How ‘The Final of Us’ Cherishes a Bygone World

This story incorporates spoilers for The Final of Us Season 1, Episode 7.

An deserted mall on the finish of the world shouldn’t be a reasonably sight. Shops, looted and left in disarray, provide solely damaged mannequins and empty cabinets. Glass shards blanket the flooring. Fluorescent bulbs flicker. A spot as soon as often called a middle of commerce has change into a dirt-strewn husk of its former self.

But when The Final of Us’s teenage heroine, Ellie (performed by Bella Ramsey), gazes upon one such constructing within the newest episode, she’s entranced. Her face, bruised from a latest fistfight, lights up. Her eyes widen, and a small smile kinds on the corners of her mouth. Lengthy earlier than she really verbalizes it, she’s clearly determined that this plaza is the best sight she’s ever seen.

Just like the drama’s splendidly poignant third episode, Sunday’s installment, “Left Behind,” follows an intimate, self-contained plot. Within the current, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie’s journey to a lab that may research Ellie’s immunity has come to a halt after Joel is harm in an assault. A lot of the hour as a substitute chronicles a single night that occurred months earlier than the 2 met, when Ellie and her greatest pal, Riley (Storm Reid), snuck out of the Boston quarantine zone. The episode thus delves into Ellie’s backstory and the way she skilled the sort of loss that instilled in her a potent worry of being alone.

However “Left Behind” isn’t exceptional merely for filling within the blanks of Ellie’s previous. Quite, it’s a quiet celebration of the world that when existed—a world the viewers is aware of all too nicely and, the present posits, all too typically takes without any consideration. In postapocalyptic tales, world constructing usually emphasizes the brand new actuality: new vocabulary to study, new programs of presidency to know, new social norms to parse. The Last of Us has its share of this—the strolling lifeless aren’t “zombies”; they’re “contaminated”—however the sequence retains an in depth eye, by means of Ellie, on what’s been misplaced. Ellie’s fondness for even a dilapidated buying heart affords a reminder of how easy pleasures might be as essential as meals and shelter. This ruined advanced is significant not as a result of it homes a sick assortment of Halloween decorations, however as a result of it’s a monument to Ellie and Riley’s friendship. Real human connection is uncommon sufficient in a traditional world. For Ellie, who doesn’t but know of her immunity, it’s a lifeline—which is why, after they’re each bitten on the finish of the episode, being with Riley for so long as she will is price the price of slowly dropping her thoughts.

As Riley guides Ellie across the mall, she guarantees to indicate her “wonders.” These become abnormal machines, together with a photograph sales space, an arcade recreation, and a merry-go-round. Ellie has demonstrated a deep affection for cultural artifacts like these: She reads comedian books, pins film posters to her dorm-room partitions, and listens to music by means of her Walkman as she jogs. Such objects could appear frivolous to others, however Ellie’s delighted by them. When she spots the photograph sales space, she asks if it’s a time machine. When she rides the carousel, she describes her plastic steed as “a magic horse.” In Ellie’s awe, The Final of Us, relatively than assuming that humanity’s price saving, gives a compelling cause for doing so. Ellie is herself a “marvel,” in different phrases: Sure, she’s pivotal to the mission as a result of she’s genetically beneficial, however she’s additionally immensely able to find amusement and pleasure in what little she has. That capability for creativeness, the present argues, is a uniquely human high quality that should be protected.

In its depiction of tradition as important to humanity, The Final of Us shares DNA with Station Eleven, one other excellent HBO adaptation (in its case, of a novel) set in a postapocalyptic panorama. However whereas the significance of artwork served as Station Eleven’s focus, The Final of Us is extra refined, monitoring artwork’s ambient affect on its characters. In Episode 3, Frank (Murray Bartlett) paints portraits of Invoice (Nick Offerman) that he proudly shows round their house. In Episode 5, the underground tunnels main out of Kansas Metropolis are lined in colourful drawings, much like the illustrations that Sam (Keivonn Woodard) product of superheroes whereas hiding out. And in Episode 6, the survivors dwelling within the thriving Jackson settlement collect to observe a film. The artwork proven in The Final of Us can be extra lowbrow: Ellie cherishes her pun guide, flips by means of a porn journal she finds, and quotes from a sequence of comics with which she’s obsessed. Portraits and pun books—these objects have significance as a result of they assist forge shut bonds. They’re expressions of care, as essential because the thread Ellie finds to stitch up Joel’s wounds.

My colleague Ian Bogost wrote recently that turning The Final of Us right into a tv sequence revealed that “there simply isn’t that a lot to the story,” not whenever you’re now a viewer as a substitute of a participant involved with getting Joel and Ellie previous hordes of contaminated. I disagree. Certain, this episode included little ahead momentum of the overarching plot, however that’s the purpose: The present is not only about whether or not Joel and Ellie will save the world. It’s about what’s left to avoid wasting, and why they need to reserve it in any respect. As a TV sequence, the story now has room to meditate—on ideas as huge and existential as the worth of being human and caring for another person, in addition to on extra minute particulars, such because the magnificence of a working set of escalators in an deserted mall. And identical to Ellie when she first laid eyes on the construction, the present is discovering many wonders to ponder—and to treasure.

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