“Left Behind” reminds us Joel isn’t the only one who loved and lost.
Hello friends, and welcome back to another episode of The Last of Us.
A head’s up, “Left Behind” is almost entirely a flashback. So if you’re looking for a resolution on the “Joel got half a baseball bat in his side” plotline, it will have to wait until next week. Directed by Liza Johnson, “Left Behind” is a look at first love and freedom. It captures the kind of night that happens all too rarely—the sort where you and your friends are having the greatest time. Everything and anything seems possible… until it’s over.
Ellie (Bella Ramsey) has secreted herself, Joel (Pedro Pascal), and their horse in an abandoned house. Joel isn’t doing great and insists that Ellie leave him. Ellie tells him succinctly to “Shut the fuck up” and heads upstairs, where she hesitates by the front door.
Cut to Ellie in FEDRA school, running laps with other students. A mean girl named Bethany snatches Ellie’s headphones. She taunts that Ellie doesn’t fight–her friend does it for her. And, now, her friend is gone.
Ellie responds by showing she does indeed fight. That results in her in the commander’s office, nursing a black eye. Captain Kwong (Terry Chen) tells Ellie she’s too smart for her own good. The captain further recommends that Ellie realize she has two paths available. She can keep acting up and be a grunt on patrols for the rest of her life. Or she can be an officer and live a good life. After all, he reasons, FEDRA is the only thing holding the Boston QZ together. Ellie chooses the officer path.
Later, in her room, Ellie flips through a comic book. The bed on the other side of the room sits empty. She settles in at lights out, but at 2 am, someone sneaks into her window. Ellie grabs her knife and leaps into defensive mode. Thankfully, she stops when the light reveals the intruder is Riley (Storm Reid), her former roommate. Riley’s been missing for three weeks, a period the two consistently treat as if it were forever, in that very particular way that teenagers mark time.
It turns out Riley joined the Fireflies, to Ellie’s dismay. Riley promises to tell Ellie all about it if she’ll sneak out with her right now and have “the best night of your life.” Ellie readily agrees.
The pair break into an abandoned apartment building, heading up to the 7th floor. They come across a dead body, a man who clearly saved all his ration cards for a bottle of real Before Times liquor, then mixed it with pills. They manage to grab the bottle before the floor under the corpse collapses. Riley and Ellie head to the roof and drink some of the liquor.
Riley tells Ellie her recruitment story. One night, while Ellie was in “The Hole,” Riley snuck out to wander around. On her way back, a Firefly (later revealed to be Marlene), impressed by Riley’s abilities, offered her a place with the Fireflies. Ellie repeats Capt. Kwong’s line that FEDRA keeps the place together while the Fireflies are just anarchists. Rather than fall too deeply into the argument, the duo jumps playfully across the rooftops until they reach Riley’s surprise, the old mall. Riley explains that when FEDRA reconnected the power to a nearby apartment complex, it also powered up the mall.
They go in as Riley turns on the lights. The escalator delights Ellie. She plays around with it, getting Riley to join. They stop when a momentary closeness goes on a beat too long. Oh, Ellie. Riley has several things she wants to show Ellie, so they start wandering the mall.
[“Left Behind”] captures the kind of night that happens all too rarely—the sort where you and your friends are having the greatest time.
Riley’s first “wonder” is the mall’s carousel, which the pair rides gleefully while further enjoying the booze. Ellie gazes at Riley as they ride when the carousel suddenly stalls. Ellie raises their argument again, noting that if Riley stayed at the FEDRA school, they could be running the place someday. They could make changes. Riley tells her that Ellie could be making changes. Unfortunately, Riley already received her assignment. It was standing guard over sewage duty, a task so unpleasant it caused her to panic and run.
Riley’s next surprise is a photo booth, where they take playful pictures. Once again, they end up in a clinch that neither of them knows how to deal with. Riley then leads Ellie to the mall’s arcade. It’s “the most beautiful thing” Ellie has ever seen. Riley snuck in the day before to break open the change machine so they could play. They start some rousing games of Mortal Kombat II. As they play, the game noises and their voices echo throughout the mall. In the dark American Girl store, an Infected that’s grown into the wall wakes with a jerk.
