Landing the most popular drama of the year is not an enviable task, and “The Last of Us” set its own high bar heading into Sunday night’s finale. The zombie drama proved to be the rare video game adaptation, on the big or small screen, that honored its source material while taking its own detours to add depth and grace.
One of the most impressive aspects of the series is how it dares to move slowly against the urgency of a plot in which time is running out for humanity, taking care to build a complex emotional bond between the main characters Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) as she rampages through zombies, Phaedra, Fireflies and other opposing forces in post-apocalyptic America.
Though risky, the spacious and thoughtful storytelling paid off: “The Last of Us” has been the TV talk of the year, ever since its stunning premiere (HBO’s most popular in a decade behind the “Game of Thrones” prequel), “House of the Dragon”) to the moving love story in Episode 3 starring Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman to last week’s hellish escape from a cannibal compound.
But on Sunday, that underlying urgency finally infected the show’s pacing. “Look for the Light” felt harried and rushed, as if it were rushing to get the job done before the end credits rolled. In a relatively short 43 minutes (versus 85 minutes for the premiere), Joel and Ellie finally made it to that hospital in Salt Lake City, where doctors were waiting to study and replicate their immunity to the cordyceps fungus plague, saving what’s left. of civilization. . And boy do they need to do something fast. It’s a grotesque pandemic, with blurry tendrils trailing from host to host through a macabre wet kiss, turning the new victim’s head into something resembling a cauliflower stuffed with angel hair pasta. Is it too late to warn people not to watch this show while eating?
The series had taken its time building the bond between protector Joel and his ward, Ellie, but there still wasn’t enough groundwork to support the finale’s abrupt change in dynamic. Stoic killing machine Joel is unusually warm and upbeat at the start of Episode 9, starting a light banter with Ellie about playing Boggle and eating Beefaroni. The hardened survivor is even making plans for their future together: “Maybe I’ll teach you how to play the guitar.” Usually sarcastic and smart-mouthed, Ellie is strangely quiet and pensive, presumably because she just hacked a man to death in the creepy cult lodge.
It’s a sudden jump for these two characters, even after all they’ve been through, and it’s stuck between Ellie’s dramatic origin story and an infuriating ending ripped from the game. As Joel told Ellie before she entered the hospital where a team was secretly planning to dissect her: “Maybe there’s nothing wrong out there, but until now, there’s always been something wrong out there… We don’t have to do this. I want you to know that.” She replies, “After all I’ve done. It can’t be for nothing. Oh, but it will be, Ellie.
The conclusion of PlayStation’s “The Last of Us”: Joel opts to save Ellie’s life, negating the purpose of their arduous journey. and Killing dozens of people trying to save the human race was a controversial close in 2013, and it’s just as unsatisfying now. It marks the first time during the run of this series from “Chernobyl” Craig Mazin and game co-creator Neil Druckmann that the integrity of the HBO drama was compromised by sticking to the original narrative. It might have been easier to swallow if “Look for the Light” was split into one or two more episodes. This may sound ridiculous given streamers’ propensity to stretch a two-hour story into a 10-part saga, but “The Last of Us” is the exceptional production that needed more room to land.
As it stands, the ending seems to have been forced to end before it was even ready. It’s tense and manic, but it lacks suspense and nuance, and the giraffes were left unattended. Directed by Ali Abbasi, it goes back to the beginning of Ellie. Her mother was alone and trapped in an old house, giving birth when a snarling infected thing attacked her. She killed him, but not before she bit her, the umbilical cord still attached. That early and partial exposure probably explains why Ellie is immune to infections. Firefly Marlene (Merle Dandridge) arrives in time to save the baby and kill her friend before he turns into a monster. It’s an unexplored backstory in the game, but the series could have spent a whole hour unpacking the event and its ramifications instead of a few minutes before the show said goodbye for a year or three, or however long it takes between seasons. .
HBO announced the renewal of “The Last of US” just two weeks after the show’s start. It’s one of many indicators that the cable giant has confidence in this high-end zombie drama. After all, the premium network pitted “Look for the Light” against the Oscars, which says as much about the power of its most recent hit as it does about how little the Academy Awards factor into programming decisions in these days. But it’s doubtful that the disappointing ending will hurt the future of a series based on a prestigious video game, along with eight beautifully crafted episodes.