THE OSCAR PROJECT
Episode 7 of The Last of Us is here and as expected, it was just as entertaining as the previous episodes. We dive into Ellie (Bella Ramsey) heavily this time, taking a huge detour from the main narrative to give some back story only hinted at previously.
Ellie and Riley (Storm Reid) are together in a flashback telling how Ellie got bitten initially. The relationship they build between these characters in such a short runtime is impressive, though they did this before in episode 3. The difficulty in this relationship is to not build it all the way. Bill and Frank's episode was able to fully bloom and their arc was fully realized which can be easier than writing an incomplete love story. The challenge is knowing where to take it and not go too far. It must end in a tragically awkward place which can be difficult to find and upsetting if not found exactly.
Riley is the perfect antithesis to Ellie. They play off each other's ideals and we see how both of them are falling into the propaganda cycle of their respective sides of the same conflict. It's interesting to understand how they can oppose each other in an idealistic way yet come together on the basis of their friendship. Their relationship is built very naturally, though there are moments and lines of exposition that feel shoved in to save time. Riley's character brings an edge to Ellie that we can see retrospectively affects her. Not only do we see Ellie's episodic arc here but we see how the events of this story directly affect Ellie overall. Within the present day action we see that Ellie hates FEDRA. She actively dislikes where she lives and doesn't want to enact change, nor does she seem as vulnerable. It's clear that these events shaped her into the person she becomes but they are also the building blocks of her insecurities. It leads to her fear of abandonment, a huge theme of the show. It's even more poignant as Joel (Pedro Pascal) is bleeding out and Ellie is faced with losing another loved one. Leaving this out of the story until now is genius since it demonstrates that while Ellie couldn’t help Riley, she can help Joel. Her character grows without a lot of action, lights or sound, just stellar writing and brilliant acting.
The criticisms for Ramsey have become completely hollow. She perfectly portrays Ellie in this episode in every facet of the human condition tapping into every emotion one would feel in this difficult time; joy, fear, anger, sadness, regret, guilt, elation and anxiety. She handles each with the precision of a seasoned actor like Pascal himself.
Speaking of which, Joel isn't in much of this episode. It is clearly the Ellie episode. The story comes from extra content away from the original source material and it was a bold move to do so. To utilize something not in the original story was brave, but since they have taken many liberties with the story, they have a lot of leeway in terms of creative license. It more than pays off though and considering it almost entirely excludes Joel, a fan favourite, it was a risk I'm surprised they were willing to take.
However, telling this story comes with a particular problem, not enough stakes. We are aware of two things about this story. We know Ellie gets bitten but survives and the show implies there was a second person with her at the time. Since Ellie doesn't speak about this individual, we're led to assume she died. There are no stakes because we know the ending as soon as the story begins. This is different from the rest of the show since knowledge of the source material isn’t required and without that knowledge, you can only guess at the conclusions.
When it comes to this backstory, you can deduce exactly where it's going from moment one which is a huge issue because this show is all about stakes. It's about difficult decisions and attempts to make us see how morality works in the apocalypse, how ethics are bent and how that reflects on our current society. There are layers of how we navigate relationships too but the point is, there are no difficult decisions to be made here. We can't toy with what we would do because we know what the characters are going to do. The story still has value in developing Ellie’s character, but the concept of this episode is fundamentally flawed in the context of the show.
Despite this my criticisms don't extend much further than that. This episode was a step down, but a step down from near perfection still lands you in a decent position. So I'm going to give The Last of Us episode 7 a...
7 out of 10