Ellie and Riley share an almost-kiss moment. When it passes, a disappointed Ellie says she needs to get back to school. Riley cajoles her into staying by telling Ellie there’s a gift. Riley leads Ellie into a food court kitchen where she’s been staying. She proudly produces the present: the pun book! The pair begin reading jokes to each other, finding that neither understands a joke about computer screenshots.
Waiting for Riley to pick a joke, Ellie begins wandering the kitchen. On a shelf, Ellie finds a collection of explosives that Riley confesses that she made. Riley insists that she’d never let the Fireflies use the explosives anywhere near Ellie, but an unimpressed Ellie leaves. Riley chases after her and confesses that it’s her last night in Boston. The Fireflies are sending her to the Atlanta QZ. Riley asked them if Ellie could join and come along, but Marlene said no.
A hurt Ellie says goodbye and storms off. As she gets to the doors, she reconsiders and heads back to find Riley, only to hear screaming in the distance. Ellie tears off in that direction and finds that the source of the screaming is a Halloween yard decoration. Riley is sitting inside the mall’s version of Spirit Halloween. She’d saved this store for last since she thought Ellie would like it best. That Spirit Halloween absolutely opened after Outbreak Day. They can’t resist cheap real estate.
Riley explains that she wants to have a family again. That’s why she joined the Fireflies. Ellie tells her that leaving is okay. Riley pulls out two Halloween masks and Ellie’s Walkman, telling Ellie to put on a mask as she hooks up the Walkman to the store’s speakers. They dance on top of the display cases. Ellie goes back on her earlier assurance, asking Riley not to go. Riley says okay, and they finally kiss.
“Left Behind” is, like “Long Long Time” before it, a capsule look at a love gained and lost.
Clanking outside interrupts their long-awaited moment when the Infected bursts into the store. Riley shoots it, and they run, only for the Infected to leap out at them from some racks. It knocks the gun from Riley’s hand. Ellie stabs at it while Riley hits it with a piece of metal, enabling Ellie to skewer it in the head, killing it. Echoing last week’s wound reveal, a jubilant Ellie celebrates their victory. Then she follows Riley’s stricken eyes to her bitten arm. Ellie begins to panic, and Riley holds up her hand. She, too, was bitten.
In the present, Joel shudders in the basement, snapping Ellie out of her reverie. She chooses to start searching the house for something to help Joel. As she frustratedly yanks on a stuck drawer, the scene shifts back to the past. Ellie smashes the store’s display cases in a rage. Worn out, she collapses next to Riley, who offers two options: 1. They kill themselves before the Infection takes hold, or 2. Whether two minutes or two days, they don’t give up a moment of their lucid time. “We can lose our minds together,” Riley says. They hold each other and cry.
Present Ellie finally gets the drawer out and finds a needle and thread. She rushes back down to Joel and takes his hand, which he squeezes back. Then, with a manic bright look in her eyes, Ellie begins sewing Joel’s skin back together. She’s not going to lose him too.
“Left Behind” is, like “Long Long Time” before it, a capsule look at a love gained and lost. We’ve known that Ellie lost her friend Riley before the show’s events, but this episode shows how much deeper that loss was. This puts a lot more weight behind her words to Joel last episode. “Left Behind” is a sweet tale of first love with the most unfortunate backdrop possible. Though we don’t see Riley’s end, we can all imagine what happened. Ellie’s sole mission now is to save Joel; what she’ll have to do to accomplish that isn’t yet clear.
- Can Ellie have a gun? Not in the flashback, though Riley does let Ellie hold her Firefly-assigned gun for a minute. Joel tells Present Ellie to take his rifle, but she refuses.
- While getting to the mall, Riley references a “7/11 Incident”, which is apparently how Ellie got her eyebrow scar.
- Some music cues this week: “Take On Me” by a-ha as they goof around on the elevator; they dance in the Halloween store to the Etta James cover of “I Got You Babe”; the carousel plays a version of “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure. Remember, folks at home, ’80s music means danger.