Emotionally soapy preamble alert! This blog post marks my final review of The Last of Us Season 1. I want to thank everyone who has read, liked, and generally engaged with the posts. It’s been an experiment of sorts, and I’m glad you’ve all shown up for the ride. Have you seen Episode 9 of The Last of Us? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
Given my criticisms of last week’s episode (namely the truncated run time and handling of David’s character), I approached the season finale with a mild bit of caution due to it having the shortest length of any episode. However, my misgivings proved to be all for nought. Episode 9 is a powerful and poignant ending for the series.
Joel and Ellie find themselves on the last of their journey. After a peaceful and nature-bound excursion, the pair find themselves captured by the Fireflies. Upon waking, Joel finds out a dramatic truth about Ellie’s fate and must decide whether to save her or leave her behind. The result of the latter means possible earth-shattering consequences for the remaining humans in the country and world.
The episode’s opening depicts Ellie’s mother, Anna (Ashley Johnson), giving birth and subsequently giving her daughter to the leader of the Fireflies, Marlene (Merle Dandridge), after being bitten by an infected.
Aside from being a mirror for Joel’s actions insofar as the lengths he would go to keep Ellie safe and alive, the opening is an emotionally touching piece of metatextual casting. Ashley Johnson did the motion capture and vocals for Ellie in the original game, and for her to give birth to the show’s incarnation of Ellie is profoundly moving. Johnson captures the almost feral quality of her daughter in subtle movements and physical gestures.
I’ve really liked the arc of Pedro Pascal’s Joel in the series, going from someone who closes himself off (emotionally) to someone who is almost bursting with warmth and empathy. Pascal’s quiet desperation to almost express everything to Ellie is heartbreaking to watch. It makes the violence he commits to saving her quite tragic as he’s expressing how he feels about her in the only way that makes sense to him (and perhaps the only way he can).
However, Bella Ramsey steals the episodes in a melancholic turn as a character who is burdened by the guilt of surviving an ordeal that could have saved millions of lives. In translating her character from pixel to screen, Merle Dandridge brings a steely authority that suggests a softer side to the choices she has to make.
Cinematically, the episode impressed me, whether it’s Joel’s prolonged montage of violence or a naturally lit medium shot where a ladder is dropped from a great height. Gustavo Santaolalla and David Fleming’s score was quite effective too, particularly during the Joel montage, which bridges the gap between a pulse-pounding Carpenter-esque score and a lamenting version of the main theme, which attempts to be heard through the mayhem.