THE LAST OF US, A No-Spoiler Review of the First 3 Episodes

THE LAST OF US, an HBO Max series is streaming now, but the release of episodes is drip…drip…The third installment arrived on Sunday (1/29/23) and now, like old fashioned tv watching, the audience waits a week, and so on. It’s an interesting choice that some streaming services have made, to hook viewers over a long period and keep them paying the monthly streaming charge. Does it work? I’ll comment more on that in the longer review. 

If you’re a gamer, you probably know that the heart of this story is based on the video game, The Last of Us, an action-adventure survival horror game franchise created by Naughty Dog and Sony Interactive Entertainment. The series is set in a post-apocalyptic United States ravaged by cannibalistic creatures infected by a mutated fungus in the genus Cordyceps. The game is rated R for violence and some sexually explicit scenes. At this point, 3 episodes in, the series is probably between a PG-13 and R rating, for violence. 

For Educators: In biology class, give the gamers among you a treat by validating their hobby and teaching a lesson at the same time. Show the first 2 episodes (that’s all you’ll need) to discuss the nature of a fungus.

Is THE LAST OF US worth watching and perhaps more importantly, would you pay for an HBO subscription for this series alone? I recommend this series, with reservations. Short and long no-spoiler reviews will explain why. 

The Short Review…Yes, watch

  1. If you love end-of-the-world zombie stories, this one has a couple of new twists to love
  2. Cool monsters and fast unlike the mostly ambling creatures in The Walking Dead 
  3. Well casted (also, actors with talent that aren’t in every other show you’ve seen)
  4. If you play this game/love this game…it’s a new and perhaps fun way to interact with the world

The Short Review…Meh…don’t watch, or perhaps it’s too early to tell

  1. Overall and so far, this story feels less compelling than The Walking Dead or even Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, which I just finished reading. You’re better off spending your time reading or watching something else.
  2. Beware of attaching to key characters because the chances of them dying are really high (for many viewers, I realize this is a plus)
  3. In episode 3, spent a lot of time with a couple of characters who seemed peripheral to the heart of the story. If more episodes are like this one, not sure if I’ll want to keep watching
  4. Lastly, this series alone would not warrant paying for an HBO Max subscription. However, overall HBO content for science fiction, fantasy and dystopian viewing is decent. For example, you can stream DUNE Pt 1 and I loved Station Eleven, a mini-series based on the novel. Click to read my review of Station Eleven. Those are just a couple of examples of HBO’s excellent content. 

The Longer Review

The Last of Us game in numerous iterations, has received critical acclaim and has won awards, including several Game of the Year recognitions. As of January 2023, the franchise has sold over 37 million games worldwide. Strong sales and support of the series led to the franchise’s expansion into other media, including a comic book in 2013 and this television adaptation. So…there is a built-in audience for the series, THE LAST OF US.

That’s a good thing for HBO, but from game to screen…has it ever been done well? I’m not an expert on this one, but I can’t think of a really great film or series that emerged from a game. Pretty good or fun shows…like Tomb Raider…those I could cite, but great? I don’t think so. Does anyone want to counter me here? This series has potential to say something new about the post-virus world, or in this case, post-fungus world (not a spoiler by the way…scene 1 of the series shows a scientist surmising about what would happen if a certain type of fungus evolved and could take over the human brain/body.) 

In three episodes, the viewer gets a sense of one post-apocalyptic region in the US, an area around Boston. There is an allusion in episode 1 and 2 to world-wide catastrophe. There is a huge time jump between 1 and 2. The outbreak takes place in 2003 in episode 1. The rest of the series looks like it will take place 20 years later in 2023, with flashbacks to fill in the gaps here and there. The fungus shows up first in Jakarta, Indonesia…but we learn in episode 3 that the fungus probably went global simultaneously because it was in the food supply, in something like flour or sugar. That idea is unique, moveover, the zombies are weird and fast and hard to kill (bullet to the brain seems to do the job, similar to other zombie narratives). The fungus infested monsters are portrayed in a fuller way in episode 2. 

