We are on borrowed time. The sins of Kansas City are following our heroes and the remaining run time of the show. Craig and crew are beginning to step on the gas as the show tries to wrap up the entire narrative of the game in one season.
And yet, we get a slow build up for this episode and are plopped straight into The Last of Us Part II with a full-blown recreation of Jackson and plenty of references to boot. It was arguably the most fan-service of the entire season so far and it was handled in a deft manner. This was a logical substitution for the gameplay heavy dam section of the game. And, assuming the set is still there or in pieces somewhere, they can reuse it in season two.
Joel continues to become a wholly new incarnation on HBO. I want to stress I am glad there are deviations from the game. The show should stand alongside the original. But man, this Joel is not being set up for events to come the same way. I worry for future pay offs and how they will feel. Relationships feel rushed and time feels short. Knowing where the show is going is hurting being in the moment. I wonder if people new to The Last of Us will look back and feel the imbalance and rush I sense now.
We also witnessed what I believe to be the worst deviation by far. Non-players have no idea what they are missing. The whole college lab experience is truncated to a five minute excursion with no time for tension to even be established. Joel’s injury is transformed into a stab wound by a Hunter, rather than the impalement he suffers in the game. Comparing the show to the game, it’s no contest which scene is superior.
The director of the episode, Jasmila Žbanić, did an interview with Variety on the episode and they asked about this change. Here was her response:
I got it in the script, and I really liked it because it was more subtle. Ellie thinks they made it, and then it’s a shock. Otherwise it would be immediately over. I really liked how Craig wrote it. They travel, she’s hopeful, they go on together — and then it’s a shock.
I am going to go out on a branch and guess that Žbanić hasn’t played the game, because the parts she likes happen in the game.
The whole slinking out of the University happens in one cut to a back door by a bush. The tension of escape has zero time to mount. We blink and Joel is stabbed, then our duo ride away with Ellie blindly popping off shots. The game has tension is spades. The escape, the stumble, the escape post-fall, all while Ellie helps and saves Joel’s life. They ride off and the he falls, just like the show.
Not only is the raw shock value dropped, but Ellie is robbed of development. Her capabilities in combat are solid. The bond between the two is deepened further in these life and death situations. The show strips that away as Ellie is incapable of even hitting an enemy during their mad dash away. The most shocking thing from this episode as that they made this change.
And why make it? Time. A two-parter in Kansas City and tons of Jackson time forces the creators hands to cut more and more of the back half of the game. With this weekend’s episode focusing on the DLC Left Behind, we are naturally getting less time with Joel and Ellie. Their bond is what The Last of Us is built off of and I can’t help but feel like the connection is not being enriched on-screen. As a fan, it is a frustrating loss, but I guess the masses just don’t know what they are missing. Ignorance is bliss.
This seems to be the harshest I’ve been on the show to date. The episode wasn’t all frustration. There were stand out moments, but I felt like they detracted from my through line theme in the review. That’s what this list of observations is for; fleshing out the little things that I picked up on in the episode.
- That dog must not be very good at its job. If a cordyceps detector can identify Ellie is sick and this dog always knows when someone is infected, then that doggo should have let loose on Ellie. Not that I wanted that to happen, but I was scratching my head.
- Joel’s PTSD continues to be built upon and we finally get a picture of what the team was building toward. Chest pains become frequent (heck, they may have debuted in this episode, I forget if they were in Episode 5). Joel freezes up with the dog. This all mounts to the heart-to-heart Joel has with Tommy where he reveals his fear about being a failure and an inadequate protector. This was touching and felt perfect for this performance. It feels reminiscent of the opening scene in Part II, but that Joel comes from a place of righteousness and power.
- Two major characters from Part II have appeared! Both Dina and the horse Shimmer. I popped off for Shimmer. Dina was not named, but it was clearly supposed to be her. And that casting has made it clear to me that the actresses need to age up a bit if they are going to handle the, uh, let’s say activities of Part II. I feel like season two is going to be lots of world building and perhaps unseen or reshuffled moments from the sequel.
- There were some excellent jokes in this episode. I was partial to Tommy’s communist realization and Joel’s history lesson on contractors.
- Maria is pregnant. The implications of this for future seasons is substantial. Serious potential there.
- They cut one of the best lines from the game. Joel’s classic “you’re on mighty thin ice” was no where to be seen or heard in his confrontation with Ellie. Further proof of a much slower to anger Joel.
- Speaking of that argument scene, the shots are reversed from the game. A small observation, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.
- I wonder when Ashley Johnson’s birth scene is going to happen. My guess is either next week or the finale. Next week makes less sense, because Ellie would have no memory of her birth. Perhaps Marlene shows up at the end in some manner. I wager a Marlene flashback in the finale is more logical, but that would rob the duo of even more time.