Last of Us 2: A Deep Dive

8 Sep

            Considering that Last of Us Part II has offended nearly half the planet, causing angry review bombers to leave there opinions on the story and the game play, confusing the strong points of Last of Us II with the audiences “emotional response.” The idea of Joel dying is a sad outlook on life, but as Joel said in the first game to Tessa, “It’s called luck and it’s gonna run out.” Joel, as we saw in the first game, was wounded and hurt over having to be a smuggler, and survive in the Cordycept fueled world, was about the choices he had made and getting away with it. 

Last of Us bears resemblance to the Godfather series, as much of what we loved about Joel and his love for Ellie, is the same as Vito Corleone and his love for his children, did not pay the price for his action. We all wanted Joel to die peacefully, but in a post apocalypse, did anybody really think that might happen? The real world is based around luck, and Last of Us obeys this to a fault. 

Video games usually end with the hero winning in the end, but sometimes, life doesn’t work out how we plan it. Joel is not awarded Eugene’s death of dying of old age, as in the conversation between Ellie and Dina “Go out like Eugene” “From a stroke.” It’s reminding the audience on a second play through that life is not guaranteed in the world of Last of Us. 

The strength of Joel in the Last of Us is what he must pay for in the sequel, as many would argue it’s “about killing off established characters” as this is complete bullshit. Many who watched Game of Thrones didn’t care about Sean Bean’s character as he died, so this remains the question, “why did he mean so much to gamers?”

No on in life is guaranteed, but the death of Joel in Last of Us 2 is Joel having to pay for his past, as Paul of Tarsus was executed for having betrayed Rome, after his conversion to Jesus on the road to Damascus. Joel’s conversion to living a good life is what Ellie inspired in him at the end of Last of Us, but it’s the selfish nature of his actions that come back to haunt Joel. As he knew that he would have to pay for screwing over mankind.

Gamers didn’t feel the need to question this, as some would even admit they would do the same. Paul of Tarsus had to pay for killing off the followers of Christ. But again, Joel wasn’t as imperfect to leave scars, as such a story of revenge, means that Joel’s death served a purpose for Ellie’s road to her own Damascus, as she, and the gamers, take it upon ourselves to find Abby and exact our revenge.

It seems that while most apocalyptic games have a moral message of man’s stupidity to think they know best on how to save themselves, or the fate of humanity, Last of Us abandons this as Joel saves Ellie for his own selfish means. Easily, Naughty Dog could have had a scene where Ellie is sitting with Marlene as they confront Joel, addressing that she wanted to make the choice to save the world.

But there’s one thing people are forgetting. Marlene never wakes Ellie up and gives her a choice to die, where Joel could confirm it with her. But with Naughty Dogg they didn’t want to take the easy route, and kill off Ellie. It could have worked with one game, where the human race is saved, but Marlene didn’t give Ellie the choice to confront Joel in the hospital, or let her have a say. So, it really was holding Ellie hostage to not give her say on the matter, with Marlene backing her up. 

In Part II, there is such a dramatic arc that takes Ellie on her own journey of revenge that puts the player in the immediate shoes, freshly beat up by Abby’s crew, where they bury Joel the same day. What makes Part II the godfather of its time is that Ellie is on her own path of destruction very much like Michael in the Godfather Part II. Even the name “Part II” is symbolic of a journey that would take a toll on Ellie as she journey’s through Seattle.

What makes the narrative far more complex is the use of In Medias Res, which allows the backstory of the time Ellie and Joel spend together. In psychological terms, grief, or rage, overshadows one’s vision, and Ellie is dead set in each part of the journey to find and kill Abby. Ellie is more focused, as she is obsessed. On the loading screen, there are Moths on the top right corner of the screen. Moths are “typically viewed as either messengers from the dead or a symbol of death” ( Moths are attracted to lights, and are a nocturnal insect. Joel is the light that occupies both Abby and Ellie, one who is a messenger of death, and Ellie, holding onto Joel’s light to keep her on the attack. The whole game play feels right. 

