Left Behind: TLOU Episode 7 Recap
[Editor’s Note: By the very nature of a “recap”, there will most certainly be spoilers in these weekly pieces, we didn’t think to mention that with the premiere, but we will keep a “SPOILER WARNING” label at the top of these weekly recaps for the rest of the season. Thank you and sorry if we spoiled anything for you!]
After we got the Pedro Pascal acting showcase on last week’s episode of The Last of Us, we now move forward into the past, to finally get the Bella Ramsey centerpiece we have all been waiting on. Every fan of the TLOU game was waiting to see when we would get the episode based on the game’s lone DLC (downloadable content), a side story showing the early days of Ellie experiencing heartache and loss, titled Left Behind. This DLC was well revered upon in its initial release, garnering further praise for its amazing story, genuine emotional heft and a great central love story between Ellie and Riley. Would the live action adaptation live up to the gaming counterpart? Considering how amazing this adaptation has been so far, was there any doubt? Druckmann and Mazin knock Ep. 7 – titled Left Behind – out of the park with a great central performance from Bella Ramsey and a great co-star in Storm Reid.
We begin with a slow pan of a snowy neighborhood, as we follow a blood trail that leads up to an inconspicuous house. Ellie has taken Joel here to recoup and recover. As Ellie attempts to subdue the bleeding Joel sustained from a knife wound in Episode 6, Joel pleads with her to just leave him. He wants her to go back to Tommy so that she can be safe, as he believes he can no longer protect her. Seemingly wishing to abide by Joel’s request, she begins to make her way up the stairs toward the basement door. As she reaches the knob, she has a moment of reflection.
We’ve gone back a few years. Ellie is doing some laps around a school gym, still housed at the FEDRA training facility she alluded to in earlier episodes. After a scuffle with another girl leaves her with thirteen stitches and in the infirmary, Capt. Kwong (Terry Chen), acknowledging her smarts, offers her two ways her life can go from here on out – become a grunt doing sewer duty (or worse) or become an officer and be able to boss around girls such as the bully she fought with earlier. After retreating to her room for the evening (we get another flash of the game comic Savage Starlight) and passes out, her old roommate and friend Riley (Storm Reid) breaks into the room. After running out a few months back, Riley reveals she ended up joining the Fireflies in the interim. Riley wants to take Ellie out for the night for a surprise and show her a great night. I really love the chemistry between Ramsey and Reid in this scene, and it only fleshes out more and gets better and better as the episodes progresses. I also need to call an awesome shout-out to posters for Joe Dante’s Innerspace (an awesome nod for one of Dante’s lesser-known gems) and video game Mortal Kombat II that adorn the walls of their room.
As they traverse their way through an apartment building – snatching a bottle of whisky/scotch off a freshly dead body before it falls through the floor in an unexpected hilarious visual gag – and traverse over the rooftops, we get tons of great banter between Ellie and Riley, with each of them calling out the pros and cons of their respective groups they currently are under – FEDRA for Ellie, Fireflies for Riley. It’s a great bonding scene for these two characters and really shines a light on how both sides have their positives and negatives, a running theme of how “who is good/bad” that TLOU continuously retreats to in its storytelling.
Riley ends up revealing that they are going to the mall, which is now getting power due to new apartments setup nearby for more refugees to the Boston quarantine zone. As they make their way in, we get a lovely sequence as Ellie makes her way into the mall and Riley slowly turns on all the lights within. The pure childlike glee across Ellie’s face is that of pure bliss, reminiscent of an Amblin-like aura as Ramsey imbues the characters with a sense of wonderment to what she is seeing, perfectly exemplified immediately with Ellie’s amazement of what is an escalator. As they make their way into the mall – we get an awesome callback to the games with the reveal of the in-universe movie poster for Dawn of the Wolf Part 2 – Ellie and Riley come across a Victoria’s Secret store. As Riley cracks and giggles that she is trying to imagine Ellie wearing one of their many uncomfortable outfits. As Riley walks off, we get our first real glimpse of how much Ellie likes Riley as she checks her hair in the mirror and clears her face of any errant bangs, trying to look her best. It’s a real beautiful moment and Ramsey really sells the innocence of it all.
Riley reveals she has a few surprises within the mall for Ellie, first being a merry-go-round in the middle of the structure. We get a beautifully lit ride for both Riley and Ellie, with soft white incandescent bulbs lighting the multi-colored horses of the merry-go-round, as they just learn to be teenagers, something that was robbed of them a long time ago. The loving adoration glance that Ellie gives Riley is truly lovely, but heartbreaking at the same time, as TLOU players and show watchers know that this fun I simply not meant to last.
