EZMM 2023 Day 5.2: The Last of Us S01E05 “Endure and Survive”

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017201820192020, 2021 and 2022.

Here there be spoilers!

While I was a bit let down with the first half of this story (Episode 4), “Endure and Survive” does a good job of filling in some of what was missing last time, provides an interesting look at the characters’ motivations, and gives us another heartbreaker of an ending. The world of The Last of Us is a bleak one, and it can be a bit of an emotional slog so far. But honestly, that’s more because the landscape of Western Zombie Cinema seems more preoccupied with grimdark nihilism than anything else for the past few years. Thankfully, Eastern Zombie Cinema has been able to sidestep this issue and give us dark and entertaining films and television. The Last of Us is kind of behind the eight ball because of this, although from what I understand, the game was also bleak.

That’s what makes an episode like “Long, Long Time” really stand out. While it ends on a sad note, the ending isn’t the focus. By showing how life and love can go on, the show is allowing an opening up of the video game world in a way that makes The Last of Us TV experience more nuanced.

Maybe. What do I know? I don’t play video games.

Anyway, picking up shortly before where “Please Hold to My Hand” left off, we discover that Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) and her forces are actually rebels who have literally just overthrown the Federal Government, FEDRA, who, as Bill (Nick Offerman) said a couple of episodes ago, are fucking Nazis, the day before Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) arrived. This is a nice twist that makes plain the fact that there is no black and white in this story. Everyone is operating under a definite shade of gray.

Who we thought were the baddies are actually freedom fighters, and this sheds new light on the violence and malice behind Kathleen’s actions. Henry (Lamar Johnson) isn’t on the run because he was a rebel. He was a collaborator, who gave up the location of Kathleen’s brother – a leader of the rebellion – in order to get life-saving medication for his little brother Sam (Keivonn Woodward).

Although Joel doesn’t want to support a collaborator, he understands the motivation behind Henry’s actions and they agree to help each other get out of the city. Sam and Ellie get on like gangbusters, communicating despite Sam’s deafness, thanks to a shared love of comics and bad jokes.

While I want to say that I thought we might get at least a partial happy ending here, that would be a lie. Once it became clear that Henry and Sam were good people in a bad spot, I knew they wouldn’t be making it out alive. The only surprise was in how it went down, which again, throws us back into that grimdark headspace.

I was also wrong about what I thought that throbbing basement floor was all about. I was hoping for some sort of gigantic mycelial network and some exploration of how these monsters function. Instead, we get a deus ex machina for our heroes in the form of a swarm of infected monsters bursting up out of the ground at just the right moment to create maximum dramatic tension.

This is the sort of thing that The Walking Dead perfected over the years, by learning how to effectively lay the groundwork for such an event. The bulging basement really wasn’t enough build-up for the full-scale chaos that climaxes the episode. And the presence of “The Bloater” (Adam Basil) (according to IMDB) was both kind of cool and kind of silly, evoking more of a Resident Evil sci-fi-horror feel than anything we’ve seen so far. Throwing a bulletproof tank monster into the mix was a little too much, in my opinion.

I’m sure they’re awesome in the game. I just don’t care. I laughed out loud when that Thicc Boi climbed up out of the ground.

I guess we’re supposed to assume that FEDRA, when cleaning out the tunnels that conveniently allow our heroes to get to the outskirts of town, they simply herded hundreds of monsters into some other underground area that has just been waiting for the right dramatic moment to explode back out into the city? I need more info here.

To be absolutely honest, I need a lot more info most of the time. I want to know what happened during that twenty-year time jump. I want to know how the government turned into FEDRA Nazis. Hell, were they already Nazis before the breakout? No idea. The show hasn’t shared that. And I sure as hell don’t want to play a video game to find out things that should be made clear in the narrative of the TV series. Relying on fans of the game knowing all this stuff is just weak storytelling.

As is having our heroes just stumble into a rebellion the day after it occurred. So far, most of what’s been happening – aside from the story of Bill and Frank – plays out like it could have happened any time. We haven’t seen the destruction the outbreak caused, we haven’t seen the government being evil, we haven’t seen how the monsters are a threat other than in numbers, and we haven’t seen what the various rebel factions are rebelling against. Who are the Fireflies? Was Kathleen a Firefly? A rival faction? No clue, and so far the show isn’t interested in fleshing out these elements – or the world itself – for new viewers, instead relying on sentimental storytelling and tugging at heartstrings to maintain interest.

Building up characters for an episode or two and then killing them off isn’t a good way of engaging with a new audience. It undercuts my interest in getting to know them. And it takes time away from Joel and Ellie, forcing their relationship to develop in fits and starts without spending any quality time with them.

The Last of Us, so far, isn’t bad, but it’s not breaking any new ground in the genre. The monsters look cool, though. When they show up.

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