It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017201820192020, 2021 and 2022.


Here there be spoilers!

Before we get started, I wanted to point out that I missed mentioning that Troy Baker, who played James in the previous episode, also provided the voice and motion capture for Joel in the game. That’s what I get for trying to avoid spoilers. Well, this week I caught the big game cameo! Yes, this episode flashes back to the night Ellie (Bella Ramsey) was born, and her mother is played by none other than Ashley Johnson, the BAFTA winner for voicing and motion capturing Ellie in the game.

As you can probably guess, she’s not in it long. But we do see that Marlene (Merle Dandridge), the head of the Fireflies, was there on that night, and a dying Anna asked her to watch out for her little girl. Which explains why Marlene refused to allow Ellie to join the Fireflies when Riley (Storm Reid) asked.

From here we jump back to the present day, as Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie walk around Salt Lake City, Utah, trying to find which hospital the Fireflies evacuated to after leaving Colorado. Ellie is still traumatized by the events of the last episode, and while we don’t really get details on how much time has passed, I’m not concerned. She should be in shock for days.

Maybe weeks.

Joel, on the other hand, has come completely out of his shell and is like a whole new character, open and friendly, joking and trying his best to keep Ellie engaged and distracted. He’s trying a little too hard, though, and Ellie isn’t really responding. Until, that is, they find the giraffes!

Yes, a small herd of giraffes are living in the wilds of Salt Lake City and don’t have a problem with being fed by hand.

We also discover the origin of Joel’s scar. It’s from a failed suicide attempt after the death of his daughter.

I understand the dramatic impact of saving this info for the season finale. I do. It also demonstrates the levels of honesty that Joel is willing to share, now that he basically considers Ellie his surrogate daughter. And they address this feeling. He assures Ellie that he knows she’s not Sarah, or a substitute. But he wants her to know that he cares for her.

It’s some of the best writing for Joel and best acting for Pascal in the series, and it was a long time coming. This honesty also sets up the big climactic moment.

Because before too long they let down their guard to enjoy some puns and are ambushed. Joel wakes up in the hospital and finds Marlene watching over him. I wasn’t sure how the hell she could be there, and if she was, why didn’t she just take Ellie with her, but they give lip service to the fact that she lost nearly an entire group of security on their way cross country, making it seem even more amazing that Joel got her there on his own.

Of course, not having any infected monsters to deal with sure helps with safe travel.

Anyway, she apologizes, saying the patrol didn’t know who they were, but everything’s alright now. Ellie is being prepped for surgery and Joel has completed his mission. But what kind of surgery?

Well…

Joel susses out what’s going on immediately, and after being subdued violently again, he is marched off to wait out the fatal surgery that is planned for Ellie. Since the brain is where the cordyceps thrives, that’s where the doctor has to dig to find a potential cure. And as one might assume, Joel switches into stone cold killer mode and systematically murders every Firefly in the building before also shooting the surgeon (Darren Dolynski) in the head and escaping with an unconscious Ellie.

This is one of the most video game style moments in the series, as we follow Joel in practically first-person shooter mode as he makes short work of his opponents. It’s effective, though, because we feel the tension ratcheting up every time he has to confront another Firefly. And there are a lot of them. Not knowing how long he’d been unconscious, or how long prior had Ellie been taking to the surgery, keeps the adrenaline flowing, and Joel’s no-nonsense murder of the surgeon was exquisite.

Did Joel just doom society? Well, yeah. Probably. Was it satisfying, nonetheless? Yeah. Definitely.

When Ellie wakes up in the backseat of a car Joel has stolen (after murdering Marlene, too), he lies to her, telling her that there are other people who are immune and the Fireflies didn’t need her after all because there was no cure. He also says there was a raid, and they had to get out quick, which is why he couldn’t wait for her to wake up or to gather her clothes.

The car doesn’t last though as they have to hike the last bit back to Jackson, and as they get within sight of town, Ellie insists that Joel swear what he told her was true. He swears, lying to her face. She considers his reply and nods.

“Okay.”

Cut to black.

This was the shortest episode of the series, clocking in at 43 minutes (not counting credits), but it was the most streamlined narrative yet, with a very simple setup and a very simple goal. There were no new characters introduced only to be killed off by the end of the installment. This was all about the payoff. Now that we’ve gotten Joel and Ellie to the stage where they are reliant on each other, not just for survival, but for emotional support.

It’s a great place to end the season, knowing that if she finds out the truth, Joel may have just thrown away any trust Ellie had built up. It’s also selfishly allowing her to feel like all the lives lost along the way were for nothing. I have a feeling that Jackson isn’t going to be a very safe place for her, once the Fireflies figure out what happened in Salt Lake City. This was easily one of the best episodes of Season One, ranking only behind “Long, Long Time” and “Left Behind” for emotional impact, but beating both of them for action.

Although there were still no monsters in this one.

Except… People were the real monsters all along!!!

But seriously, why bother having monsters in a show and then rarely, if ever, use them? That’s a big swing and a miss.

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