On the post-apocalypse tv spectrum, there may be the comedian e-book nightmare of The Strolling Lifeless at one pole and the literary grace and hopefulness of Station Eleven on the different. Someplace between the 2, however far nearer to the grim, lies The Final of Us (HBO, January 15), an unrelentingly darkish however steadfastly humane collection primarily based on the critically acclaimed and massively fashionable online game.
That’s a notice of distinction in itself: the collection, shepherded into being by Chernobyl author Craig Mazin and sport creator Neil Druckmann, is definitely among the many most respectable online game diversifications within the canon. However the present hasn’t taken weak, juvenile supply materials and someway polished it into status. The online game itself is a finely wrought entity (or, no less than, the minimize scenes that I’ve watched recommend as a lot). Little wanted to be added to the ambition of the collection to make it worthy of an HBO Sunday night time.
Mazin does discover new methods so as to add dramatic taste. He’s given the collection a double construction, one just like different restricted collection lurking on cable and streaming. There may be the principle narrative: a haunted man, Joel (Pedro Pascal), ferries a spunky (and haunted) teenager, Ellie (Bella Ramsey), throughout a ruined America, 18 years after a fast-spreading fungal an infection turned the world right into a zombie-ridden hellscape of tattered navy dictatorships and marauding reavers. Threaded all through that mission are myriad digressions, flashbacks to varied factors earlier than and throughout the plague when the lives of sure aspect characters and the backstories of the 2 leads are spun out in somber, elegiac style.
So, there may be some timeline juggling to be executed. However Mazin makes it fairly clear what is going on when. What The Final of Us struggles with is making these tragic, heroic tales—of quotidian issues like love and loyalty surviving amid the rubble—really feel contemporary. Now we have already seen so many examples of this specific storytelling motif—on the assorted Strolling Lifeless exhibits, on Station Eleven, in I Am Legend and The Starvation Video games, and so many different properties. Whereas most of the discrete narratives in The Final of Us are cannily staged, each poignant and dreadful, they ultimately coalesce into one thing glumly acquainted; we really feel the identical howling desolation, flecked with glimmers of ragged life, that we’ve felt earlier than.
Nonetheless, it’s price declaring the various deserves of the collection. There’s a significantly affecting interlude through which a stoic survivalist performed by Nick Offerman meets and falls in love with a fellow remnant, performed by White Lotus breakout Murray Bartlett. These two doomed lovers dart by means of the collection, solely occupying one episode, however they resonate. Not solely as a result of it’s uncommon to see a homosexual love story in a butch collection like this one, however as a result of it exists virtually fully exterior of the present’s violence. It’s as an alternative a small story of peaceable isolation, one in warped dialogue with lots of our personal experiences of the previous few years.
In a while, an episode introduces us to a preacher (Scott Shepherd) who initially seems refreshingly compassionate, after which very a lot doesn’t. That hour is the present in full spine-tingling horror mode—for essentially the most half, the collection is a thriller-drama through which the scares are both lurking prior to now or implicitly shut by, out of body. A steely character performed, in opposition to kind, by Melanie Lynskey successfully communicates a complete saga of previous battle whereas additional delineating the present’s advanced ethical shading. Few individuals on the collection are completely good or unhealthy; they largely dwell within the ambivalence of survival, their tribes’ righteousness hinging close to fully on perspective.
The stress between means and ends culminates, after all, with Joel and Ellie. The collection ends (for now?) on the identical notice of bleak disquiet—a horrible, and maybe utterly unjustified, sacrifice made—that closed out the online game. Maybe as a result of that ending is already so iconic, or maybe as a result of the collection feels curiously hurried in its pacing, it doesn’t land with the identical grand, despondent ambiguity because it did in 2013. Or, perhaps, we simply count on such textured pathos from filmed leisure. It was extra placing and novel, ten years in the past, when encountered in a online game.