The Spool / Recap
The Last of Us leaves us with questions as Season 1 wraps up
Joel and Ellie head for the hospital in a heartbreaking story of secrets and lies.

Joel and Ellie head for the hospital in a heartbreaking story of secrets and lies, bringing The Last of Us to a close for the time being.

Hello friends, and welcome to the season one finale of The Last of Us. We’ve come a long, long way with Joel and Ellie, and it’s time to see how their story ends (for a bit). “Look for the Light” is a story about stories, the white lies and omissions, and full-on fabrications that we tell ourselves and each other in order to get by. It’s been hammered into us (via Ellie) how hard-won trust is in their terrible new world, and this week we all learn how hard it hits when that trust is lost.

A very pregnant woman (Anna, played by OG Ellie Ashley Johnson) makes her very pregnant way through a forest, followed by ominous screeching. Anna makes her way to a rundown house and locks herself in an upstairs bedroom, shortly after her water breaks in the hall outside. She pulls out a knife and readies herself as the Infected bursts through the door and attacks her. Anna manages to kill the Infected, realizing after the attack that she was both bitten (on her leg) and gave birth to the squalling baby currently on the floor. Anna hastily cuts and ties the cord and holds her screaming daughter, whispering “You fucking tell ‘em, Ellie.” Something tells me she didn’t cut that cord in time.

A trio of people, including Marlene (Merle Dandridge), make their way to the house later on. Marlene creeps up the stairs, finding Anna singing to her daughter. Anna tells Marlene about her bite, but that she cut the cord beforehand (this is an episode of half-truths). She asks Marlene to take Ellie to Boston, with her knife, find her a home, and also kill Anna before she changes. Marlene can’t bring herself to do so at first, pulls it together when Anna’s cries start to sound a little feral.

The Last of Us (HBO Max)

In the present, Ellie (Bella Ramsey) sits in the back of a pickup while Joel (Pedro Pascal) tries to get her attention. It’s clear that Ellie is still processing the events at David’s compound and everything else that has led them there. She smiles politely when Joel shows off his discoveries: a can of Chef Boyardee Beefaroni and the boardgame Boggle, but she’s not really with him. Joel, bless him, is trying his best; offering to find a guitar and teach Ellie to play, trying to make her laugh, and the two make their way to what remains of the hospital in Salt Lake City. Joel boosts Ellie up a level and is understandably annoyed when she rushes away, but it turns out it was for a good reason: she’s found a giraffe.

They feed and pet the giraffe and follow it outside to see a herd of them wandering across the old courtyard. Joel tells Ellie that they don’t have to go on, but she can’t handle the idea that everything they’ve done was for nothing. She promises that once they see the Fireflies and she helps out, she’ll follow Joel anywhere he goes. They walk through the remains of an Army hospital camp and Joel confesses to Ellie that the man who shot at him and missed (leaving his head scarred) was himself. Ellie offers that time heals all wounds and Joel corrects her: “It wasn’t time that did it.” The pair exchange a loaded father/daughter look and start off again, with Ellie happily reading puns to Joel. They’re having such a good time that they don’t notice the people creeping up behind them until they’ve already thrown a smoke bomb at the pair; Joel just manages to get them out of the way of the blast but he’s knocked out by one of the men as the others drag Ellie away.

Joel wakes up in a hospital room, greeted by Marlene. She tells him Ellie is unhurt, but that he can’t see her as she’s being prepped for surgery. The Firefly doctor thinks that Ellie’s cordyceps has grown with her since birth, making the other cordyceps think she’s already Infected. He’s going to remove the fungus from Ellie and multiply the cells in a lab, making a vaccine that will trick cordyceps into believing its victims are already Infected, like Ellie. Joel shakily points out that cordyceps grows inside the brain, so this isn’t something that Ellie is going to walk away from. Marlene says she understands, she promised Ellie’s mother she’d take care of her and now this is happening, but she ices up again and tells her men to deposit Joel (with his pack and Ellie’s knife) on the highway. If he tries anything, kill him.

The Last of Us
The Last of Us (HBO Max)

The two Fireflies march Joel through the hospital halls and down into a stairwell where Joel makes a decision and…Joels out, as it were. He kills his two captors and heads back upstairs, methodically killing every Firefly he comes across, including those who surrender. He finds the operating room and heads in just before they begin Ellie’s surgery, shooting and killing the doctor when he refuses to unhook Ellie from the machines. Joel leaves the nurses alive when they remove Ellie from the equipment for him and carries Ellie out. I’m sure leaving witnesses alive will in no way affect Joel’s future.

Joel carries Ellie to the parking garage, where he finds a working car, but he’s stopped by Marlene. Joel tells Marlene that she doesn’t get to decide for Ellie, Marlene retorts that neither does he, and he knows what Ellie would have chosen. Marlene lowers her gun and says that they can still find a way. We cut to Joel driving away in the van, looking broken, but then Ellie coughs in the backseat. Joel tells Ellie that the doctors drugged her to run tests on her and the others, “dozens” of other immune people that they tested but ultimately determined that a cure was impossible. Back in the parking deck, Marlene approaches Joel and Ellie, only for Joel to shoot her in the stomach. In the van, Joel tells Ellie that the Fireflies have stopped looking for a cure, and then Raiders attacked the hospital and Joel barely managed to get himself and Ellie out. In the garage, Marlene begs Joel to let her go. “You’d just come after her,” Joel says, and kills her.

Sometime later, the van gives up the ghost a five-hour hike from Jackson. Joel talks about Sarah for the first time, telling Ellie that they’d have gotten along. As they reach the last stretch to Jackson, Ellie tells Joel about the night she had to kill Riley, then mentions Tess and Sam. They’ve lost so much and was it worth it? Joel tries to give a speech about finding new things to fight for, but Ellie interrupts him. She asks Joel to swear to her that what he told her about the hospital and the cure was true. Without missing a beat, Joel swears that it is. With a broken-hearted look in her eyes, Ellie simply says “Okay.”

The Last of Us has carried the weight of many expectations this season, and it’s handled them all admirably. It’s managed the ever-tricky task of being a solid adaptation while still branching out on its own. Does this mean it could make every viewer happy? Of course not, but what will? For every heartwrenching character moment, there was someone who would’ve preferred a terrifying Infected encounter, and vice versa. The Last of Us took that time-honored trope of found family and revealed how twisted up it can become when the members of the said family can’t quite figure out how to mesh.

The question hanging over the entire season now is, of course, did Joel do the right thing? Both in saving Ellie and in lying to her about it? It will never be clear if the vaccine would’ve worked anyway, but did Joel have the right to make that decision for humanity? What if Ellie, given all the information, had said no? Joel and Marlene make much about Ellie’s own choice, but if she’d refused, would they have let her go? Does any hypothetical forgive Joel’s multiple murders? Ellie was right to want their journey to have meant something, but now whatever it could have meant has been lost. I suspect that these are questions we’ll be debating until Season 2 makes its appearance, and I, for one, look forward to it all.

Airborne Spores:

  • Can Ellie have a gun? She doesn’t get a chance this week, though she does hold Joel’s rifle for him.
  • The song that Anna sings to baby Ellie is a-ha’s “The Sun Always Shines on T.V.” Just a little mother/daughter connection.
  • One of the Firefly nurses was played by Laura Bailey, who played the character Abby in The Last of Us: Part II. I’d advise you not to look up anything about the second game.
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