Ellie and Riley have some cranky moments together, arguing about whether the Fireflies are a force for good. Ellie fancies herself a freethinking anti-authoritarian, but she has spent much of her adolescence being inundated with anti-Firefly propaganda. When Riley grumbles about how the QZ can keep the lights on but can’t feed their own people, Ellie counters that the Fireflies didn’t help matters when they blew up a storage depot. The friends later briefly split up after Ellie realizes that Riley didn’t just stumble across this mall but has in fact been posted there by the Fireflies, who have her building explosives for them. (Ellie is not persuaded when Riley insists she would never let them use those bombs on her.)
Ellie comes back though, because Riley is about to be reassigned to Atlanta, and Ellie doesn’t want their last memory of each other to be her storming away in anger. They reunite in the Halloween store — the final planned “wonder,” after the carousel, a photo booth and the arcade — where Riley talks about how the Fireflies have replaced the family she lost.
“I matter to them,” she says.
“You mattered to me first,” Ellie says.
Then they put on monster masks, dance around to Etta James’s cover of “I Got You Babe,” and finally kiss. Ellis panics and apologizes; but Riley says, “For what?” The huge smile that spreads across Ellie’s face — followed by her asking, “What do we do now?” — is one of the sweetest and most relatable moments yet in this series.
The magic can’t last. While Ellie and Riley are still giddy over their first kiss, that wall-clinging savage from earlier barges in. The girls kill him off, but not before he wounds them both. Ellie, we know, will survive. Riley, presumably, does not. (Her death is not shown, but it is possible that when Ellie hinted to Joel back in Kansas City that she had killed before, she meant Riley.)
Earlier in the episode, a FEDRA officer mapped out Ellie’s future, pointing to two possible choices. She could keep goofing around and then spend the rest of her life as a miserable QZ worker-bee; or she could follow the rules and one day become a boss. Toward the end of the episode, Riley offers a different binary. They go ahead and kill themselves; or they could savor every last remaining second of their humanity. Riley knows what the right option is: They stay alive until the decision is out of their hands: “Whether it’s two minutes or two days, we don’t give that up.”
Back in the present — in the basement of a snow-covered suburban home — Joel says the opposite. She wants Ellie to leave him, to let him die. Instead, she tears the house apart until she finds a needle and thread to stitch Joel up. He holds her hand tenderly, before she threads the needle and gets to work.
Two more minutes down.
This episode is based on a downloadable expansion to the “The Last of Us” video game, released about a year after the original’s 2013 debut.
The scene where Riley lights up the mall is absolutely beautiful, rich with the soft, colorful glow of retail outlet signs. (Also oddly touching is the electronic clatter of an old arcade, echoing through the empty walkways. Who would have guess that a “Mortal Kombat II” punching sound could be poignant?)
The funniest visual gag in the episode: The sign on the multiplex box office reading “Back in 5 min.”
The Ellie/Riley debates about FEDRA are fascinating, because during Ellie and Joel’s journey, both sides have at different times been proven right. Law and order has indeed broken down in some “liberated” QZs. But some of those communities fell apart in the first place because FEDRA’s rule was unbearable.
Nearly everything in Ellie and Riley’s room either comes up again in this episode or is a part of Ellie’s lore. We see a “Savage Starlight” comic, an Etta James tape, a “Mortal Kombat II” poster, and, of course, the first volume of “No Pun Intended.”
“How does the computer get drunk?” “It takes screen shots.” Another Will Livingston classic! (Ellie and Riley, born too late for that kind of tech, don’t get it.)