When it comes to premiere television events of 2023 one series ranks as one of the most anticipated and therefore must-watch events, HBO’s The Last of Us. Regarded as one of the great video games of all time, this intense and brooding post-apocalyptic story has now found its way to serialised television and its first episode kicks off with one hell of a bang.
Twenty years after a fungal outbreak ravages the planet, hardened survivors Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) are tasked with a mission that could change everything.
Regarded as one of the greatest video games of all time, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us took the medium of video games to new heights and establish a loyal group of fans who were absolutely spellbound by its heightened narrative and innovative action. Now The Last of Us arrives on SKY TV and Neon as one of the year’s most anticipated series. And series this is a series that dials the action up to 11. Series showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann (who also oversaw development of the game) bring to life the post-apocalyptic, western hell of The Last of Us to life with dynamic energy, massive scale and intense narrative focus. Audiences are treated to a hell of a rush with this episode.
As a viewing experience, ‘When You’re Lost in the Darkness’ is a rollercoaster of a ride and moves at a kinetic pace to introduce the lead characters and the events that shaped them, along with the sudden infestation of the Cordyceps infection and its harrowing aftermath. Its 81 minutes of screen time is a perfect projection of narrative television and audiences settle into the pace of this series quickly. While keeping away from any specific narrative spoilers, I will say that the episode’s first 31 minutes make for a nail-bitingly harrowing watch, and your heart will go into palpitations at the end of this traumatic first act. From there we move to a nightmare future where civilisation is on its last legs and only the brave survive. There’s a toughness and grit to the setting that Cormac McCarthy would approve of, and a boiling sense of tension keeps you hooked.
Standing front and centre in the middle of The Last of Us is Pedro Pascal as Joel Miller, a scrappy, hard-working Texan father and patriot who is caught right in the middle of the Cordyceps infection and who changes in the face of immense tragedy. In ‘When You’re Lost in the Darkness’ we see Pascal as two Joel’s; the everyday dad pre-pandemic, and the brooding, intense, embittered and violent survivor post-pandemic. Pascal has proved he’s got the chops of a leading man, and he owns the screen when he steps out as Joel. Tough and capable, Pascal’s Joel is a pure survivor and his cunning and talents have made him an intimidating presence, but bad luck soon finds him caught up in a daring mission.
Joel is a radically different type of character for Pascal to portray and his is a completely human performance of a tough guy who has a few issues. Introduced as a brooding loner, Joel is a man suffering from the nightmares of his past actions, and who now only lives moment to moment. In watching Pascal you get a picture of a man who is reactionary and sharp, along with being skilled in the art of violence. He cuts a dangerous figure in every scene in which he appears, and Pascal is channelling that classic Clint Eastwood character with his stance and actions. We’re only at the start of The Last of Us, and it’s clear that Joel’s got a long way to go to any kind of redemption, but damn has Pascal crafted a character we’re already invested in, and this is a guy who commands your attention.
Paired next to Joel is Bella Ramsey as the feral, foul-mouthed and scrappy teenager Ellie. A lone survivor with a complex secret, Ellie finds herself in a heap of trouble and is shaked up with Joel and his lover and partner Tess (Anna Torv), and forced to go on the run with them on a smuggling mission that takes a very dangerous turn before the end of this first episode. While we’re only introduced to Ramsey’s Ellie in this episode, it’s clear that the young actress has crafted a character to watch. And there’s a lot of intrigue going on with her character. Praise must also be heaped on Nico Parker for her role as Sarah, Joel’s daughter, and her appearance leads to plenty of drama and emotional feeling.
As a viewing experience, Episode One, ‘When You’re Lost in the Darkness’ is a harsh watch. And I mean that in the best possible way. It’s a series that doesn’t pull any punches and invests heavily in its mix of the post-apocalyptic and western genres. Its on-screen artistry and setting is lived in, dirty and collapsing, you can feel the desperation and survivalist themes, and it’s a situation that invests you in the series. It’s also a series where snap judgements have considerable and violent consequences, and the ending of this episode makes for one hell of a shock, it’s a vicious endpoint that shows just how dangerous our lead character is.
Episode One of The Last of Us, ‘When You’re Lost in the Darkness’ makes for a hell of a start for one of 2023’s most ambitious new series, and we’re hooked in with this one.
The Last of Us is available on SKY TV and Neon on Mondays.
Image: SKY TV