Those who know the video game by heart should be more mentally ready, somehow trained, and prepared to endure the shock, the emotional backlash, the powerful outburst of emotion that one of video games’ most successful, touching, and exciting prologues is capable of pouring into the User, although passive spectator himself, of a sublime, cathartic and crushing climax whose intensity is really difficult to forget.
However, the tendency to absorb the blow better does not guarantee not to come out with broken bones anyway. Especially when the TV series The Last of Us shows a certain ability to expand right in this first episode without derailing; expand without distorting; go deeper without changing the meaning of what is happening or its aesthetic outcome.
Once again we were, in short, sad and stunned witnesses to a drama that unfolds within a few hours, a complete upheaval of life as the protagonists of the story have always known, that Joel starts from the happiest and most innocent part of him is literally ripped away, a trauma that, as even those who only know the brand from that first installment have already guessed, will shape the rest of his life and the relationship that binds him with Ellie.
From the video game to the TV series and back, it is worth analyzing more closely what happens in the prologue, underlining what unites and divides the first episode of the HBO production, from the source of inspiration in search of these details and these Distinguished, capable of conveying the same painful drama in a different way.
The “epic” prologue of the TV series
Nico Parker masterfully plays little Sarah from The Last of Us
A full half hour versus the poor quarter of an hour considering only cutscenes and real action. That’s the time gap separating the TV series’ prologue from what was originally estimated to be 2013 on the PlayStation 3 significantly longer playing time which, as expected, pursues and delineates an aesthetic and substantive purpose aimed at flavoring a story already seen with many more details, serving both to keep the interest of the early fan high and a more understandable context to create for the newcomer to change . Even at the cost of a slightly less intense and surprising scenic effect, as we shall better specify shortly.
Yes, because if we really want to find something controversial in this wonderful and exciting first episode, that something has to be found in the very first scene, in that one Talk show in the 60s in which a very good John Hannah, already popular in the days of Spartacus and popular here in the role of an epidemiologist, prophesies the post-apocalyptic scenario of Cordyceps.
In the TV series The Last of Us, Joel’s clear feeling that he doesn’t feel up to the role of father becomes even clearer
In hindsight, that anticipation ties directly to the season 1 and video game finale (and which we won’t be spoilering about here). If, as mentioned, it contextualizes and raises expectations on the one hand, and anticipation of what is about to happen on the other, it alienates the viewer, who is less emotionally involved in an announced apocalypse and whose outcome he actually already knows. Something very similar happens in the epilogue, when the viewer already has all the elements to guess and imagine it, and the ending is extremely dry, clear and without aesthetic frills, also in terms of direction and lyrics.
Neil Druckmann, to put it another way, also (more or less consciously) refers to the same thing in the “new” incipit of the TV series Rules of Brecht’s Epic Theater that characterize the ending, in which the viewer’s active participation is encouraged through alienation, not through his emotional involvement, but through a distanced and rational engagement with the events. An effect that explains, among other things, why the emotional shock caused by the violent death of little Sarah is all the more effective and powerful, a scene that instead focuses on the emotional level of the viewer, between close-ups and the touching musical accompaniment.
The relationship between Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us can only be understood by first analyzing the man’s bond with his daughter Sarah
In short, the first scene of the TV series is only debatable in that one does not want to accept this desired and longed-for dampening of the dramatic effect, instead, the total unpreparedness returned in the video game for what is about to happen after that helps tension and anticipation to create . If you have seen the block in your hand through Sarah’s naive eyes, the viewer in the TV series already knows about Cordyceps and the impending apocalypse and is therefore experiencing the first signs of the pandemic from a distance.
The conscious choice of Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin, screenwriters of the television show, ideally combines the incipit with the prologue, both heralded, alienating, anti-cathartic. Because, as the video game series teaches in the even more shocking sequel, it is not primarily and not exclusively about looking for the shock in the viewer, but about rationally urging him to rethink interpersonal relationships and to analyze the true nature of man study, selfish, vengeful and opportunistic according to Naughty Dog’s vision.
An absent father
Already the first episode of The Last of Us explains much better and much more all the psychological complexity of Joel
As the series begins, the longer gameplay is further justified by a long string of scenes that don’t exist in the video game, which essentially begins in medias res a few hours into the nightmare’s onset. The great value of these additional cross-sections of (non-)normality serves to give us more details about the Relationship between Joel and Sarahwhich in turn is useful to further understand what difficulties the man will have when he has to take care of Ellie.
There are three moments before Sarah’s death that illustrate just how much of a loving father Joel is, undoubtedly, but at the same time absent. Although the daughter is very young, she is already a little woman ready to fend for herself and take care of her father. The latter, in fact, forgets to buy what is needed to prepare pancakes for breakfast (a detail that will prove all the more valuable in the next few episodes because it is so thin) and is reprimanded by Sarah for having it didn’t realize she’d been wearing the t-shirts.
All in all, there are many differences between this first episode of The Last of Us and the video game
That said, what is worse, if in the video game Joel is there when the first infected enters the scene, in the TV series Sarah initially finds herself alone as she faces the neighbor who is already succumbing to Cordyceps, another Signs of how much the girl is actually left to her own devices, neglected by a father who is occupied with many other duties and a complicated life.
Then there are the clock scene, similar in staging to the video game, but very different in the deep meaning that emerges from it. On PlayStation 3 Sarah bought a new watch, in the TV series she’s fixing the one her dad already has, quite an explanatory metaphor for what’s going to happen to Sarah and her surrogate mother or Ellie (a detail we’ll get into in another article to avoid spoilers here).
Among all these differences there are also many similarities between the two prologues. Beyond the mentioned scene of the clock, the escape by car is extremely similar, as is Sarah’s very painful death, which, as already mentioned, abandons any intention of alienating the viewer, of involving him emotionally, also with virtuosity and aesthetic trappings. in Joel’s drama.
In short, what’s most compelling about this first episode is the perfect balance of picking up on and expanding on what’s seen in the video game. Everything is in place, but more details are added, many of which are essential to better understanding Joel’s reluctance and initial refusal to care for Ellie. A really convincing first installment, mirroring an intense, brilliant, very successful prologue.