The error in thinking that comes with revenge is that it’s another type of light, and so both Abby and Ellie, are attracted to each other, as they are both moths. In another time, they would have been sisters, as they have there strengths and weaknesses. Somehow Naughty Dogg can throw a curve ball and upset the entire gaming community, but the indefinite possibilities created by this whole notion of having two characters share the same rather tragedy in reverse, is what makes the game fascinating.

If I were writing the game, and we were still going with Abby’s story too, the flashbacks with Ellie should have been longer to compensate and live inside Jackson for a while. The flashbacks were too short as it could have softened the blow and showed how both Joel and Ellie lived in the town, or show the relationship between her and Tommy, as they could go on missions together. (Still, Tommy should have given Ellie his rifle because it would have been so awesome to use that in the campaign). 

What is a missed opportunity is why many players are screaming on the Internet. But the way the story plays out, is anyone really a good person? Let’s go back to the GOT comment I mentioned earlier. In GOT, at the end of series 1, Sean Bean is killed as he poses a threat to the kingdom who wants to sit in the Iron Chair. When we think about characters dying a good death, we want the best for them, and even for Joel. 

What is irregular when a book or movie comes out is that everyone loves it. If it’s immediately loved, and continued for multiple series, people will burn out on there own and come to resent a lot of what GOT had to offer. The violence which was once an amazing quality to the show seems distant. The rape is overwrought. (Rape is ultimately a device used by Japanese, and they deal with consequences of that in better horror fiction.)

What makes the violence against Joel upsetting is that we were in Joel’s shoes in Last of Us. We all knew Ellie would have to take the reins, but it seems to understand that is losing something we can never get back. A father who might be dying of cancer. Our mother. Having a loved one die in front of us. In that case, Naughty Dogg was effective in there decision to kill Joel, as they had planned it out from the beginning. 

What makes Last of Us so fascinating is that they are cinematic and they are story “tellers” as such similarities to the Indian version of the Orpheus myth as the male is captured and brought into hell, while the female seeks to find her male lover. What Last of Us 2 does deal with are themes that present complex issues, and solving the issues is not a creators job. It’s to illuminate the problem and let the characters figure out how to behave. 

What Ellie, in her journey, seems to be searching for is validity to her vengeance as nearly everyone she loves is almost killed, and Abby’s friends are murdered, rightly so, by Ellie, Dinah, Jesse, and Tommy. All do not come close to killing Abby, and the structure of the story is not difficult once you study the structure of it.

Flashbacks with Ellie are tense experiences with Joel who is still a father figure and teacher. He is still wary of her revealing her immunity, to her friends, and when confronting Joel, he urges her that “there was no cure” and the detailed level of disappointment on Ellie’s face shows that she knew he was lying all along. Children are peculiar, because once a child’s notion is rejected by the parent, children often have a tendency to want validation from their parents. So there relationship is tense, but the time in Jackson proves that Ellie adapts and finds friends who eventually aide her to avenge Joel’s death.

What Ellie’s journey in her first three days is that we are on her side. I was. I was glad to help murder everyone who took part in Joel’s death. I understand that with Abby, they were doing a different approach. They wanted to show what is was like for Joel’s consequences after “saving” Ellie from Marlene before the cure was made. What Abby experiences is that we are just as close to the guilt we have afflicted onto Abby, but it does make the case that while Abby was motivated by revenge, when her father, the doctor, who threatened Joel’s life before he took the knife away and killed him in self-defense. 

Later on, in a flashback leading up to Marlene telling Joel about Ellie’s fate, the doctor is the one who urges Marlene to “buy in” effectively dooming the fireflies and his own life. If saving thousands and hundreds meant sacrificing a loved one, it would mean a small price to pay. Joel damned humanity, but if the cure was invented, did it mean that the WLF and the Seraphites would stop attacking each other?

Cures for viruses do not quell the human heart so easily. Twenty years effectively ruined the world of Last of Us, and changed all the lives, including Joel’s in 2013. If Abby had been the main focus of Last of Us we would feel more motivated to believe in Abby’s perspective. But it’s the complicated issue of seeing through another lens is what all fiction can do. 

