Listen…this show lost my interest two or three episodes ago (I really don’t care to check or remember at this point), but I continue to watch it for the sake of content. I wasn’t really holding on to hope that the show would get better, but every time there seems to be a redeeming quality, two or three misdemeanors raise their ugly heads.
Take the latest episode, for example. Per se, there’s nothing wrong with the writing. It makes logical sense for the most part, and pretty closely follows the plot of the game in this regard. There’s just a hundred little things that confuse the heck out of me and shatter my immersion.
Let’s address a few running problems before ripping into this episode: look, if you want my honest opinion, this is a frustratingly mid show, held back by writers and directors who don’t go all the way. It’s just missing that one piece, that one vital piece–and in a lot of ways, that piece is more than one thing.
First, the casting. I’ve been worried about this since day one, and few actors in this show have convinced me otherwise. Pedro Pascal, fortunately, is one of them (but we’ll get to what holds him back from being the Joel we wanted in a second). His performance is suitably heartless and violent, and his arc is natural and plain to see–that is, when the writers let us see it.
Bella Ramsey, on the other hand, obviously can’t carry the show alone. It’s been two episodes that have heavily featured Ellie without Joel, but Ramsey just lacks the screen presence to make it compelling. She’s just not cut out for the role: she’s not a great actor, and she doesn’t play Ellie very well at all. She’s creepy and belligerent instead of sheathing a frightened character behind false bravado.
Our next problem comes to the subtleties with how they’re written. The writers are obviously holding Joel back: most of the time he just takes Ellie’s verbal crap the way video game Joel would have told her to shut up. He’s quiet and doesn’t fight Ellie except in very niche circumstances, which just makes him seem more tame overall. Add that to a reduced amount of action scenes starring our boy, and we get a mere shadow of the Joel we wanted to see on the big screen.
Naturally, with a tamer Joel, Ellie is more wild and rebellious–and, overall, annoying. Without a Strong Joel to hold her back, she just does creepy, uncharacteristic things (like sneaking into a basement to stab an infected man’s in the head). Worst of all, Joel voices very few objections–the tension in their relationship is basically nonexistent, making emotional payoffs feel hollow.
I can’t critique the writing too much, as it’s mostly good for a lot of the show, but every now and again someone does something stupid (like Joel saying “I sure as hell ain’t your dad” and telling her that they’d part ways come morning, only to recover overnight and team up with Ellie the following day without apology or acknowledgement).
And…the flashbacks. Lengthy, boring setups that the original story never needed, only because the director thinks we need more romance instead of zombie action? The medical cold openings were pretty boring, and episodes 3 and 7 never needed to be made. The only setup the story needed was the setup in the beginning, which I’d still argue had too much fluff.
And everywhere you look, the liberal ideologue is stuffed in every corner: Joel and Tommy, cis white men, were just weak bums all along, and have a good cry in a private place! Legitimate communism is how you run a post-apocalyptic society! Bill is gay! Frank is gay! Ellie is gay! Riley is gay! Christianity is an evil cult!
They’re…not doing a good job of disguising it. Notice that the only man who has expressed sexual desire for a female was David, and he was an evil, human-butchering, pseudo-christian zombie cultist, white pedophile. I guess…maybe Joel but he’s never admitted it aloud, and in addition he’s still being castigated as weak.
But enough about that. Let’s get into the episode proper, shall we? Our first problem with this one is Scott Shepherd and how the writers wrote his character, David. On first glance, he may seem like a good cast: he’s creepy-looking, he has that patented David look, and…well, the problem is that’s his entire resume.
The man has no acting ability. All he does is stand in front of a camera saying things, looking creepy while he does it. When we first meet David, he’s supposed to seem sympathetic and innocent, just another survivor, but by the setup he’s obviously just another toxic white creepy asshole. And that’s the way he stays throughout the entire episode. No evolving into a more mysterious and eventually terrifying character over time, just…he’s a creepy bad guy because, I don’t know, he’s a straight white pseudo-Christian? I don’t know, you decide.
And David was absolutely butchered in the writing room. Not only is he a fundamentalist Christian now, he’s a zombie cultist and a rapist. The script tries so hard to tell us that this man is a Bible-thumping Christian, but anyone with a lick of knowledge about the religion knows that the man consistently does unchristian things. Kind of like, backhanding a child across the face when she disagrees with him in front of the entire group of survivors.
Then, suddenly, he’s not a Christian: apparently Cordyceps, the mutated fungus that made the zombies, showed him the truth about humanity. He’s…fascinated with them, maybe? From the way he talks, he’s like some kind of creepy cultist (kind of like how they’re trying to portray Christians, amiright?), and…whatever.
And then he goes full Dark Lord mode and engages his “join me as my queen, and together we will rule the galaxy” speech on…Ellie, of all people. So he’s a Christian, then he’s an asshole, then he’s not a Christian, then he’s a human butcher, then he’s a zombie cultist, then he’s a Dark Lord, then he’s a child rapist, then he’s a WILL YOU JUST MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MIND ALREADY PEOPLE??
David is the main villain of this plot arc which was crammed into a single episode, but he’s too confusing to even make sense of. Fortunately, we are granted some salvation in two things: Joel’s back up on his feet and we finally get the kneecap torture scene we were all waiting for (though not as good as the games if you want my opinion), and we get a Troy Baker cameo. So I guess that was fun.
Anyway, Ellie narrowly escapes being raped by David and hacks his face open like she does in the game. Fun stuff, maybe we’d care about David’s death if he was actually a well fleshed-out villain instead of a generic bad white man. Then Joel comes and the two limp off to lands unknown.
Moral of the story: Christians are an evil cult.
And there are no zombies.
Episode 8 was a confused, rambled affair as far as characters were concerned, Joel has zero effect on the actual plot of the episode, and the show is (true to form) going out of its way to show how disfavored people groups are frowned upon with pseudo-intellectual commentary on the nature of cordyceps that no one even listened to anyway. I’m not mad…just disappointed. I wish I was playing Octopath Traveler 2.
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!