SPOILER ALERT: This column contains potential spoilers about the seventh episode of “The Last of Us.”
Episode seven: “Left Behind”
There’s just something about an ‘80s soundtrack.
I used to think I hated ‘80s music. When I was little, I just thought it was all Journey and Phil Collins and one-hit synth wonders. Turns out I actually love synth, but I’m still not sweet on Journey or Phil Collins. Don’t plan on that changing, either. But you know — to each their own.
I also used to think I hated ‘80s music because I didn’t know — until I was a preteen or so — that some of the songs I love, to this day, are actually from the ‘80s. “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads. “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” by R.E.M. “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
And that’s where we’re picking this up at — “Just Like Heaven.” A song that, I swear to god, couldn’t get any better if it tried.
I could write an entirely separate article about “The Last of Us” and its use of music. And I don’t know — I might. The choices are poignant, deliberate and convey both hidden and overt messages about our characters and their situations.
But something about Rockabye Baby!’s (yeah, they use the exclamation point; yeah, it makes me uncomfortable) version of “Just Like Heaven” — more quiet and subtle than rocking and rolling — perfectly conveys the depth of Ellie's relationship with her best friend, Riley (Storm Reid).
Before I share how they used it, though — which was earlier on in the episode than the moment I’m about to share — I want to showcase how eerily well the writers captured best friendship with a few lines so catastrophically relatable that I was taken aback and had to pause the show:
“You mattered to me first,” Ellie said when she finds out the Fireflies, a revolutionary group that Riley joined, were stationing her far away. But it’s the next line that cements the weird juxtaposition that exists within the boundaries of best friendship — and make best friendship so hard to process sometimes:
“I wanna punch you so bad,” Ellie said.
That’s just so valid. Right? I’ve been there. This is a safe space to admit you’ve been there, too, if you have. And — if you’ve been there, and you’ve maybe even said exactly that — you know the kind of line that comes next from a distraught but hushed Riley:
“If it makes you hate me less.”
That line almost killed me. Because that feeling — huge emphasis on “that” — is a Best Friendship Feeling. That is loving someone so much that you get where their anger is coming from and why they might want to do that and, at the end of the day, you just look at them and love them so much more than you’ve ever loved anyone.
I know that feeling so well, in fact, that that last sentence was entirely a stream of consciousness.
Best friends know they can take hits from one another — mainly verbal, because that hurts the most, as we all know.
You’ll always be there for one another, though. You could be having a horrible fight — screaming, purposefully hurting the other, saying things that aren’t true, saying things that are true but shouldn’t have been said — and an hour later, it’s just…over.
I always tell my best friend — who may not even read this, because best friends just do stuff like that sometimes — that I can’t really stay mad at him for too long. My love for him far outweighs any hatred I feel at any moment. The number of times I’ve forgotten what I was even upset about is incalculable, and he is all too familiar with that little fact about me.
Best friends know those little facts — the awful, ugly facts — and would still do anything to keep you.
And it’s even harder when you’re in love with your best friend, just like Ellie and Riley. That’s a real can of worms right there, and I can’t get into the full nuances of it, but the moment we truly know the depth of Ellie’s love for Riley is sweet, discreet television at its finest.
Without further ado, “Just Like Heaven”:
I know “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure backwards and forwards. My dad burned the song onto one of the many CDs we played in our 2003 Honda Odyssey growing up. And while the non-lyrical lullaby version by Rockabye Baby! (ugh) played as Ellie and Riley made their way ‘round a twinkly carousel in an abandoned mall, I heard one line over and over and over again in my head, knowing that exact look Ellie kept giving Riley — knowing she was thinking of something that sounds a lot like this:
“Why won’t you ever know that I’m in love with you?”
Guess I do love some ‘80s music.
Like — a lot.