In the era of binge watching, it’s possible a series such as THE LAST OF US will draw in fresh consumers to HBO streaming, but my guess is it won’t. The buzz that drives everyone to want to watch Stranger Things, because of the “event” of binging the entire season and sharing that experience with millions of fans, that is absent from the HBO and other streaming services’ business model. FoMO associated with binge watching fuels the marketing machine for Netflix. Millions are driven to want a subscription. Some buy, maybe thinking they’ll pay for a short time, and wind up staying longer or forever. Others do pay for one month and then quit…which is better for Netflix than those who use or steal a password to get their fix. 

I am feeling a little frustrated by the drip…drip model. I don’t binge all in one day, but I like to watch the same show night after night. I hate waiting a week. It’s probable I will lose interest or get fixated on another show. I can’t be alone on that. So, if you’re a binge watcher and you think you might like this series, you might wanna wait for another couple of months so you’ll have more content. Subscribe to HBOMax in May, an you’ll have a whole lot of Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon and perhaps the first season of THE LAST OF US


Book 1 of the Southern Reach Trilogy

ANNIHILATION, Review of the novel

By Jeff VanderMeer

“When you see beauty in desolation it changes something in you. Desolation tries to colonize you.”

The above observation comes to the reader early in ANNIHILATION and is a good representation of the reflective narration of this creepy science fiction novel, a book I highly recommend to the scifi lover.

Here’s the short review on why I recommend the novel. If you want to read the longer review…it follows immediately after the list.

To buy this book, click here.

  1. This is an all-female cast for a change
  2. A Biology-centric alien mystery
  3. Eloquent narrator/main character. Gorgeous writing overall.
  4. Very creepy vibe and tension all the way through to keep you reading
  5. Short and sweet, but not too short. (Plus, if you love it, there are two novels that follow. See The Southern Reach Trilogy).

ANNIHILATION tells the story of an all-female expedition into an alien eco-system that has planted itself on a stretch of coastal Northeastern US. The reader learns quickly that most of the people within previous expeditions have disappeared into this anomaly, a place labeled by the government as Area X. Only a few have returned, including the protagonist’s husband, who was on the 11th expedition and died from cancer soon after his return.

The primary narrator, also the protagonist of the story, writes the account in her journal. She is the biologist and is never named. None of the primary characters are named, but exist in the story via their function. We see all of Area X through the biologist’s eyes. In addition to her, this 12th expedition into Area X is made up of a psychologist, a surveyor (former military) and an anthropologist. The story opens with the expedition already underway. The four women are hiking to a basecamp that had been established by previous expeditions.

There are two prominent story-lines woven together artfully by author, Jeff VanderMeer.

One is the slow-building and always tense journey into the center of Area X, where a tunnel (or as our protagonist insists on calling it, a tower) and a lighthouse need to be explored. Discoveries are made about both, as well as the environment which is filled with strange hybrid vegetation and creatures. Those discoveries deepen the mystery.

The second storyline, which gave me much pleasure, was the unveiling of the main character. As a narrator, the biologist’s observations are keen, and her attempt to understand what happened to her husband lends itself to a natural telling of her backstory. There is a love tale here, subtle, but steady. It progresses with the first storyline, marching toward the climax and a revelation on par with a religious epiphany.

In writing this review, I did want to understand the word itself, Annihilation. In part I kept looking it up because I was always misspelling it. (I was forgetting that second “n”).

Annihilate comes from two Latin roots: an and nihil, annihilare means: to bring to nothing. In Middle English and later within the church, you find the same roots in the word annulment. An annulment was a legal/religious term that ended a marriage (in essence, turned the marriage into nothing, as if it never existed).

However, the coolest definition of the word is found in physics. Annihilation is the reaction in which a particle and its antiparticle collide and disappear. Energy is then released. I’m not a physicist, so when I started reading articles on annihilation and saw the terms Higgs Boson and Quarks…I realized I was out of my league. However, it would be safe to say…that when the process of annihilation takes place there is destruction and creation. I’m assuming VanderMeer, the author of ANNIHILATION, knows exactly how this definition frames the narrative.