Just when you think The Last Of Us was the absolute pinnacle of video game to film transfers, Episode seven comes along to show us we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
Those familiar with the original game are more than likely acquainted with the DLC expansion pack, Left Behind, a side story that told the tale of Ellie’s past before she wound up with Joel – well, in a move that could only be more accurate if HBO made you pay for separately, this part of the game takes up almost the entirety of the epidode. However, with it comes a slight problem – to finally reveal the background of one of it’s main characters, we’re going to have to take a break from the main story, which means that Joel’s nasty, and possibly very fatal, stab wound has been put on the back burner. Other shows that have tried gimmicks like this have sometimes met with lukewarm reactions – can The Last Of Us manage to avoid this issue with its usual aplomb?
We rejoin Joel and Ellie while the former is freaking out about the fact that the latter is probably dying from a sucking wound caused by a broken off baseball bat and as he weakly urges his young charge to leave him it triggers a flashback to a time before Joel, Ellie’s bite or even the Fireflies.
Growing up in a FEDRA military school, we find Ellie is every bit as moody and combative as she is now, but the disappearance of her best friend, Riley, three weeks ago has made her even more withdrawn and hostile. However, run-ins with other girls and the occasional black eye doesn’t seem that bad when Riley returns one night in Ellie’s room. It turns out that the older girl ran away after she found out that the job designated for her when she “graduated” was sewage duty and went and joined the resistance group known as the Fireflies and while this news initially disturbs Ellie, she soon forgets this in the joy of having her best friend back.
Riley takes Ellie to an abandoned mall that still has power and the two spend a day in the harsh Apocalypse being a couple of carefree kids, playing on arcade machines, goofing around in a photpbooth and dancing to music from an age made obsolete thanks to the invasion by violent mushroom zombies. However, as this is The Last Of Us, no good feeling lasts for long and soon Ellie not only realises that this is all some ploy to recruit her to the Fireflies, but Riley has even worse news that she’s soon to be re-assigned to Atlanta and only wants to get her to join the resistance to stay together. This tugs on Ellie’s heartstrings all the more when you consider that she has feeling that go a little deeper than just friendship – but matters soon take a tragic turn when a hidden corner of the mall reveals that the two girls aren’t as alone as they first thought…
This isn’t the first time The Last Of Us has interrupted your regularly scheduled broadcast in order to whisk us away to flashback land, but while the already famous episode three sidetracked matters to introduce us to Bill and Frank, the main story hadn’t yet achieved enough momentum for the heartbreaking side story to affect the flow of the main thread. However, Left Behind not only takes us down memory lane with only a mere two episodes left in the season, but it breaks into something of a major cliffhanger as a seriously wounded Joel struggles for life.
While the effect is nowhere near as damaging as you’d hope and some backstory for Ellie is greatly appreciated, the episode isn’t enough to make you wish it hadn’t prolonged the tension over Joel’s injury. It’s a shame because it’s a good episode, a great episode in fact, but even though it’s touching and heartbreaking in equal measure, it’s just not enough of an outstanding episode to justify the switch of focus quite the way Long, Long Time did.
On the other hand, the fact that this episode exists at all is testament to how serious the makers are about transporting the main aspects of the game over to the screen wholesale (has any other videogame adaptation gone as far to adapt a freakin’ expansion pack?) and taken out of its place outside of the main plot line, it proves to be an invaluable episode when it comes to the progression of Ellie. Since she first came on screen in the first episode, Bella Ramsey has been superlative as her videogame counterpart, but here she finally gets to cut loose from her surrogate father/daughter shenanigans and fly (almost) solo for a change and the actress proves to be more than up to the task. Showing that Ellie always had that anti-authority streak while constantly having a withering wisecrack in the chamber, the episode doesn’t show how she once used to have a less abrasive personality (because she didn’t), but instead shows us how far she’s come thanks to Joel’s influence. When she has a genuine connection to someone, be it the dependable father figure she’s obtained with Joel or the burgeoning romance she hopes to have with Riley, Ramsey drops a noticable amount of barriers when he finally has someone to count on.
Storm Reid ably inhabits the kind of girl Ellie would conceivably bond with and even fall in love with, but while both girls do sterling work, there’s a slight sense that flashback nature of the show takes a little away from the anything-can-happen aspect for anyone who hasn’t played the original game. Also, after near back to back episodes that’s seen a harrowing death or injury in almost every episode (the Henry and Sam moment still stings), the inevitable ending of the installment feels more pre-determined rather than out of nowhere.
Still, the sight of two girls, vowing to stay together as the cordycep virus courses through their systems in an attempt to turn them into mindless monsters (or not as the case may be) is still a potent one as once again a strong love is extinguished before it’s even had a chance to evolve.
Of course, with two episodes to go, a second season already confirmed and The Last Of Us 2 still to be mined, the joke may ultimately be on me as in my ignorance, I truly have no idea what’s coming next (well… some idea – I’m not completely blind to what’s coming), but with all the flashbacks and side missions fully out of the way, The Last Of Us now has a straight two episode run to close out the season with style. It’s incredibly telling that a “lesser” episode of this show is still vastly superior than around 90 to 95% of other shows around and, much like the insidious spores that lurk within the biology of the infected, it still has room to grow.