The Last Of Us Review: Episode 3 Is Television At Its Finest

As a post-apocalyptic show, The Last of Us knows how to inflict terror in a cold, calculated and sombre manner – while still letting the audience know it has a soul
The Last Of Us Review: Episode 3 Is Television At Its Finest

Something strange happened a few weeks ago. The Last of Us, produced for HBO MAX in the US, dropped unceremoniously on DisneyPlus Hotstar – no fanfare, no updates, no push notifications. One had to spend a fair amount of time on Google (or Bing, if you’re weird) to get any information about its release date. To me, this didn’t add up – Sony has sold more than 550K PS4s in India (and presumably upwards of 50K PS5s so far) and The Last Of Us was one of its flagship ‘console-exclusive’ games. Basic mental math would lead us to conclude that there was an audience of at least 200K people for the English-language show.

But maybe DisneyPlus Hotstar knows something I don’t. Perhaps in a country where star vehicles with pedestrian action and mediocre storytelling are peddled as mainstream wonders, there may really not be enough eyeballs for The Last of Us – a show that not only delivers on its pathbreaking source material, but also transcends it.      

The show follows smuggler Joel (Pedro Pascal) and 14-year-old orphan Ellie (Bella Ramsey) as they navigate a post-apocalyptic world in which the Cordyceps fungi evolved, caused a global pandemic and turned most of humanity into inter-connected zombie hordes. Twenty years after Day zero in 2003, Joel lives in the Boston Quarantine Zone, working as a smuggler with Tess (Anna Torv). Joel and Tess are tasked by the Fireflies, an outfit that rebels against the authoritarian FEDRA, to carry Ellie across the open zones – to another Firefly base.

The Last Of Us Review: Episode 3 Is Television At Its Finest
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As a post-apocalyptic show, The Last of Us, created by Neil Druckmann (writer, director) and Craig Manzin (writer, director) knows how to inspire terror in a cold, calculated and sombre manner. In fact, the show is at its most horrifying when the zombies are not on screen. Its dread shines brightest when humans contemplate their utter and sheer defeat in the face of nature. Sure, it doesn’t shy away from the standard tropes – authoritarianism as a survival mechanism, humans as their own worst enemy, mankind’s innate cruelty – but it takes those tropes and reflects them off a prism of existentialism and nihilism, and onto a canvas of humour, hope and whatever beauty may remain in a cruel, cruel world.

Pedro Pascal as Joel is outstanding, and after The Mandalorian, must get his own plaque as Hollywood’s official ‘Favourite Adoptive Dad’. Bella Ramsey nails it as Ellie – a rebellious teenager with a secret, surviving in a post-disaster world. Of course, to see Anna Torv (as Tessa) back onto the streets of Boston (however devastated) is a special treat for longtime Fringe fans like me.

However, I must stop here with the series review – and refocus on the Last of Us episode 3. Long, Long Time shifts the audience’s gaze from Joel and Ellie to Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). Bill is an expert survivalist who holes out in his small town in the wake of a forced evacuation. He leads a content, safe life away from people like he always wanted, until his routine is upended by Frank, another survivor who moves in. What follows in the next hour is Offerman and Bartlett in the roles of a lifetime – in a story of love, hope, joy and a well…a lifetime. From the first laugh it draws from audiences with a well-executed Nazi joke, to the lingering sense despair it creates as the camera pans from Frank’s initial canvas art to the one he’s been trying desperately to draw now, to the gut-wrenching dinner that marks the episode's highest point – Long, Long Time is a sombre, fulfilling and emotional roller coaster ride.

The Last Of Us Review: Episode 3 Is Television At Its Finest
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The episode deserves a place among television's greatest hours – it is what on-screen pop-culture storytelling and screenwriting should aspire to be. While Frank and Bill’s story might seem inherently self-contained, it isn’t. It dutifully sets the stage for what’s to come next for Joel and Ellie’s larger story, and that’s another remarkable storytelling feat.

After three episodes, and twenty years' worth of storytelling, you finally see Joel’s facade shatter - something that hasn't happened since he lost his daughter. The episode exists not just to serve its own purpose, as these kinds of episodes in TV shows often do, but to set Joel and Ellie on the path they need to be on – one you see through the Frank and Bill’s bedroom window as they drive away in Bill’s Chevy in search of Joel’s brother Tommy (Diego Luna).

There’s a sense of ‘soul’ to The Last of Us – a seemingly remarkable feat for a video game adaptation or even a TV show in general. And in a post-Covid world, where we may have lost sense of everything that brought us together, and kept us apart – the show is a poignant, reflective reminder. It reminds us that we are, at any given point, an inch away from being the ‘last of us’ – and that’s a responsibility we must not take lightly, having come so close already, numerous times.

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