – and of course, oodles and oodles of aesthetic style unseen in video games at the time, accentuated by jump cuts and Gustavo Santaolalla’s infectious, emotional score. Its cinematic qualities were often at its odds of being a video game, though; watching The Last of Us was often more fun than playing The Last of Us, a cover shooter with some nifty crafting mechanics and some clumsy combat.
They always felt like two separate entities; The Last of Us, the game, where Joel can see outlines of people through walls and can craft items while running around in circles, and The Last of Us, the script that so nakedly wanted to be anything but a video game, full of conflicted morals, richly defined characters, and a bleakness that other zombie-adjacent media of time could only hope to aspire to (let me spell it out: every scene and plot twist in The Last of Us is Negan with the baseball bat, in a way). It wanted to be something – and for that, it was lauded in ways that were both deserved and wildly overblown.
Those cinematic aspirations made it pretty obvious an adaptation was an inevitability; and nearly a decade later, The Last of Us has arrived, in all its tribalistic, dour post-apocalyptic glory. That inevitability is almost formal in how straightforward it is; “When You’re Lost in the Darkness” is a beat for beat recreation of the opening hours of the game – in what sometimes feels like a collection of screenshots brought to life. To call it safe would be an understatement; but given how familiar the structure of the source material’s opening hours, it’s not a complete surprise the series isn’t taking any big, new swings in its debut.