(Spoilers about Sunday's episode of The Last Of Us are below. If you haven't seen it yet, you may want to watch it and come back.)
What if the good guy isn't a good person? What if he's just a person? A selfish person who is more interested in redemption than doing what is right? The Last Of Us used it's season finale to tell a pretty cliché story that wisely chose to point the importance of the hour on Joel and Ellie and the choices they make (or are not allowed to make).
After last week's thrilling episode, last night felt more like an epilogue. Joel and Ellie finding the hospital and Joel realizing that Ellie would need to die for a cure felt like a pretty textbook ending. Joel saving Ellie felt just as basic. From a story-only perspective, it was more a USA or TNT action series than the great show we've been watching. The core difference is how the show turns on Joel and shows us clearly what his motives really are.
Joel wanting to save Ellie makes total sense and is what we have been rooting for all series long. The problem lies not in Joel choosing his paternal redemption over saving humanity. It's robbing Ellie of the choice of saving humanity. The Fireflies are no better. They are willing to make the pragmatic option of killing Ellie for a cure. It seems a bit much having Marlene be there for when Ellie is born and also calling for her death. As I mentioned, the storytelling was not strong this episode.
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are both exceptional in this episode. This marks back to back great episodes for Ramsey after an inconsistent start to the season. Pascal is really terrific as he doesn't shy away from being equally sympathetic and selfish. I have some issues with him being Rambo whenever he needs to be and killing dozens of people whenever he needs to. That's not Pascal's fault though. That's a script that has one hand in the video game and the other in the show.
I mentioned last week that having a strict dedication to any work you're adapting doesn't always lend itself to the best product. Having Joel be this unstoppable killing machine or alternate between being someone who is easily jumped may work in a game but you'd like to see more nuance in the character. The "It's in the game!" defense shouldn't matter. It should be about making the best show. It's an unfair expectation to think every part of a video game or a book will make good television. It's about taking the very best of the work you are adapting from.
The season does end with a bit of intrigue. It seems Ellie didn't quite believe it when Joel swore to her that he was telling the truth about the Fireflies not looking for a cure. I do think Joel (and most people) would lie in that same situation. At that point, you're just in too deep. I commend the show for taking the risk of having one of the heroes of the show not being heroic at all. He's a selfish liar by the end. It's understandable why he would lie but it's a lie nonetheless.
So where does this leave us for next season? I have to imagine this lie will be eventually exposed. What set this show apart from The Walking Dead was that there was a journey that dominated the season. As much as I loved The Walking Dead comics, it would often struggle with the characters not having a natural mission. Now that Joel and Ellie have nowhere they have to go, will that hold the story back next season?
I'm guessing we'll have quite a long wait for the next season. The second season didn't get greenlit until a few weeks ago. The set designs in The Last Of Us are impressive and look expensive. The casting and care that goes into the direction of the episodes are top notch. This show could be inconsistent at times and I wouldn't put it in the greatest tier of first season shows like Lost, Barry, The Sopranos or Friday Night Lights. I do have it in that very next group. From an overall perspective, this has been a very good season.
Earlier I spoke of the idea that a show shouldn't need to be a photocopy of the thing they are adapting. But you have to give the game a ton of credit for giving us a character like Joel who has enough depth for us to understand why he does the things he does but also see that he may not be a good person. Anti-heroes are easier to have portrayed in a drama like Breaking Bad or Mad Men than an action-thriller. You need to root for the heroes in action more than any other genre. The explosions and clickers don't have as much worth without someone to care about. That we still care about Joel even though we see for him for his flaws is an impressive achievement.
Season Rating: A-
Episode 9: B-
Episode 8: A
Episode 7: D
Episode 6: B
Episode 5: A
Episode 4: B-
Episode 3: A+
Episode 2: B
Episode 1: A-