Last Sunday’s episode of The Last of Us titled “Left Behind” served mainly to give the viewer insight into Ellie’s mysterious past. The viewer knows Ellie is different, not just because of the antibodies coursing through her blood, but because of her ability to find joy amidst the surrounding shrapnel.
“Left Behind” takes us to the quarantine zone, where some normal aspects of life like school take place — albeit more militantly than normal — even with the threat of impending infection. The viewer finds Ellie to be almost as bold in the past as she is in the show’s main timeline.
Her classmate Bethany learns this when she berates Ellie for her slow running pace and reminds her that her missing best friend Riley (Storm Reid) is no longer around to fight for her. Upon mention of her bestie, Ellie clocks Bethany squarely in the face without much thought. The message? Don’t mess with the people Ellie cares about.
That night, Riley returns after weeks of being MIA to inform Ellie that she has joined the Fireflies, an opposition group to the post-Cordyceps government FEDRA. Ellie’s initial incredulity regarding this claim is resolved when Riley flashes a gun at her, proving that she is what she says she is. Riley recruits Ellie to a late-night adventure by promising to give Ellie the best night of her life and to tell Ellie the full story regarding her absence.
Most of the episode takes place in a ramshackle mall à la Stranger Things Season Three, hidden from the QZ in a depression in the ground. Throughout the episode, Riley takes Ellie through five handpicked wonders of the mall. It is from these moments in the mall that viewers get a sense of what the Cordyceps outbreak has taken from Riley and Ellie.
Ellie ogles an escalator and gapes at a thong in the window of an old Victoria’s Secret store. To Ellie, a spinning carousel is a spectacle. Ellie and Riley give the carousel a few whirls while passing a handle of liquor back and forth. The fourth wonder of the mall is a photobooth that spits out only foggy frames of the two girls which Ellie pockets all the same.
To most of the show’s viewers, such “wonders” aren’t wonders at all. They are commonplace in our lives. Yet these “wonders” serve to show the deficits both girls have suffered. The garish rides most youngsters are over by their pre-teens still excite Ellie and Riley because there is so much novelty yet antiquity associated with them.
Emotions intensify as Ellie and Riley traverse the mall. Ellie steals more than a few longing glances at Riley along the way, and even preens herself in the reflection of the Victoria’s Secret window, giving viewers the sense that Ellie sees Riley as more than a friend.
Amidst the joy, excitement and nostalgia this episode evokes, it can be easy to let your guard down. Yet, once again, the viewer is advised not to do this. If a completely evacuated fun-filled structure in the middle of an apocalypse seems too good to be true, it’s because it is.
The shifting camera perspectives throughout the episode remind the viewer of this. The camera often settles on the two girls while the adventure unfolds. Other times, the camera aligns itself with the girls’ perspective. Sometimes, though, the camera adopts another perspective: That of a stalker. The disappearance of the camera behind columns in the mall alludes to this third presence.
Whilst Ellie and Riley explore the arcade, the final wonder of the mall, the viewer meets the third presence. A Clicker at a different end of the mall is awakened by Riley and Ellie’s voices.
This eerie insight inevitably initiates a tonal shift. The viewer no longer wants the girls to linger amongst all the gadgets and games. Ellie and Riley’s carefree nature is now a cause for concern and irritation. The girls’ desire to prolong the moment and push their luck is now a source of aggravation. Part of the tragedy of The Last of Us is that good moments are punctuated prematurely, and unpleasant ones seem to go on interminably.
In a Halloween store after a quickly resolved falling out between the two girls, Ellie finds an opportunity for romance and takes it. Ellie plants a kiss on Riley, after which she promptly apologizes to Riley. Riley smiles and responds “For what?”, signaling that the feelings are mutual.
The aforementioned Clicker ends up third wheeling this date, and ruins the mood by giving both girls a bite. The viewer, gifted with the knowledge of Ellie’s present situation, knows Ellie’s fate after the attack, while Riley’s fate is pretty determined.
Choiced with jumping the gun or waiting until the infection fully takes hold, Riley decides not to abbreviate the romantic moment by ruling out the former option. The girls prolong this spurt of romance and excitement as much as they can, clutching hands and averting their thoughts from looming death. It seems one of the few ways the girls can exert control over their own lives is to somewhat decide how they end.
Lena Thakor is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].