Ellie takes notices of a photo booth. Riley was planning on this being the next surprise – complete with $5 in hand to make it work – as they start the machine and begin to strike dumb faces and poses in the booth before each snapshot after not initially knowing how it would work. This was a great bonding moment in the game, and it comes across much the same in the show iteration. Two teenagers just having fun with each other, being goofballs.
The next surprise is probably the most iconic from the Left Behind DLC – Raja’s Arcade. Seeing all the great classic pinball and arcade games in this location – Attack from Mars pinball, Tetris, Daytona USA, etc. – gave me a rush of emotion of my own journeys to the arcade when I was younger. It was a place where teens and children would get together and just not think about life, to escape from the day-to-day mundaneness of school and homelife to finish 1st in a car race or beat your opponent in whatever fighting game they had at the local arcade by you. Of course, the coup-de-grace of this location for Ellie and Riley is the fully functioning arcade cabinet of Mortal Kombat II. Watching Riley – playing as Mileena – and Ellie – playing as Raiden – take part in multiple bouts, enacting vicious moves and fatalities on each other, further cementing my travel back to a simpler time, something that these two characters never got to experience. However, this joy is about to meet doom, as we get a slow pan out of the arcade and down a few shops to an American Girl-like store, as a clicker awakens as it was adhered to the wall via tendrils sprawled throughout the store.
The final surprise Riley has for Ellie is that damn No Pun Intended book, with this being the second volume that Ellie never knew existed. Many puns ensue. As Ellie combs the place where Riley has been staying in the mall – and discovering a few homemade pipe bombs – Riley reveals she had been stationed at the mall by the Fireflies, but she is about to be shipped off to the Atlanta QZ in the morning (we also learn here that Marlene was the one that recruited Riley, giving connection to how Marlene connects with Ellie later). Ellie, in a fit of rage and anger that she can’t control, storms off and is about to leave the mall from where they entered, but turns back at last minute. Her love for Riley is too strong to leave it on this note. You can see the conflict in Ramsey’s face, and she continues to deliver a great multi-layered performance throughout.
When Ellie hears screaming as she is coming back into the mall, she runs toward the source, only to be surprised that it’s a tombstone decoration in a Halloween store that Riley has setup for her. After grabbing her No Pun Intended book, they share a tender moment together as Riley believes the Fireflies are like her new family, accepting her and choosing her over many others to be a part of something great. Riley wants to feel that familial vibe she had long ago before the outbreak, and Ellie accepts her choice and states simply that she will “miss” her. Riley then proceeds to give Ellie a wolfman mask while Riley chooses to wear a demon clown one (both masks appeared in the Left Behind DLC game). They begin to dance on the glass counter of the Halloween store as Ellie’s tape plays over the PA. The emotions get the best of Ellie and she pleads for Riley not to go. The second Riley says “OK”, Ellie plants the most gentle and innocent smack on her lip. After pulling away and apologizing, Riley states “for what?”. It’s such a wonderful revelation of love between these two people who have found each other in the mess of the world left behind, and it’s bloody brilliant. The good vibes don’t last long.
The clicker has detached itself from the wall of the American Girl-like store and storms into the Halloween store, intent on killing them both. The attach sequence that follows is quick, brutal, and messy, as the clicker tosses Ellie and Riley around the store. Ellie manages to get a few stabs in on the ribs before it turns its attention to Riley. Just as perhaps the clicker will finally overtake Riley, Ellie comes in with the game classic sneak kill as she stabs it in the left temple of its head, falling to the floor in instant death. They have survived, but as Ellie revels in their close call, the true result of the encounter reveals itself. Ellie was bitten on the forearm while Riley got bitten in the folds of her fingers.
We cut back to Ellie and Joel at the house. She is desperately searching around for medicine to help Joel, throwing everything around to find something that will be of use. We cut back to Ellie breaking all manners of glass counters at the Halloween store, anger spilling out all over the place, while Riley remains subsided on the floor. As Ellie calms down and sits next to her, she presents two options – kill themselves or ride this out until the end. Riley decides for them both that they should ride this great love they have for as long as they can, to accept the fate and enjoy the precious time they have left. Both characters embrace in tears and accept the inevitable.