HBO’s The Last of Us has thankfully come to its conclusion with episode 9, “Look for the Light.” After enough bloat to bore Hemingway, The Last of Us barrels to the end, forgetting that it has not invested enough of its overstuffed screen time in developing the relationship between Joel and Ellie, resulting in a lackluster and unfulfilling finale that is the most forgettable and empty addition to the series thus far. Sure, the action of this episode totals 20 seconds, far outpacing its predecessors. However, this action, without the backing of good character work and with several insane and perhaps malicious changes from the source, is not able to redeem this altogether nothing-burger of an experience. “Look for the Light” is so uninteresting and forgettable that it’s almost not worth reviewing at all. It’s not good enough to require praiseful evaluation, nor is it horrendous enough to inspire rageful evisceration. It merely exists. That is the best thing to be said of “Look for the Light.”
“Look for the Light” follows Joel and Ellie as they complete their journey to the Firefly hideout that contains the scientists capable of extrapolating a vaccine from Ellie’s immunity. Everything falls apart when Joel discovers that the operation required to develop this vaccine would result in Ellie’s death. In a fit of rage, he slaughters his way through the hideout — in a 20-second fight — straight-up murdering any unarmed or innocent people he encounters. With Ellie saved, he must kill Marlene to get Ellie to safety.
While the basic plot does follow the resolution of the video game, the content, characters, emotional weight, talent, and basic competency are so absent from this finale that “Look for the Light” feels like more of a whimper than a triumphant and narratively fulfilling end. The characters are either empty or so psychotic that they come across as evil. With these as the options available for the audience to relate to and empathize with, it’s no wonder that the most emotionally compelling ending to a video game ever rings hollow on the small screen.
The characters are the greatest failing of “Look for the Light.” Joel’s characterization is radically changed from what it was previously established as, let alone what the game had established Joel as being. Suddenly, he’s talkative, almost bubbly, following Ellie around like a love-struck puppy. Yes, after enduring what she did, Joel should be concerned for her, but it does not justify his sudden character divergence into the clownishly concerned teenage girl worried about her best friend after a nasty breakup.
For Ellie, “Look for the Light” is by far Bella Ramsey’s best performance, where she is the most likable she’s been on the series. This is because she stops trying to act. The constant need to swear and sneer at the world, torturing and berating all she encounters, fades away. She attempts a more subtle approach, which benefits the character greatly. Unfortunately, even this minuscule improvement is nowhere near enough to convince the audience that Ellie is even a believable human being, let alone a likable one. Luckily, Bella spends the majority of the episode unconscious, sparing the audience from her still grating performance.
The shining beacon of enjoyment in this episode is its opening moments. Sure, the flashback to Ellie’s mother is entirely unnecessary and doesn’t add anything. However, it is great to see Ashley Johnson giving an engaging performance. Despite being a complete divergence from the game, it doesn’t contradict anything, either. This sequence is still 100% bloat, as it isn’t important and does not add anything, but a solid performance in an added scene that doesn’t mock or contradict the game is a welcome and engaging surprise.
One final thing must be discussed regarding “Look for the Light.” In the years since the game, Neil Druckmann made it clear that he was shocked that gamers still liked and related to Joel following his violent rescue of Ellie, which could, depending on the players’ choices, result in many innocent deaths. This opposite view of Joel from Druckmann became evident upon the release of The Last of Us Part II and the atrocity that he committed against Joel. By exaggerating Joel’s violence to the extreme in “Look for the Light,” it’s possible that Druckmann was attempting to enforce his viewpoint on the audience, especially those in the audience unfamiliar with the game.
Regardless of the questionable motivations behind this decision, it creates a narrative issue as well. It creates a clear contradiction between show and tell. A writer cannot show Joel as relatively incompetent, led around by his betters, and then support this show by having this character break down in sobs about how worthless he is before having him suddenly and inexplicably become a tank capable of taking on a small army solo. Without a clear transition arc between these two extremes, this becomes a massive, narrative-eroding pothole. The writers cannot have their cake and eat it, too, as the saying goes. If they want Joel to change from crying patheticness to unstoppable badass, they have to put in the work.
There is nothing more worth discussing from “Look for the Light.” It is so forgettable and uninteresting that it deserves no evaluation, positive or negative. “Look for the Light” is, without a doubt, not worth wading through the sludge and bloated mess that was the first season. It does not offer any reward, boon, or compensation prize to the audience that has endured this travesty. However, this show is greatly loved and viewed by many; the opinions of this article appear to be in the minority. As such, it makes total sense that at least one and possibly more seasons will soon be added to The Last of Us. After two or three years until season 2, will this show be remembered and thought of as fondly by the public as it is now? Only time will tell, but hopefully, many will come to recognize this show as the boring, pointless, occasionally woke, and empty waste of 10 hours that it is.