Apart from small moments at the beginning and end of the episode, Left Behind focuses on the night Ellie got bit. It is something game fans have been longing to see with some additional moments to give more context to Ellie’s choices and the impact one night at the mall had.
Unlike episode 3, which took the time to show Bill and Frank’s story in the world, this episode does not feel like it is building to something and feels like a filler episode meant to service game fans and the iconic DLC. If this episode had been released earlier and not after the cliff-hanger of the previous, it feels like it would have been better. It does not do anything for the story other than add some backstory to Ellie but feels misplaced when looking at the series as a whole. The episode is good and further showcases Bella Ramsey as Ellie in a different light but feels mislaid. Ellie in this episode is still the Ellie we all have come to know and love, hardened and able to hold her own, but here we see Ellie planning for her life. It has been weeks since she last saw Riley (Storm Reid) who reappears, offering Ellie the best night of her life. The two have an instant and easy chemistry, with Reid perfectly capturing Riley and making the character their own.
In Riley and Ellie, we see two different aspirations from the young characters. Riley is a Firefly and proud of it, wanting to do more than be assigned to work the sewers while Ellie wants to be a FEDRA officer, wanting to be in charge of something in her life. The contrasting ideologies and how they appeal to the young characters. The similarities do not go unnoticed. Riley and Ellie both want out of their lives or more from it, and both organisations offer that for them. Throughout the series we have heard of FEDRAs oppression and brutality but it is interesting to see their recruitment is similar to the Fireflies. Recruit people young with the promise of more and for a different life, a better on. While FEDRA is brutal, we start to see the Fireflies actions and arsenal to aid their fight for liberation.
With any adaptation there are changes, and this episode makes some tweaks to the source material by reducing the number of infected Ellie encounters that resulted in Ellie’s bite. Bella and Storm deliver exceptional emotional weight when Ellie’s bite is revealed, and if there are still any doubters on Bella as Ellie (and if there still are it is surprising at this point) then their minds should change with this episode. Yet again, does Bella prove they are perfect for Ellie as we see Ellie as a nervous child with her first crush, dealing with the weight of the world around her and trying to plan for her life instead of fighting for it, during every episode. Riley and Ellie explore the different ideologies of the Fireflies and FEDRA giving more context to both groups, but the focus is on their relationship with each other and the bond they share.
Majority of the episode is lifted almost exactly from the games flashbacks of Left Behind, but where it differs is there is no dipping in and out of past and present timelines. It feels like that would have made the episode less of a filler and provided some narrative structure as Ellie is forced to relive her past and deal with the present, but it is just a random flashback episode. This narrative does make it clear why Ellie suddenly thinks about her time with Riley as Joel lays suffering from his injuries. Showing the different time periods would have made a more cohesive ending and, in this reviewer’s opinion, ends too like the game. Ellie and Riley make a choice in the closing moments of the episode and it seems it would have been a good fit to end with Marlene and the Fireflies discovering Ellie I the past or Ellie meeting another highly anticipated character that will feature next episode but it just ends. It just felt like this episode was missing something.
Being a huge fan of the game and the series, the vantage point of a non-gamer is often looked at for the episodes and as much as non-gamer fans will enjoy the episode, but would not be surprising if they find the placement odd, and would have preferred this backstory earlier in the story to route for Ellie more. It seems that the showrunners wanted to adapt that story and kept it too close to the game narrative by placing it after Joel’s injury but it does not translate well narratively on the screen but will still be enjoyable for all types of fans.
As for the MCV, there are only two choices, and while Bella Ramsey is remarkable as ever, Storm Reid captures attention and delivers a natural performance and depth to Riley. The two actors work excellently together and have an easy effortless chemistry with deep layers. Riley gets the title of MVC (Most Valuable Character) as she orchestrates the entire episode and makes a fun trip to the mall.