For those who know the history of The Last of Us, the episode that would show how Ellie (Bella Ramsey) discovered she was immune was as longed for as it was feared. And what a punch in the stomach, yet again. The vulnerability that our heroine hides, like Joel (Pedro Pascal), was built by the losses along the way. She dreams of a time machine, one that could see what it was like to live in a world without the threat of Cordyceps. Nobody can blame her.
We find Joel and Ellie where we left him last week, he is hurt and she is scared. Now it’s Joel who depends on Ellie, reversing the roles 180 degrees. That’s because Joel is seriously injured and begs Ellie to leave him for a chance. However, she doesn’t accept it and while looking for alternatives to help him, she is confronted by the ghosts of her past, which makes us go back in time and see her before being infected and finding herself immune.
An orphan, Ellie had been being trained by FEDRA, struggling with behavior and missing her best friend, Riley (Storm Reid), who ran away and presumably died. Riley returns and reveals that he has joined the Fireflies, enemies of FEDRA, and convinces Ellie to escape for a night of freedom and wonder inside an officially closed mall. It’s a true time machine, with Ellie discovering a universe she never imagined existed (she was born in a pandemic and isolated world). I find it confusing that the mall and the episode are loaded with references to the 1980s when the pandemic started in the 2000s, but creatively it’s beautiful and exciting. With Riley, Ellie is sweeter and we soon see that it is a love like that of Frank and Bill, souls that meet in the midst of pain.
Being young, the two obviously abuse the magic of isolation, their noises effectively awakening an infected and being attacked. But before that, the carousel sequence (with The Cure and Just Like Heaven simply filling in what needs no words with the soundtrack) and dancing to Etta James‘ version of I Got You Babe. Simple, sad, and important moments for the character.
The oppression of the circumstances of the apocalypse, even more than with Frank and Bill, eliminates any chance for Ellie and Riley. The two contemplated a painful separation (Riley was leaving) but ended the night waiting to die together. Only we know that Ellie is not infected, while Riley…
Determined not to deal with another loss after the ones she’s had (Sam, Charlie, Tess, Riley), the episode is the perfect vehicle for Bella Ramsey to silence her worst critics. We see all the emotions of a teenager who had few chances to do what many do: play, walk around the mall with her friend, dance, and fall in love for the first time. The scenes are taken directly from the game and add to the excitement. Once again, the songs underpin the story’s messages, taking cues from Bill’s coded radio signal: the 80s are imminent danger. The 60s, the void (according to Bill, the 60s would be for “nothing inside”).
Even better than Bella is Storm Reid who connects us with the cruelty of the circumstances in which they live. Not even the end of the world generated empathy or ended racism and everything is placed with great sensitivity with a great performance by the actress. Riley “has” yet to flee and seek a place where she will be chosen and appreciated. The genuine love between her and Ellie is shy and just a promise. Hence, the connection between Joel and Ellie, who have a similar trajectory (they lost the one they loved the most) and who choose to go together. Hand in hand, in mutual trust, for them there is no more life if they are not together. Something that reflects the lyrics of I Got You Babe, which is exactly what Ellie is doing with Joel: taking care of him. Exciting once again.