The Last of Us In the Post CoVid World
SPOILER ALERT: there are details revealed in a TV episode 5 of the Last of Us, below which may muck up your desire to keep reading if you haven't seen the episode.
TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses topics linked to suicide.
I've been following the Last of Us on HBOMax for the past number of weeks. It's a brilliant show and riveting. Most recently episode 5 came out. Titled: Endure and Survive, it tells the story of two brothers who are survivors of a fascist society. A post apocalyptic settlement which pitted the privileged few, who are connected to the government, against everyone else. Those unconnected masses are forced into something of a slave state and forced to compete against one another by all means to survive. The brothers in the episode go into hiding after the government is overthrown, and their position, due to being collaborators with the government, is one that they are the most wanted people in the community.
The episode is a harrowing and visually touching episode of two groups coming together. Ellie and Joel, who we have followed in an uncomfortable bonding as a something of "not-a-father-daughter" grouping, comes together with two actual brothers at the end of times. These two pods (if you will) end up bonding together, as they walk through the remnants of a society that has fallen apart. The most important scene leading up to the tragic ending, has the two groups encamped in an abandoned bomb shelter. It has the earmarks of a school where youth seemingly thrived, and where the children of the world tried to grow up in a sense of ensconced safety
I have lots of thoughts about this series. I believe what makes it so compelling is it speaks to our collective post-sorta-post-CoVid trauma. We are trying to have hope after watching our society radically shift and one could say--fall apart. In a post-covid world, the life we have been asked to lead now, is drastically different than the one we had pre-covid, yet forces are asking us to "go back to the way things were." Catch phrases like, "get back to work" or "we have to move on."
The leader of the rebel group running the city now has an axe to grind against the brothers collective, and despite the fact that others imply she should move on--she cannot as well. These themes, from all angles, ring in our ears in the day-to-day reality that we face. We are being asked to be different people and various power structures to go back to who we were--as if nothing changed. I can think of nothing more bizarre. Everything changed. I am not going back to the way things were--I can't.
At the end of the episode, in under five minutes of camera shots, we go from, "we escaped and are all going to make a go of it on the road" to the two brothers dead. Henry is forced to kill his brother who is infected, and then subsequently turns the gun on himself. It is a stunning, painful episode to watch. It rips your heart out and makes you contemplate everything around you. My partner and I both sat in silence for about 20 minutes afterwards unable to move.
I believe I was awestruck, because, essentially, the episode portrayed a very bleak metaphor of what it means to have survived CoVid and to lose the meaning of your life in the process. We survived the nightmare of waking up daily to news reports of the dead across this country. Incompetent initial responses. Drum beats of doubts and second guessing. Waves of variants and tearing asunder the feeling of freedom of going place-to-place in our lives. Friends dying. Paranoia of family getting sick. Masks, no masks. Am I sick? Anxiety. Our worlds were turned upside down and now, in 2023, we feel in a sense we are coming out of it. But where are we?
These two brothers, aided by only their wits and desire to hold onto family, turned towards one another and escaped the tragedy and horror of what was their life. And when the sun rose the next day, the two of them were dead. What did it all matter?
Henry's last moments on the screen are a horrifying rendering of the pain and sadness that is overwhelming. The acting phenomenal. You see this gut-wrenching sense of "what did I do" come over his face, while he has a gun in hand. His entire purpose and sense of meaning had been ripped from him and then he was faced with the fact: his brother, now infected, could very well kill him and all of his friends.
For my friends, for my clients, for my people who have struggled to make meaning through these years of CoVid and only now, today, found themselves as the sun rising and questioning whether it was all worth it. The answer is undoubtedly yes. You made it and now you get to live your life. Don't keep holding onto this past three years as a turn of the horrible pain of life without giving life a chance afterwards. It is time to live.
After Henry shot his brother, I kept thinking, "you can move on, you can live, there's something else to do. You can recover." because that's the sort of therapist I am. I want to make meaning of the event, the worst of our events and then move on. My empathy system would not turn off. I still see him standing there holding the gun till the last, fatal, moment. You live to be a testament to all of this pain, to make something of your life. I want the life which makes sense of the senseless. I want to continue to fight through every tragedy of my world.
Please keep going.