Yes, it hurt me when Joel died, and whatever qualms I have, I still can’t watch Joel dying, as I immediately skip the cutscene. What Last of Us 2 does offer is that the world we want isn’t what we get. With Abby and Owen moved on from St. Mary’s hospital, they live in Seattle, where she obsesses on finding Joel, but in her time, she’s far more motivated by death than she is accepting reality. When Joel dies, it is shocking and it’s hard to watch every time, but I am firmly gripped by Ellie’s tale, because it’s far more simpler to believe in, and Abby, who is a victim of Joel’s, only pursues vengeance as her main goal. But it doesn’t make her a good character. Only Manny, Abby’s roommate, likes her, while Mel can’t stand her, as she once dated Owen. Mel is pregnant at the beginning of the game so the main story line of the three days takes place three months after, because Mel is pregnant in Abby’s storyline. 

What makes Last of Us 2 shine is the grimness that the first game didn’t face. What makes gamers tend to dislike the game is Joel’s death. Understandably, but it’s far more complicated to think your enemies don’t have opinions and dreams either. This is just a statement of the overall complicated issue of dealing with Abby’s journey, as Joel’s death doesn’t bring her peace. 

Abby is part of a militia group, the WLF, Washington Liberation Front, (yes, in the year 2020, this game is more like a documentary than a work of fiction, since the rioting in Seattle began) when the player encounters the Seraphites as there ride to the Serevena base is ambushed, and make it back on foot through warehouses littered with infected and Seraphites. Who are a constant threat, even with Ellie. 

The WLF is run by Isaac, an African American man, who sees no end to the fighting other than to crush the Seraphites on there island in Seattle. Only Abby begins her own journey to find Owen, who Isaac accuses of killing a member of the WLF “to protect a scar” which Abby braves the journey through a Chinatown version of Seattle, to make it past the Seraphite territory. Along the way she is helped by two outcast Seraphites, Yara and Lev, who are on the run when Lev “shaved his head” in defiance with the Seraphite law. What Abby undergoes is the transformation of a villain into an anti-hero, whose actions against Joel haunt her, and she begins her journey to save Yara, as Lev takes her through abandoned buildings to another base, where she finds medical supplies in a hospital. What we see through Ellies eyes means that Abby was merely a few hours away, as Ellie kills many of the characters, you get to know through Abby’s perspective. Also, Lev and Yara are also rebelling against the Seraphites, as they lose there mother, as she is gripped by her societal beliefs, and nearly kills Lev in the process. Abby, Yara, and Lev are an unlikely family amidst the civil war between the WLF and Seraphites.

The main story, the hatred between Ellie and Abby, is no different than the hatred between the Seraphites and the WLF, the two camps at war with each other, that Abby has played apart in, and has to change in order to relieve her soul of the evil committed against Joel. The Seraphites and the WLF struggle is a struggle within the personal struggle between Abby and Ellie. And both Abby and Ellie are moths, harbingers of death for there friends and family, as revenge is a circle and not a straight line.

In summation, Last of Us 2 really does experiment with a Christian ideology with Ellie who has to forgive her enemy in the heat of battle at the end. After Ellie is nearly beaten to death by Abby, and let go, Ellie searches for Abby in California, and she encounters another group of humans, the Rattlers, who are creating a slave trade of humans, and Ellie frees them, but in a way, Ellie can not free herself of the hatred for Abby. The fight between Abby and Ellie is on the beach, as if we are watching two broken Samurais who are at the end of there rope, and the fight is rather great, until Ellie decides to forgive Abby. It’s close to Christian storytelling, because Christian stories are not easy stories to take, but they are rewarding. Last of Us 2 is a game that has to be mastered by your own self-worth and learning to become better people, and in this culture of online mob mentality, we are numb to empathy and human compassion. Last of Us 2 embraces dark themes of political, social, and personal violence in a medium that time has met with the technological evolution it has found.  

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