Partially adapted by Iranian director Ali Abbasi, Ellie's Joel-less endeavors from the first "Last of Us" video game remain compelling as TV episodes.

These two Last of Us episodes adapt instances of the original game putting players in control of Ellie. The second also provides one of two directed by Iranian Ali Abbasi, although I haven’t seen any of his prior works. Just like the game levels, Joel rarely appears in these episodes. However, Ellie’s endeavors without him prove compelling in both mediums.

The Last of Us Episodes 7-8 Review (Colorado cont.)

Left Behind

Airdate: February 26, 2023
Director: Liza Johnson
Writer: Neil Druckmann

It ends this way for everyone sooner or later, right? Some of us just get there faster than others. But we don’t quit. Whether it’s two minutes or two days, we don’t give that up.

-Riley Abel

As Ellie determines what to do while Joel suffers from the stabbing he received at the University of Eastern Colorado, she flashes back to events that resulted in a previously-alluded instance of someone she cared about dying. After her very good friend Riley Abel (Storm Reid) joined the Fireflies, she and Ellie shared a date at an abandoned mall. They both realized they loved each other as more than friends, but an attack at the mall ultimately prevented them from sharing a future together.

As a DLC pack, Left Behind delivered welcome elaboration of Ellie’s past in a cute and bittersweet manner. All of that also applies to the faithful TV version. Non-binary Bella Ramsey expectedly finds a balance between an innocent, pre-bite Ellie, and the spunky, defiant Ellie of the present day. Across interactions both lighthearted and angst-ridden, Ellie and Riley depict a believable transition from old friends to star-crossed lovers, strengthening the tragedy when fate forces Riley to leave Ellie behind. Riley demonstrates the importance of finding levity and companionship in dismal situations through not just her motivational speeches, but also by facilitating Ellie’s recreational interests. Riley’s ability to guide Ellie towards discovering joy in the mall’s seemingly-gloomy environment seems to eventually help inspire Ellie to turn her immunity against Infected bites into a sign of hope after the apocalypse; for a cure to the disease, and for Joel’s emotional recovery.

This episode’s largest deviations from the DLC occur in the framing device. The game intercuts Ellie’s and Riley’s date with present-day sequences of Ellie searching another abandoned mall for medicine for Joel, occasionally having to fend off more enemies. Relatively speaking, the TV adaptation’s bookends seem less contrived, with Ellie searching an abandoned house for supplies. The smaller environment allows the philosophical parallels to the flashbacks to overshadow the physical parallels, while the less-frequent cuts to the present remove the question of how Joel survived Ellie running multiple memories through her head. “Left Behind” hits all of the necessary heartwarming and heartbreaking notes of its source material.

When We Are in Need

Airdate: March 5, 2023
Director: Ali Abbasi
Writer: Craig Mazin

Tell them that Ellie is the little girl who broke your fucking finger!

-Ellie Williams

Ellie obtains penicillin for Joel by trading some venison with David (Scott Shepherd), a preacher and leader for residents of the Silver Lake resort. Unfortunately, David and his followers seek vengeance against Joel for killing one of their members at the University.  When they invade the travelers’ shelter, David’s desires to advance sinister purposes through Ellie result in her kidnapping.

Ellie and Joel achieve plausible success at surviving Colorado.  After Joel regains enough consciousness to stab one of David’s followers, the impressiveness of his awakening becomes appropriately undercut by symptoms of lingering exhaustion from his own injuries.  During his tortuous interrogation of others for Ellie’s location, his determination to protect unleashes his brutal strength and intimidation.  Following several instances of Ellie defensively refusing to tell the people of Silver Lake her name, she ends up choosing a poignant time at which to fiercely reveal it to David.  Despite his attempts to compare her “violent heart” to his own, she declares her own identity after injuring him, out of disagreement with his belief in the benefits of cults.

David’s speech about finding a spiritual awakening from Cordyceps draws a corruptive parallel between religion and fungi.  Religion appears to have infected the minds at Silver Lake when they believe their local preacher knows everything they need to survive, even if he can’t meet their pristine expectations.  The cannibalism at the resort reveals a community built on elitist practices, dehumanizing the unfortunate in order to benefit others.  Everyone who benefits from this system practices it out of either ignorance towards its cruelty, or a desperation to survive.  Ellie’s resistance towards sustaining Silver Lake ends up literally destroying the establishment with the cannibals’ own tools, when she burns down the steakhouse with fire from their stove, then slaughters sexually abusive David with a meat cleaver.

Joel indirectly admits, finally, that he and Ellie have developed a familial bond.  When he retrieves her from Silver Lake, he affectionately calls her, “baby girl;” a nickname he previously used for Sarah.  Considering Ellie could’ve taken his advice to return to Tommy in the previous episode, her efforts to instead do whatever she can to heal his stab wounds solidify her worth beyond “cargo.”

Tragically, “baby girl” also hints at Joel feeling ashamed, again, at failing to save his daughter.  We previously saw him call Sarah by that name during her dying moments, while here he couldn’t prevent Ellie from experiencing abduction or attempted rape.  When Joel and Ellie reunite, Ellie doesn’t explicitly express regret for never leaving him behind in Jackson or Colorado.  This illustrates that even if they can’t always keep each other out of danger, their love comes through in their continuous refusal to abandon each other.  “When We Are in Need” subjects the show’s main duo and viewers to moments both disturbing and triumphant.

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