new episodes of The last of us they premiere on HBO every Sunday night, and Ars’s Kyle Orland (who has played the games) and Andrew Cunningham (who hasn’t) will be talking about them here every Monday morning. While these recaps don’t delve into every plot point of the episode, there’s obviously heavy spoilers content inside so watch the episode first if you want to get in fresh.
Andrew: We’re back! FLASH-back, that’s it!
This isn’t as big of a departure from the action as Bill’s episode was a few weeks ago, but it does mean that last week’s cliffhanger is largely unresolved. Ellie tries to heal Joel, though it seems to me that sticking a decades-old uncleaned needle into an open wound is just as likely to kill him as it is to save him…
Kyle: If the flashback here seems a bit off, it’s probably because this story was originally part of the game’s “Left Behind” DLC, which was written and released long after the first game came out. I’m not totally against putting it here in the show’s narrative, it’s an important background that should go somewhere, but it does intervene in one of the most dramatic moments in the game (although maybe that’s still coming in the future?)
Given how we first met Ellie as a prisoner on the show, I definitely appreciate spending a little more time to show what she was like trying to grow up as a normal kid under society’s version of Phaedra.
Andrew: Yeah, I don’t have a problem with the episode, and people who watch this in the future, when the entire season is available to binge, probably won’t be as bothered by the delayed cliffhanger.
However, this flirts with something I can find frustrating in fiction: this urge to show/explain every little thing about a character rather than let things be implied or a bit mysterious. I’m not too upset about it here, but yeah TLoU extends into a second or third season, it could see them leaning on flashback for filler in a way that might be less interesting.
Have you ever wondered, viewers, how Ellie got her knife? How did Bill get her truck? Tune in next week!
Kyle: As long as they don’t fill up on 50 years of Star Wars, I think it’ll be fine…
Andrew:Anyway, other than that stuff, this episode allows us to spend a lot of time with Ellie without Joel for the first time, which I appreciate. Is it a flashback from a few days? Weeks? Months? Before the start of the series, when Ellie is just a bad-attitude teenager at Phaedra High School instead of a potential savior of humanity.
Kyle: In the game, I think it’s set a few weeks before Ellie meets Joel, so let’s stick with that.
I was happy to see a well-acted version of Riley here, acting as a foil to push and pull Ellie in interesting directions. However, even if I didn’t know what was going to happen, I think it would be pretty hard to get too attached to her. The pattern of “meeting a new character; seeing them connect with the characters we love; whoops, they’re dead in an episode or two” is already playing out quite a bit. It is possible to go to that well too often…
Andrew: Two in company, three in crowd The last of us universe, and if you spend any time with Ellie and Joel, you better have an exit strategy figured out. I appreciate the commitment to keep the focus narrow, but what if more characters, like Tommy, were just allowed to go on and lead their own lives instead of dying horribly? I guess we’ll never know.
Kyle:I guess it feels a bit different in-game because these characters tend to stick with you a bit longer, even if that time is often artificially lengthened by gunfights and whatnot. So the pattern is still there in the game, but it doesn’t seem as predictably timed to the pauses at the end of the episode.
Andrew: However, let’s give some props to the set designers, who seem delighted to be working in something other than another run-down residential area. The layout of the dilapidated, abandoned mall, the episode’s grand setting, has tons of fun details. I didn’t go frame by frame to check and ensure that all of the actual stores mentioned/depicted were portrayed exactly as they would have been in September 2003, but the presence of an abandoned mall with all of its anchor stores intact is very true to the early 1990s. ’00.
Another “collapsed partnership in September 2003!” Things I liked: Of course, there would be a Halloween pop-up shop in this mall, and Ellie is listening to a cut of Riot Act from 2002, Pearl Jam’s final in-universe album. (Unless Eddie Vedder survived the apocalypse; of all the alt-rock stalwarts, he’s the one I’d bet on, honestly.)