Episode 1×07 of ‘The Last of Us’ is, for me, the best to date. There will be those who prefer 1×03, or a different one, since it is a debate open to opinions and impressions. However, what cannot be discussed is that, apart from being brilliant (or boring for others), this week’s chapter is vital to understanding the development of the series. It was not, far from it, a “filler episode” as has been read on Twitter. Saying that is simply not understanding what the pod is about. Because if you expect everything to be payum-payum and gallops through the mountains, you may be expecting to see a different series than it actually is. Nor is it a debate about the literalness of the adaptation, which is a lot (and 1×07 includes a very special detail for fans of the video game), but about understanding what series we are watching, not what we want to see.
Once this melon is opened, perhaps what proceeds is to establish what is a “filler episode” or why this particular one is not. We can understand as “filler” someone who is dedicated to telling a side story, to expand the world in which the fiction takes place, to give context or the point of view of someone who is not usually the center of the story, for example. The “filler”, which does not necessarily have to be equal to a bad chapter, would be the one in which the universe is expanded in some way or another but the main story does not advance. Is this not the case, if not “too much” passes between the cliffhanger of 1×06 and the point where it ends? No, it is not. Not everything is knowing if Joel folds the napkin.
It is one thing for the present timeline not to advance and quite another for the main story not to advance. And here of course it does, well ‘What we left behind’ “stops” to tell us the main motivation of the main character of the series (nothing less!!) and, in addition, this serves to make a relevant decision. And it’s not so much that Ellie leaves the cabin or starts sewing: it’s about both of them, Joel and she, have spent several chapters developing a bond of friendship that they refused to accept, especially him. Here we witness the verification that they care about each other, they love each other and they are not going to abandon each other (Joel holds onto Ellie’s hand tightly, in case someone needs us to underline it). From now on, he is more than that man who helps her and that she is not just “merchandise”. They are family to each other.
The episode works very well as a diptych, not with episode 3 (because of the capitular stories with LGBT characters), but with the first of the series. Let’s remember that in the pilot we saw Joel lose his daughter Sarah, the reason for her great emotional wound and why he refuses to forge a bond with Ellie beyond the “professional”. But he simply can’t do that. Both connect, in fact, because they are two people who care about their relatives, which is a predominant theme in the series, as also made us see the 1×03. That’s Joel’s Achilles heel, a weakness he shies away from, even if he can’t.
Put more clearly: This, the emotional one, is the journey of ‘The Last of Us’ and not touring the United States from end to end killing monsters. And I understand that whoever is waiting for that bloody road-movie is getting desperate, but they are waiting for something that they are not going to get. Some (yesterday furious) viewers were tearing their hair out because an entire episode went by without us knowing if Joel recovered from the stab wound. It doesn’t matter. For starters, it’s pretty obvious that, being the main character, he’s not going to die (remember, there’s season 2 of ‘The Last of Us’ confirmed). And, later, that it is not so important how he gets out of the wrong but what lesson or change the characters in this passage of his adventure get.
All that would be the what, now let’s go to the how. Well SU-BLI-ME. ‘The Last of Us’ once again plays with our expectations, with the genres and with the tone to create a capitular piece that has its own entity and a different flavor, without letting the essence of the series escape. Again puts the spotlight on the fucking of raising you in the middle of a global pandemic and makes you empathize with Ellie at all times: from anger at PHAEDRA to the happiness of playing a violent video game as a teenager, to the fascination of someone who sees an escalator for the first time. And, of course, in this carousel of emotions and discoveries we also vibrate with the protagonist’s hormonal explosion through dozens of subtle details.
The magisteriality of the chapter, however, does not remain only in the approach of this passage: Bella Ramsey’s powerful performance elevates the series to the top. It’s hard to believe that such a young interpreter can give her character so many nuances in an episode in which most of the scenes are sparse in dialogue; she, on the other hand, grows in these moments and always has a gesture so that we understand the many emotions that Ellie goes through in this shopping center. Give him the Emmy now, please, I don’t want to have to fight anyone over it.
So, ‘What we left behind’ it does not merely remain in the exploration of a past trauma to get the easy tear. In fact, his approach is curious: at all times we smell how the thing is going to end and, even without surprises, it works. And it does so because it gives humanity to a story that we could intuit and opens up Ellie to us as it was done with Joel. With this piece of the puzzle we will not only understand it better from now on, we have not only filled a relevant gap in the time line of the series, but rather that we can give new meaning to everything we have seen of it so far. Her story with Riley is crucial to understanding ‘The Last of Us’.