I am of two-minds about this episode of The Last of Us. On one hand, the downloadable content (DLC) has been visually replicated. The story of Riley and Ellie stays true and faithful. On the other, this flashback feels…unnecessary. There is an obtrusive element lingering over the episode.
Let’s focus on the positive first. The world of Left Behind is stunning. The setting is all about beauty in destruction and the joy of discovery. Ten years ago, the concept of Ellie and Riley exploring an abandoned mall was a novelty. Naughty Dog took the familiar and represented it like a ancient temple. Nowadays, malls do feel like relics. Some of that initial charm feels swapped for warm nostalgia; time moves ever forward.
Coming back to this particular chapter of The Last of Us nine years later, there’s a bit of depth added to the dynamic between Ellie and Riley. Seeing Ellie in gym class and in the principal’s office wouldn’t have worked in the game, but it makes perfect sense for TV. Ellie’s interaction with said principal helps create tension between the ladies—FEDRA vs Fireflies. It’s texture that fans would have had to pick up on between lines or in the comic book run. I enjoyed this addition.
There is undoubtable temptation to replicate the DLC. From the amber glow of the ivy draped carousel to the cool electric hum of the arcade, the sets were always cinematic dreams. These translate to the television screen effortlessly*.1 I think succumbing to this temptation has led to this episode’s bloated feeling.
Left Behind was an additional chapter released eight months after the original game. This story, which is both prequel and interlude, was never integral to the core story. So in a season that only has two episodes left, we take a break and go back to a time that doesn’t build upon the foundational relationship. Sure, this backstory is a nice detour, but the ride is heading in the wrong direction.
I wager part of the decision to include this episode was the aforementioned cinematic temptation paired with not knowing if season 2 would be green lit. I think Left Behind would have felt much better as a HBO special, like Euphoria did in 2020/21. This could have been a great surprise in between seasons, given the crew more time to expand and enhance the supplemental narrative, and – most importantly – given season 1 a much needed additional episode to focus on Joel and Ellie together.
It’s like I said in my last review, we are on borrowed time. Now there are only two episodes left. The closer to the finale we get, the more I wish for more time.
Woof! I am behind. Writing this review slipped through the cracks of me producing two new episodes of The Max Frequency Podcast. Abby and I still haven’t seen episode eight yet; we were too tired on Sunday and have been busy ever since.
Heck, we’ll be missing the finale too.2
It bums me out to see the show waning in its connection and development. The first three episodes started strong and the rest have felt both rushed and bloated. I think the desire to strip gameplay segments has led to cutting powerful narrative moments. There’s a little baby with the bath water going on here. In the spirit of digressing from that digression, here are more observations that I picked up on when watching this episode.
- Neil Druckmann wrote this episode and it shows. This was/is, of course, his baby. I picked up on some subtle polish this go around that enhanced the original story though. Good work.
- Finally, the first Naughty Dog easter egg (that I have caught)! The FEDRA principal(?) has the red paw print on his keys.
- The entirely cut the Firefly Winston’s tent. I always liked that character and his place in the world. Gives lore and backstory to Boston and Ellie. Wish he was included instead of some random dead body with a whiskey bottle.
- Nice inclusion of Mortal Kombat II, which was added in to the Part I remake as well. Although, I wish Angel Knives and Black Fang were used somewhere.
- Speaking of the arcade, there didn’t seem to be any Jak X: Combat Racing machines because Jak X didn’t exist in 2003. More proof that the decision to change the timeline was a bad call.
1. I understand it took immense effort to recreate these scenes and sets. I meant more the concept translates effortlessly. You get what I mean.
2. Turns out, we caught the finale live! A baby miracle occurred and our Eloise was asleep by 7:45. We were able to watch both episode 8 and the finale. I have just been so behind on my writing here; in part due to making new episodes of The Max Frequency Podcast, as well as visiting family. Those lines just prove how long this draft has been sitting in my folder. 😅