April 13, 2024

Editor’s note: There are spoilers for The Last of Us Episode 7.When it comes to telling a story, time jumps are difficult. from HBO The last of ushowever, it’s proven that its creators have mastered this type of narrative – from opening the pilot with a flashback to a 1960s talk show to episode 3 following a love story between two characters from the past we’ve never met. it seems when The last of us it takes us on a journey to the past, it knows how to balance it with the present. So why did episode 7 feel so unbalanced? Well, in this series, the trick to time jumps is getting the timing right, and this last episode was timed wrong.

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The Last of Us Episode 7 Story Interrupted at The Wrong Moment

Bella Ramsey as Ellie and Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us Episode 7
Image via HBO

Episode 7 offered another time jump in a series that has set the precedent for playing with time in unique and successful ways. This last time jump, however, did not have the effect that the others have had. In fact, it acted to frustrate the series and derail the fast, focused pace of the series. This time jump took the audience out of a moment of tension and suspense and disorientated them into an episode that was meant to show Ellie’s background (Bella Ramsey) to bite. Although this flashback was important for the audience to see, its slow pace and surprising placement in the series threw the story off and lost its well-earned momentum.

The episode 7 preview weighed heavily on those who caught up after episode 6 ended. It didn’t show Joel (Peter Pascal), not at all. For viewers unfamiliar with the video game that inspired the series, Joel’s well-being hangs squarely in the balance at the end of episode 6. This made this episode a rare moment to move away from the topicality of the episode as a whole. Although it was clear at the beginning of the episode that Joel was alive, the scene showed a dire situation. The choice to distract the audience from the current suspenseful moments of the series could have resulted in increased tension and anticipation of what would happen to Ellie and Joel. However, the pacing of this flashback was long, long, and slow. As a result, he felt that the series needlessly distracted viewers from the more pressing issue.

Why Earlier Time Jumps Worked So Well

Murray Bartlett as Frank playing the piano while Nick Offerman Bill watches The Last of Us Episode 3
Image via HBO

Each of the first three episodes of the series sent us back to the past at the beginning. We haven’t been caught in a moment where momentum has built. Rather, they came to us in quieter moments in the present, which allowed the audience to focus on what was happening in the flashback without splitting the focus.

If a flashback is a difficult thing to pull off while keeping a series going, a flashback episode is even more difficult. However, this wasn’t the first flashback episode the series has done either. Section 3 The last of us now played as a unique flashback episode set in the past and focused entirely on two characters who had not appeared in an earlier or later episode, Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). It was unusual and dangerous to take the audience away from its main story to watch what was ultimately a short film focused very carefully on two characters who would not return. However, the risk he took on this episode fully paid off; it was very influential in its own right, and at the same time played a strong role in fleshing out the story at the center. Everything that made this work was in rhythm. The audience was still learning about this world, and the flashback interrupted the present day story in a lull in the action. Joel and Ellie were at a slow point in their journey, and when Bill and Frank’s story from the past bled into the present, the story as a whole felt grounded. We were open to where the story wanted to take us. When episode 7 came around, however, we weren’t.

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Episode 7 Better pacing was needed to keep the audience engaged

Bella Ramsey as Ellie and Storm Reid as Riley in The Last of Us Season 1 Episode 7
Image via HBO Max

At the beginning of episode 7, viewers were either desperate for answers or conclusions about what was going on with Ellie and Joel, or they weren’t interested in the story at all; in any case, this did not leave anyone in a good position to turn their attention elsewhere. Also, the transition to flashback was disorienting. It was difficult at first to realize where we were following Ellie. The past before you met Joel? The future after Joel’s death? It quickly became clear, but only after the audience was left searching for where they were in the timeline, an effect that the time jump in previous episodes has not had.

The flashback got off to a slow start, and while getting this backstory is important to the series and surely some information many viewers wanted, it was delivered at a pace that felt in sync with the series. Despite the tedious tempo of the flashback, things picked up in the last quarter of the episode. When Ellie and Riley (Storm Reid) came face-to-face with an infected one, the timing and intensity sections began to help for the first time, instead of hurting. Not only did the pace pick up, but scenes set in the past began interspersed with flashbacks, allowing the audience to connect with present-day Ellie and Joel. This eased viewers into the present day story while finally giving them the bit of information they were looking for in the episode: how Ellie was bitten.

The Last of Us Bella Ramsey Ellie Storm Reid Riley Left Behind Reading
Image via HBO

Getting a backstory for Ellie is something that can only help the series. This flashback in particular gave Ellie a bit of character development and really helped the audience understand her better in the present day. As a result, moving this episode to a different time in the series would have greatly helped the story telling.

In the end, The last of us it has worked very well so far, largely due to the way it plays with time. The way this series flips back and forth around the timeline isn’t just a storytelling strategy; it’s a key part of what this story really is. without it, The last of us it would be a completely different show. Going forward, however, they will have to take a page from their book and pay close attention to when flashbacks occur. Episode 7 demonstrates how precarious it is to use such a technique.

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