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‘The Last of Us’ episode 9 review: You should always have a choice

Joel and Ellie reach their final destination, but decisions are made that make the waters between them murky.

Liane Hentscher/HBO
Liane Hentscher/HBO

Before we end, we must return to the beginning – I’m talking about birth. In the finale, “Look For the Light,” the young woman running away from the infected is Anna (played by the fantastic voice of Ellie from the game, Ashley Johnson). Anna gets scratched as she gives birth to Ellie and has moments with her before Marlene and a few Firefly compatriots find her. There’s a beautiful moment as infant Ellie gives out her first cries, and Anna then says, “you fuckin tell em, Ellie.”

Although we see a small glimpse of it, Anna and Marlene have a close friendship established. So, you know why it’s so hard for Marlene to kill her. When those shots are fired, we get snapped back into the present day, and Ellie has a cold stare. Think about it from this point of view – when her mother gets killed, infant Ellie starts crying immediately. Then, consider everything that she has been through up to this point. It’s as if her life has had an imprint of pain from the beginning. There are experiences she’ll never get to have and people who were taken from her because of circumstances outside her control.

Liane Hentscher/HBO

Ellie will have to sacrifice herself for a chance to save what’s left of the world. I don’t think it’s fair to ask that of a young teenager, but Ellie has the resolve to finish the mission. “Look For the Light” finds the tables turned in personality. Joel is now the one that’s talkative and open – wanting to find beef-a-Roni and saying he wants to teach Ellie how to play guitar. When we first met Joel, he was discouraged and worn. He even mentions a missed suicide attempt to Ellie after they see the family of giraffes.

Little by little, her presence in his life has given him a new purpose for him to live. That in itself is a double-edged sword when it comes to the ultimate conclusion of the finale. Ellie is determined to finish this to the end no matter the cost – because, in her words, “everything they’ve been through would be for nothing.” To be the cure would be the pinnacle of her short life. Joel, who has this new resolve, sees it differently because you can always have something to fight for.

These divergent viewpoints come to a head when they reach the Firefly headquarters. There is another person in this complicated equation – Marlene. Marlene had to choose to kill Ellie’s mother and now is making the same decision with her. It’s sad because you have to know this is a heavy one. But depending on what side you look from, it’s the sacrificial blessing that may never happen again.

Like “When We Are In Need,” Joel goes on a systematic, murderous rampage to save Ellie from this fate. Any parent would go through hell and high water to do anything for their children, and the insecurities Joel expressed to Tommy have gone away. Well, in this respect, you’ll never outrun father time. The brutal side buried in Joel comes alive for the girl that was once “cargo” but is now family.

When he and Marlene meet in the parking lot, she says, “What would Ellie decide?” Two adults who had a say in Ellie’s life are establishing a course. \They both have their own experiences with Ellie, and each has a valid point about where they came from. Joel’s viewpoint ultimately wins, and he has to lie to Ellie about the circumstances.

It goes against what he said to Ellie in “Kin” when he says you should always have a choice. Ellie didn’t have one. When she turned to the other side in the backseat, there was a different sense of inner devastation. This journey was predicated on her being the missing piece of the equation. For Joel to tell her it didn’t work and that there are others like her, it’s crushing. Not only that, he lies to her about what happened to Marlene – a mother figure. Do you mean I have to return to THIS world where I’m just another regular person?

It makes the ultimate decision that much more cumbersome to deal with. Frankly, you can make cases for both. What Joel did was highly selfish, and from Ellie’s position, look at everybody who died along the way – Tess, Sam, Henry, Riley, her mother, etc. This was a way that she (in her view) could atone for that. Joel killing the Fireflies could have invalidated everything they went through. Now, they go back to a settlement with immense chaos, and things are ok now. But will it stay that way?

From Joel’s perspective, he sees how this experience changed him and wants that for Ellie. When Ellie tells Joel about Riley, he says, “keep going. Find something to fight for.” It’s that father’s “my daughter can do anything” attitude. Ellie isn’t Sarah (even as Joel says she would have liked Ellie). Ellie is wise beyond her years, but is still a young girl. Could it be possible that she finds some personal happiness? Maybe. Certainly not, in the same way Joel did. But from a “loved one” standpoint, you get it in a place where death is constant.

That’s the permanent conflict in how the season ends. Ellie’s “ok” will leave you hanging on whatever period we have until we get to part two. What will become of Joel and Ellie’s relationship? The choices we make shape us, as do the consequences that result from them.