THE OSCAR PROJECT
Episode 9 of The Last of Us serves as the final episode in the season and as usual, it has its ups and downs. The fact that this episode is the shortest in the season is disappointing as a two hour finale would have been a wonderful way to end a great season. They get in and out of this episode so quickly and the show suffers for it. Every episode this season has been dedicated to an individual story, exploring the themes and emotions of every person and situation the protagonists come across. Every detail has been painstakingly laboured over to create mini arcs for the characters that tether pieces together in the overarching storyline. However, in episode 9, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) find themselves in a dire situation once again and it is up to Joel to make some very important decisions for himself and Ellie.
This moral dilemma should have been the backbone for a larger episode. The two sides of this moral debate should have been given more time to have discourse, to elaborate on their sides, or at least give the audience additional time to assess their own thoughts and feelings. The pace here matches the source material but this show has been fantastic at deciding when to speed up and when to slow down and it seems like they made the incorrect choice here. It feels like they ran out of budget and had to wrap things up very quickly, which is a shame. It ends on a brutal note yet the effects of this conclusion aren't truly felt to full effect because we're left to surmise Ellie's thoughts on the matter. After the high intensity of the last episode where some very shocking events take place, we're left little time to let it all sink in. It's lightly shown that Ellie hasn't quite recovered from those events but they could have used this recovery time to process some of her emotions that would have served as a catalyst for the moral conundrum later on.
Despite all of this, what the show does provide is breathtaking. Ramsey has never not felt like the original version of Ellie but this is where she feels the most like Ellie. In the decrescendo, we get a moment to breathe after all of the chaos and just live in a moment with her and Joel. The beautiful but understated line delivery Ramsey pulls off more than proves that she was perfectly cast from the beginning. The same can be said for Pascal as he magically brings a real sense of depth, desperation, and urgency to his character. The intense action scenes flowing perfectly into the slower and more philosophical scenes are vastly aided by Pascal in the way that he can shift his energy so fluidly. But these things are what make the time length and the pace problems feel so egregious. Why would we not want to use these brilliant actors more and wrap up the season in the way it deserved to.
This episode also adroitly sells us on the idea that Joel is at best an anti-hero. There is a misconception that has been rife since the video game released that Joel is a good guy, a hero, an idol. This is conceptually bonkers since he has been ridiculed for his decisions and scrutinized for his brutality from the very beginning of the apocalypse portion of the story. The show did a much better job at displaying this than the source material. Earlier in the show we saw hints towards his past, implying he harmed innocent people, his brother Tommy explicitly repenting for his time with Joel. It finally accumulates in this episode as we see Joel go on a rampage, admittedly to save his surrogate daughter.
This may be the moral choice, however, if we examine this sequence and turn of events from any single character's perspective, Joel is a villain. He takes life when he deems it okay, acting as judge, jury, and executioner. He robs Ellie of a possibly world changing decision over his own regrets and point of view. He is a morally questionable character, but this is one of the things that makes him so interesting. I hope this thread is further explored in the second season as it's a huge theme in The Last of Us 2, which was quite controversial at the time of its release.
Despite all the flaws, this episode brings home everything that is great about this show. Brilliant and intense action, difficult decisions, heartbreaking unethical choices, outstanding performances, gorgeous and rich dialogue that progress two intensely complicated characters and most of all, a sense of consistent dread mix in equal parts with hope. So though this season ended with an accelerated landing and rough decline, I felt adequately satisfied with the overall conclusion. I'm going to give the finale of The Last of Us season 1 an...
8 out of 10