Monday, March 13, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Last of Us' - Joel Makes a Fateful Decision Because of His Need to Protect Ellie in 'Look for the Light'

HBO's The Last of Us - Episode 1.09 "Look for the Light"

A pregnant Anna places her trust in a lifelong friend. Later, Joel and Ellie near the end of their journey.

"Look for the Light" was written by Craig Mazin & Neil Druckmann and directed by Ali Abbasi

Ellie can't turn back now. She found her purpose in life. She was given a direction to pursue. She must accomplish something that no one else in the world can do. She has to be willing to sacrifice herself to save countless lives from this bleak apocalypse. If given the choice, she would absolutely make that sacrifice. And yet, she is never consulted about what to do. Joel and Ellie have endured a lot on their journey to this Fireflies hospital. Joel notes that they could see danger no matter where they go. He gives her an out. They could return to Wyoming and enjoy a pleasant, peaceful life in Tommy's community. That is always an option. It presents as a much smaller life. However, it's one that values their humanity. It's the outcome Joel wants long before he makes that fateful decision to save Ellie in the hospital. He sees how traumatized Ellie has become. She has shut down. She's no longer the chatterbox on their travels. Instead, he steps into that role. He does so to get her to open up again. He also does it because of the purpose he too has discovered. This was only suppose to be a job for him. It kept escalating. He eventually came to need Ellie as much as she needed him. It's not exactly healthy. That's an important fact for the viewer to understand too. Joel has placed his entire being on keeping Ellie safe. That was easy to rationalize when it came to people just wanting to display senseless violence no matter who was harmed along the way. It's a different conversation entirely when Ellie is given the platform to do what she has always been promised. Ellie is immune to the infection. The world's few remaining survivors barely have any semblance of meaningful lives. They are just doing whatever it takes to survive. It's all about enduring the tragedy in the hope that something better awaits them. Joel can't put that into words when he opens up about hoe he got his scar. It wasn't some stranger who took a shot at him and missed. Instead, it was Joel's own reflexes that failed to follow through on his desire to die after Sarah was tragically taken away from him. It was too painful for him to ever talk about her before. He now feels comfortable enough telling Ellie. He has arrived at that clarity because he has welcomed Ellie as his new purpose. He must be a father to her. He has to save her. He couldn't do so for Sarah. Everyone was confused during the early days of the apocalypse. Joel has drifted in life ever since. Time didn't heal his wound. Having Ellie around did. As such, he's not willing to let that go even though he delivers her to her final destination.

So many people have sacrificed their lives in the name of protecting Ellie. Her mother was literally battling a clicker when Ellie was born. This finale provides an explanation for why Ellie is immune. Cordyceps was present within her from birth. As such, the virus has evolved alongside her and made her imperceptible to the other strains of the infection. Cutting into her brain and sympathizing what she's developed is the only way to spread the cure throughout the world. Anna didn't know Ellie would be special in this particular way. She was simply doing whatever it took to ensure her daughter survived. She didn't know the risks she was taking. She still gave a rosier explanation when Marlene stumbles onto the situation. In that moment, Marlene has to decide to kill her best friend from childhood and accept this new responsibility. It's absolutely brutal. It's the only logical response. That doesn't mean people are inherently ready to do it. Marlene pulls the trigger. She keeps Ellie safe. She did so on that day and much later when Ellie was bitten. Marlene sees the promise she made being broken. And yet, the stakes are simply too high to prioritize her friendship over the fate of the world. She didn't almost die getting across the country to fail in this mission. She won't let anything stand in her way. As such, she has to remove the humanity from the situation altogether. It's better to lie to Ellie then give her a choice. Marlene even knows that Ellie would have made that sacrifice. She does so while pleading with Joel. It's not too late to turn around and make different decisions. At that point though, it's all futile. Joel has gone on a shooting rampage killing anyone who stands in his way. It's a sequence that most clearly resembles a video game. The viewer doesn't have to reckon with our potential complicity in the action. Instead, the focus has shifted entirely onto Joel. He knows the soldiers leading him away will kill him if he causes any trouble. He does so anyway. He's an incredibly effective killer. He can't remove himself from the immorality. Instead, he too behaves just like the monsters. The apocalypse has turned him into a brutal man who only cares about one thing. He's grateful for what Ellie has offered his life. She saved him. He can't let her be taken away. The choices he makes don't justify that love. That's absolutely heartbreaking. Ellie loves her guardian. And yet, she also doubts the sincerity of his explanation once she wakes up and is once again safely in his care.

Joel takes the choice away from Ellie. Instead, he offers her a story about the doctors having no clue how to use numerous immune survivors to eliminate the infection worldwide. Ellie trusts him because he has been her guardian for so long. He understands her better than anyone else at this point. Joel is also telling Ellie to be fine shrinking herself. She was told she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. That was a lot of responsibility to fulfill. She carried it as best she could. And now, that narrative is completely shattered. She now has to quickly adapt to something new. It's all built on a lie. Joel does so because he foolishly believes he's protecting her. He would rather save her than offer a cure to the rest of the world. Once he committed to that path, everything else must be in service to it. He kills the doctor. He kills Marlene. He kills the Firefly soldiers - even those who surrendered to him. He took Ellie and began driving to Wyoming. That's where his family belongs now. That's where they can settle down and accept a good life. Joel makes peace with that. Ellie questions everything Joel is telling her. And yet, her love also wants to believe in his genuine consideration. She wants to trust that he knows something she doesn't. Something happened that makes all of this the desired outcome. Ellie doesn't entirely believe it. She forces herself into acceptance. She's quiet on the return journey not because of the trauma she suffered from David. Instead, she's trying to wrap her head around everything Joel says. Meanwhile, Joel talks openly about Sarah because he wants to move on with his life. Ellie needs to be a part of it. Lying to her is the only way to ensure compliance. That betrays all the trust that has been built up across this season. The threats from the clickers are always severe. The actions of humans can be even more monstrous. That has been a central tenet of this series. The storytelling can go big when it wants to. It can also be quite intimate as it explores what people are willing to do in the name of love. Joel and Ellie have that as a family. That doesn't inherently make it good. The choices are easy to understand from both sides. That's what makes this even more devastating. The emotions are palpable. Joel doesn't see a victory in any of this. His belief in something bigger and better was lifted up by Ellie. Without her, he could plummet back into that space where he was willing to kill himself. He wouldn't flinch this time. As such, his actions are entirely self-serving. But again, they are all deeply rooted in love. Joel does what he needs to do despite knowing it will frustrate Ellie. He may not even be able to live in that peaceful bliss for very long. And yet, any amount of time with her is worth it. After seeing Joel and Ellie every step of the way, it would indeed be tragic if Ellie's death was inevitable after seeing her endearing spirit thrive amongst this violent, heinous world. That makes this such an agonizing yet fulfilling conclusion to the season.