Last of Us Episode 9 Exposes the Show’s Biggest Problem
You may not have noticed, but there’s one glaring issue with the show.
When The Last of Us premiered on HBO, people discussed it like it was fated to some horrible demise. The “video game curse” has long been a point of debate, and The Last of Us seemed like it was going to be the project to definitively end the hesitation over video game adaptations.
But was it really exempt from the curse? The finale may be the perfect example of the biggest issue — one that’s hard to see at first but has become unavoidably obvious.
Warning: Spoilers for The Last of Us Episode 9 below!
Episode 9 of The Last of Us comes in at 43 minutes, an impressively speedy runtime for a typically hour-long show that hasn’t been afraid to stretch into the 80-minute mark (twice!). Ahead of the show, it was hard to think how they could fit the entire last chapter of the series in that one episode.
Now that the episode is available to watch, it’s obvious the show’s solution to this issue is simply to cut out all the combat involved in this chapter at all. In the original game, the last chapter detailing Joel’s choice once he meets up with the Fireflies in Salt Lake City takes up a large chunk of time, as Joel has to fight his way to Ellie. It’s essentially a “boss fight,” requiring the culmination of all the skills acquired in the game.
But in the series, Joel decides he wants to save Ellie, runs out of the room, rushes into the operating room, kills exactly one (1) man, and then carries Ellie out. It’s a lightning-quick scene for what is essentially one of the most consequential events in the entire series.
Pacing has been an issue throughout this show. Some episodes crawled on and on, taking their time to tell the story, while others seem to jump from scene to scene in order to keep things interesting. It reduced Joel and Ellie’s interactions with new characters to a few moments before they inevitably died — or worse. There’s no consistency. Episode 9 keeps up this issue, giving time for Joel to show Ellie he found beefaroni and Boggle, but no time for him to encounter obstacles to show how resolute he is in finding Ellie.
Maybe this choice is for the best: after all, with all the time freed up by not including the long fight to the OR, the episode has room to show the reason why Ellie is immune in the first place by flashing back to her birth. There’s room for the quiet moments, for the two to talk about Sarah and Joel’s suicide attempt, and for them to feed some giraffes. It’s those moments that fans of the game are bemoaning the loss of, since playing a game is often spent mainly just exploring and chatting.
But did the other part of the gaming experience — the heart-racing battles to achieve a goal — have to be sacrificed to get there? Joel is resolute in his mission to save Ellie, and there’s no reason to not show how passionate he is about this. He’s obviously willing to kill, dispatching the doctor and Marlene. Why not underline that fact?
The Inverse Analysis — Pacing is the last dwindling flaw from the video game curse that The Last of Us needs to reckon with. Maybe in the next season, they’ll learn how to turn video game “chapters” into episodes and even add supplemental material without feeling like massive parts have been left on the cutting room floor. For now, we’ll have to fill in the gaps ourselves.
The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max.