Based on the popular computer game and shot in my hometown and surrounding areas, THE LAST OF US is a post-apocalyptic HBO show about a man tasked with transporting a girl, who may be humanity’s last hope, across what’s left of the United States. In my view, this is an almost perfect apocalyptic series.
Twenty years after the world ended due to a rampant pandemic of fungal infection that turned its victims into monsters, Joel (Pedro Pascal) has lost what was most important to him and lives as a hardened survivor in a quarantine zone. When he’s contacted by the leader of a local rebel organization called the Fireflies to transport a girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the country to a research facility, he resists at first but takes on the burden. For humanity, the stakes couldn’t be higher, as the girl is immune. The story rolls out as a series of encounters on the road, with substantial flashbacks and back stories that slow the pacing but ultimately enrich the overall story and world building.
From every angle, this is my favorite kind of apocalyptic story. Realistic, gritty, savage, inhabited by an evolving and monstrous predatory enemy, full of horrifying moral choices, and showing that humanity doesn’t just come to an end but is holding out in small tribes and in old government quarantine zones now run by a brutal descendant of the military under endless martial law. What used to be that rare breathtaking money shot is everywhere now thanks to cheaper effects, presenting communities and survivors living in the crumbling ruins of American civilization. This is an apocalypse that is hazardous, beautiful, has its own rules and logic, feels real, and looks lived in.
The casting is solid. I had to get past Bella Ramsey looking so different than the Ellie in the game, but she grew on me as the show progressed, and she’s a great actor with a lot of range, portraying a girl who is tough and brassy but also vulnerable and longing. As for Joel, I couldn’t have asked for better than Pascal, who fully inhabits a man who is a true survivor and killer but haunted by trauma and the physical effects of decades of rough living, from minor hearing loss to aching knees. He’s no superhero like in the game, but instead a worn-out, traumatized, bitter survivor who does what it takes and knows how to kill.
The moral choices are absolutely terrific. The organization the government morphed into has eradicated individual rights and freedoms, but they’re also the only thing holding the infected at bay. Soldiers must make a choice to kill refugees, because if they don’t, they may end up fighting them later. A group resorts to cannibalism, but it was either that or die by starvation. It all culminates in the last episode with an ultimate moral choice that may appear to most viewers to be the wrong one even if it is for some good reasons. In this series, there are few heroes and villains, just people trying to survive in different ways, with survival itself meaning different things to different people.
Overall, I loved THE LAST OF US and highly recommend it.