Sunday, February 26, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Last of Us' - Ellie Remembers the Majestic Wonder of Her Last Night Together with Her Best Friend in 'Left Behind'

HBO's The Last of Us - Episode 1.07 "Left Behind"

As Joel fights to survive, Ellie looks back on the night that changed everything.

"Left Behind" was written by Neil Druckmann and directed by Liza Johnson

Everyone Ellie has ever cared about has abandoned her. It's either been their choice to leave her or they were tragically taken away after encountering the infected. Ellie made this argument when Joel was trying to leave her in Tommy's more than capable hands. She developed such a close bond with Joel as they traveled across the country. The two actually choosing one another allowed them to break down the walls they constantly have up. That bond was only allowed to flourish recently. And then, Joel was stabbed. He appears to be dying from his wounds. It would be sensible for Ellie to leave him behind and make her way back to the Wyoming compound. She knows she has allies there who can help her seek out the Fireflies wherever they went. The roles are reversed though. Ellie is now the one presented with the choice. She can either stay and try to save Joel or she can selfishly continue by herself because her survival is more important. All of this brings back memories of her time in the Boston quarantine zone before she met Joel. She was enrolled in a FEDRA military school. She's still essentially the same person. She's incredibly smart and capable. She's also isolated. Her one friend in this environment has left her without giving a reason why. The school administrator says she has two paths laid out in front of her. She can either be the one receiving terrible orders or the one giving them. The latter offers her power and influence even though she would be part of a fascist regime. She buys into the propaganda about FEDRA being the only force that can keep the quarantine zone together. That's the only world she has ever known. As such, it's a massive betrayal when Riley sneaks into her room at night and reveals she has become a Firefly. That's the enemy they are suppose to be battling. And yet, Ellie joins Riley on this epic night together because their friendship is more potent than any identify forced onto them by this post-apocalyptic society. They hope to carve out a little corner of peace and happiness. It may only be fleeting. However, they know it's worth exploring this connection because it's possibly the last time they will ever get to spend with one another. Riley always has that clarity. She knows she's being shipped to a new outpost. Meanwhile, Ellie is hoping her best friend has the same feelings that she does. She's captivated by the one person she could always trust. The two teens are so different. Riley has already been hardened by the world because she saw her parents die. Ellie still maintains her cynicism. She hasn't yet experienced the brutal nature of what awaits her in life outside the walls of school. That fate is coming quickly. She can't deny that. She just wants one night of fun with the girl she loves.

It's absolutely magical watching Ellie and Riley explore the mall. It highlights the ways in which they are excited by items that most viewers overlook in everyday life. Ellie is amazed by the overall vibe of this place. It's nothing like the stories drilled into her by FEDRA agents. The local fascists would have her believe this place is swarming with infected. Danger still lurks in this building. All it takes is one infected to wreak a whole lot of chaos. It's also a staging ground for the Fireflies. This is Riley's posting. This is where she has been stationed for the several weeks she's been missing from school. Ellie wanted answers for what happened to her best friend. Riley shows up and reveals how she's living the life that actually matters. The audience gets to see all those connections. They now play on a deeper level because this backstory is offered. The book of puns was previously utilized as a way to break the tension between Joel and Ellie. It was a way to bring silliness into an overall serious world. But now, it's seen that Riley is the one who gave Ellie the second volume of puns. As such, it makes much more sense as to why Ellie holds onto that book so fiercely. It's a connection to her past and her first kiss. Instead of simply reading about the world as it used to be, Ellie actually gets to experience it. She thought Mortal Kombat was nothing more than a foreign concept that was displayed as a poster on her wall. Now, she has the opportunity to actually play the game. She gets to compete against her best friend, who has taken advantage of time to learn some cool moves and tricks. This relationship blossoms because Ellie and Riley fundamentally understand each other. It's wonderful to see them enjoying the beauty of a carousel and photo booth. Not everything plays out perfectly. They have realistic expectations. They can never lose sight of the world they actually live in. They enjoy this peaceful break from reality. They can't hide anything from each other. Riley was hoping to create one last night with Ellie. She did so believing she would be forced to serve elsewhere for the Fireflies. In reality, this becomes their last night together because one infected crashes their date. It occurs right after the perfection of their first kiss. Riley assures Ellie that she has nothing to apologize for. These feelings are mutual. They want to dance the night away holding firmly onto this dynamic. They want a future together above all else. That's more important because they see each other and value each other. Riley was accepted by the Fireflies in a way she never was by FEDRA. Ultimately though, this love is what truly matters. They are both ultimately bitten. They choose not to give up on the happiness they have with whatever time remains.

Ellie remembers the lesson she learned from Riley to inspire her not to give up on Joel quite yet. Riley was terrified to take the easy way out. They both believe they are doomed for death. It's a decision for how at this point. They could use the gun to end things or they could wait until the transformation is complete into mindless infected. This is inevitable for everyone. Riley asserts that some just get there sooner than others. This world is all about survival. That's all anyone has been told to hold onto. And yet, the show is very much interested in the power of love between two people. Almost every story is told through the perspective of a sole coupling. The audience knows this adventure between Ellie and Riley is going to end tragically. Ellie detailed the broad strokes of how she was infected to Tess early on. That doesn't tell the full story. It's not about the suffering or tragedy. It's truly focused on the light that blossoms from young love. It's dimmed far too early. But they at least got to grab ahold of it for a moment. That matters. This life is all a collection of choices. It boils down to what people are willing to do for those they love. Frank and Bill built a life together for as long as they could maintain it. Henry did whatever it took to protect Sam even when an entire community was targeting him for his actions. Tommy and Maria carved out a small community where life could prosper as peacefully as it could given the downfall of society. Ellie formed a bond with Joel designed around a kind of familial love she's never experienced before. And now, he's dying. She could give up on him. She could let him die. That's not what the people who matter to her would want her to do. Riley died. Ellie still seeks to honor her memory. That matters to her. She holds fiercely to the convictions of her first love. She never got to experience that epic romance for all that it could possibly be. She's traumatized by that night. She still sees the beauty in it. She's desperate to save the lives of the people she cares about. That includes Joel. She tries stitching up his injury. That may be enough to heal him. It may not. Ellie knows she at least has to try. She dragged him to safety. She looked for any supplies that could help her on this mission. And now, she's fighting for his life. Joel is in and out of consciousness. This may not even be the decision he would make. Ellie is the one in charge. She refuses to quit even if time is running out for Joel. That's not how she wishes to conduct herself in this brutal world. She aspires for more. That's personal to her in a way far beyond the vague designation of her being immune. This is how she matters to the people she loves. She fights for them and their salvation even when the odds are stacked against them.