The Last of Us, Episode 7 Review – Left Behind
Bella Ramsey has proven herself time and again to be the breakout star of The Last Of Us and wisely the show runners dedicated an entire episode to Ellie’s youthful adventures, which disproves the notion that there can be too much of a good thing.
It appears a formula has developed for the writers of The Last of Us to create what are sure to be remembered as the strongest installments of the series. Let’s examine the the recipe: First, a self-contained story of two characters enjoying life together amidst the chaos of a world of fungal supremacy, sprinkle in a single appearance by an infected human being, add a dash of same sex attraction, bring to a boil with the impending tragic death of one of the lovers and serve with a side of 80’s pop music.
If the preceding analysis reads as cynical, it should be stated that I enjoyed this episode immensely, but the parallels to episode 3 of The Last of Us are hard to ignore. Though this episode titled “Left Behind” doesn’t reach the same artistic heights of it’s predecessor, it doesn’t fail to entertain by any means.
As a collector of outdated media players such as VCRs (I own 14) and personal audio cassette players (I have 5), it definitely brought a smile to my face to see Ellie sporting a Walkman as the episode jumped from Joel in peril, to the flashback of the young girl’s days in the FEDRA youth training program that makes up the bulk of the story.
Lamenting the loss of her friend who went missing three weeks earlier, we see a rebellious Ellie getting a talking to from a commanding FEDRA supervisor played by Terry Chen, who rather than chastise, encourages the teen to get her act together in order enjoy all the benefits that being a FEDRA official has to offer. This scene somehow avoids becoming schmaltzy, thanks to the sincerity of Chen’s performance, while cementing Ellie’s devotion to her future with FEDRA.
When Riley (Storm Reid) returns to whisk Ellie away for a night of adventure, the only element tainting the girl’s excitement is learning that her friend has now joined the rebel faction of Fireflies. This conflict is peppered throughout the episode in perfectly timed intervals, giving each a chance to voice their reasoning for sticking to their side of the battle lines, while still maintaining the friendship between the two. If only society today could learn be less divisive over political matters of opinion, like these young people.
After a rooftop journey that ends at the abandoned local mall, the fun really begins when Riley reveals that she has scouted the wonders that the mall has to offer and plans to take Ellie on a tour. It would be impossible to ignore the similarities to Season 3 of Stranger Things and it’s amazing recreation of the 1980’s mall experience, but realizing that this series is set in an alternate version of our modern times adds the angle of reflection on the state of modern commercialism to the mix. As the girls joke about a time when humanity had time to care about looking good in Victoria’s Secret lingerie and sneaker styles, the episode teeters on poignancy while playing at nostalgia.
I can’t fault the show runners for trying to grab a bit of the Stranger Things vibe for their own streaming sensation. It’s now a time tested practice that will get old timers like me sharing screen caps on social media and voicing my excitement to see artifacts from my youth on display. I haven’t had a reason to praise the set design team since the first episodes of the series, but the dilapidated mall space is at once a haunting and wondrous space that they should charge theme park prices for fans of the show to visit.
It was nice to see “Chekov’s Arcade Cabinet” finally pay off, as in this episode a Mortal Kombat II poster is visible in Ellie’s living quarters and we observe a moment of sheer joy as the friends pummel each other with electronic warriors at the mall arcade on a game cabinet similar to the one that caught Ellie’s attention several episodes prior. Having played Mortal Kombat II with my junior high friends every weekday after the school bell rang for a year straight, my nostalgia engine was firing on all cylinders.
Since the episode spends it’s time almost entirely presenting conversation between Ramsey and Reid, praise must be given to these two young actors for not only delivering the comedic dialogue with great timing, but imbuing every moment with a sense of genuine affection for one another. Multiple exchanges where Riley explains her reasons for joining the Firefly rebellion are particularly effective. Equally dramatic is the moment when it’s revealed that the adventure in the mall is meant to be a farewell to their friendship, as Riley is being shipped off to a new assignment for the rebellion.
If I have one criticism of the episode, it’s the ultimate reveal of the romantic feelings that the girls have for one another. It feels like an unnecessary embellishment to the emotional connection that the two already had for one another. For a show that has traded in challenging expected story beats, having the friends become a couple feels predictable, especially as their new romance becomes a doomed one.
The final set piece of an attack by an infected inside a Spirit Halloween store was extremely entertaining and a bit meta, as surely this October we will be seeing The Last Of Us costumes hanging from pegs in these establishments nationwide. Not so subliminal advertising aside, the action as the girls fight for their lives is well-staged with a fantastic climax, as the rug is pulled out from beneath the friends and the audience, amidst their celebration of survival.
Episode 7 of The Last Of Us is an achievement, in that it begs to be revisited again and again by delivering multiple levels of entertainment. Sadly, it makes me long for a series focusing on the youthful survivors, a post apocalyptic Goonies if you will, as opposed to the actual focus of the series watching the relationship grow between Joel and Ellie. But as long as Bella Ramsey is part of the mix, the series will be at least half-watchable.
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