HBO’s The Last of Us has managed to stay true enough to the game to satisfy its fans while still making incredible use of the TV format – the show is additive rather than ancillary, and nowhere is this more clear than in the cold opens we have seen for the first two episodes of the show.
A cold open is the segment of the show that comes before the title credits, and The Last of Us episode two cold open makes excellent use of this slight separation, taking us back in time to Jakarta, two days before Infection Day. For a variety of reasons, it’s an exceptional piece of television.
Let’s start by thinking of how it builds the world of The Last of Us.
We now know where the infection came from, something fans of the games have been speculating on for nine years. It shows how quickly it went from a small number of people at a one-grain mill to a global emergency.
It also really accentuates the nuance of the first episode’s opening scenes.
Joel (Pedro Pascal), Sarah (Gabriel Luna), and Tommy (Nico Parker) were meant to have pancakes for breakfast but they ran out of pancake mix. Joel declines a serving of biscuits from the neighbours, saying he’s on Atkins (though we do see Nana eating them – the first one to turn in the neighbourhood). Connie wants to make raisin cookies, not chocolate chip, so Sarah doesn’t eat any, and Joel works late and forgets to bring a birthday cake home. Tiny points on their own but with the context of the infection stemming from tainted flour, chilling attention to details.
Christine Hakim, who plays Ibu Ratna, the mycologist, does an incredible job of showing just how high the stakes are. There is no cure. There is no vaccine. Bomb the city and everyone in it. Hakim brings an incredible subtlety to the role. She’s Indonesian acting royalty with over 50 IMDb acting credits to her name and the showrunners casting someone of her calibre for a supporting role really makes the show feel polished and special.
Taking a step back from the show and looking at episode two’s cold open through a wide lens shows that it is really fantastic on multiple layers.
The expert scientist that the military sought out in Indonesia is a woman – not only that but a woman of colour (she’s in her home country of course but the audience of The Last of Us is primarily white). Women of colour are so underrepresented in STEM fields and face so much prejudice that it’s genuinely rare to see them, let alone have them in the media.
The show doesn’t lean on the trope of one lone scientist who has figured out the truth but is being ignored or downplayed. The government realises they have a dangerous, urgent situation on their hands, and they treat professor Ratna’s insight and expertise with respect. The solitary scientist makes sense for media that is focused on the outbreak and prevention of an apocalyptic scenario but as viewers, there’s no tension in that outcome here. Knowing that the powers that be listened to the scientist and did what they recommended and the result was still a global zombie apocalypse is much more effective.
For a segment of television just a few minutes long, episode two’s cold open carries a huge amount of weight. The creators of the show have seized an incredible opportunity to build on the lore of the game and draw viewers further into the world of The Last of Us.
See whether they continue to wow us with these cold opens and watch HBO’s The Last of Us every Monday on Now TV.
Featured Image Credit: HBO.
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