She started talking about BLM. We’re in the UK and she proceeds to say that we don’t have a race problem, and reel off conspiracy theories about it being a made-up liberal issue (consistently talking as if only white people are protesting, as if black people don’t exist. Which isn’t surprising considering the bubble she lives in). Anyway, I don’t want to repeat the things she said. submitted by
My Partner finally said the words I’ve wanted him to say for a long time: we’re never going to agree so I think we just need to stop talking about politics and human rights with each other. I’m not going to change your mind, and I don’t want to argue.
What did I expect her to say? To be honest I expected her to agree, and I hoped she also wouldn’t want to argue. This is the first time she’s been in our house since lockdown and the first time she’s held our baby since Feb. Our daughter was doing things she’s never seen her do before, all while she was looking the other way at my SO and talking absolute garbage.
Her actual response? She said she thinks it’s bad that we don’t want to talk and be open to having our opinion changed, it’s almost like a religious belief that you don’t want challenged. It’s a shame that we are so set in our ways we can’t even have a discussion.
If I wasn’t so blindsided by that, the best response from us would have been to be steadfast: “you can think that if you want, but we didn’t invite you here to argue. We will not discuss politics with you any more”.
The sad thing is I bet if I said “let’s please not keep arguing in front of the baby” she’d take that as a ‘liberal’ moral failing and start on about how ‘the real world is full of conflict, do we think we can hide her from arguments forever?’
Please tell me why boomers are so pig headed and stupid and why won’t they just read a fucking book or shut up. (Yes I am aware I’m generalising but you know what I mean).
Edit to clarify my “boomer” position: if you’re born between 1944-1964 you are not automatically a bad person. Everyone knows this.
That reminds me of a story. submitted by
Yeah, Es and I are still in Dubai. We’re still going slowly out of our minds.
It’s gotten so bad that I actually leave our suite now and again to wander the hotel (too bloody hot to go outside) actually looking around to see if there’s anything to alleviate this tedium.
Maybe, even find someone to talk with…
Yes. Gad. I’m that bored.
Sure, I’m writing about 10-15 very technical pages a day, rounding up my references, bashing out bibliographies and other such scholarly shenanigans for the articles I’ve been asked to publish on my way to my next degree.
But, c’mon, man. I need a fucking break now and again.
And to focus on something greater than 20” away from the tip of my nose.
And there’s nothing here that immediately looks like it needs demolition. Not a blasting cap super-booster or keg of dynamite in sight. I’d wager you couldn’t rustle up a single kilo of C-4 if your life depended upon it.
“Klytus. I’m bored.” And “Forward: Drink!” sort of go together.
So, once again I’m sitting in the Seeker’s Lounge in the Gold Market Bar of the JW Marriott Hotel, in the air-conditioned patio section of course, drinking cold potato juice and citrus cocktails, with lime wheels, of course. Wild Turkey 101 Rye on the side, and full-pint Little Kings Cream Ale beer chasers, hiding from the brutish realities of this increasingly intensely foul year, two thousand and twenty, CE.
The bar is almost empty, save for the bartender and one or two unidentifiable expats growling about the lack of flights, and the ridiculous stringency the airport has saddled travelers with in this age of Pandemic Phobia and COVID Craziness.
I’m smoking my usual double Churchill cigar, having a sip or eleven, lazily looking around the drinking establishment and out over the next-door hotel pool.
The pool is fucking huge.
It extends from the inside, under a half-wall, to the outside of the 29th floor. I’ve been in it on occasion, but venturing outside, nearly 300 feet in the air in a glass-bottomed puddle, sort of overwhelms my inner ear. And my desire to continue metabolizing.
It really does get me all vexed and vertiginous.
So, I reserve my laps for the Jacuzzi in our suite.
That’s a joke, by the way. It’s not that large.
Close. But not quite.
There’s a family outside on the pool veranda. A very handsome African family with the obligatory couple of kids running around, screaming and generally confirming my desire to stay inside where it’s air-conditioned and the drinks are cold and close.
Well, kids will be kids. One is approximately 15 or 16 and the other is 8 or 9. I spoke briefly with Workneh Chernebereck, the patriarch of the family. He was looking rather lost after he wandered into the bar in his flip-flops, bathing attire, and robe.
Pool service here is abysmal with the lockdown and overall 15% hotel occupancy in Dubai right now.
He slowly shuffled in. Since I was the first one he saw, he came over and asked if I thought he could get a couple of cold drinks for him and his family.
“I guarantee it”, I said and gave Shabdiz, the redoubtable Pakistani bartender, the high sign.
Shabdiz came over and with a thumb over the shoulder, I said to give this guy what he wants and put it on my tab.
I’m very gregarious when someone else is paying the bills.
He orders a selection of soft drinks for his family and I tell him that it’s OK here if you want a beer or something stronger by the pool.
“Yeah, it’s a Muslim country, but when there are dollars involved, they tend to look the other way.” I smiled. “You have any proscriptions against drinking alcohol?”
“No, sir. None. ”, he replied.
“Good. Well first, cut out that “sir” shit. Call me Rock.” I smiled and extended my non-cybertronic hand.
‘Work’, as he liked to be called, beamed a dazzlingly-white smile as we shook hands and I offered him a cigar. Work was amazing. Very, very dark; and muscled like a pile of boulders stacked one atop the other. But soft-spoken and evidently educated.
He smiled and accepted my hand. He also grinned canyon-widely when I ordered him a quick beer.
“The wife will never know”, I said in an otiose conspiratorial manner.
Work was from Ethiopia originally but was now in Dubai with his family as he was just hired to be a department manager or something like that for some global telecommunications concern.
“First time an ex-pat?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, sir...umm…Rock”, He said, “I have to admit, it is somewhat disorientating.”
“Schooled in the UK, were we?” I grinned.
“Yes. How did you know?” he asked and sipped his beer while Shab went to get the soft drinks.
“Most normal people would say ‘disoriented’. Brits always add a few extra syllables when words aren’t long enough, evidently.” I say.
“You are correct. Manchester.” Work replies.
“I won’t hold that against you”, I chuckled and wondered where the hell Shab got off to. My glass was all dry and empty.
We laughed and chatted while Shabdiz scouted up some plastic tumblers with lids for the kids out by the pool. Work was a very interesting sort of character. Evidently, Ethiopia has much more in its history than just producing exquisite coffee.
I ask him how long they’ll be at the hotel and explain a bit of what Esme and I are up to. I’m sure Es would be interested in talking with Work and his wife, Moneereh and their two children, Yekameh and Zarrineh, in order of eldest to youngest.
Esme’s like that. She likes to meet new people, chat with them, and find out their story. Besides, she and Tash were in Ethiopia some years back for some American School All Invitational Track and Field thingy.
I scribble my room phone number on my business card.
“If you and Moneereh would like to have some dinner, my treat, just give us a call. My wife and I would enjoy the chance to talk with some new folks.” I said, handing Work my business card.
Work took my card, the drinks, which had now arrived, and replied:
“I will do so. Please to expect a call in the soon time.” He smiled as he headed for the door.
I didn’t know or care if he would. It was a pleasant little diversion for a few minutes. I wouldn’t mind Es and me having dinner with them if the ‘soon time’ came soon enough.
I looked out to the veranda, and Work was pointing my direction as his kids grabbed the drinks and demolished the bowl of bar nibbly bits I sent out with him.
He waved to me. Moneereh waved to me. I waved back.
It was a nice little diversion in a series of long, uneventful diversionless days.
I sat at the bar, drank my drink, smoked my smoke, and futzed with this new Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme computer I got in Dubai Duty-Free.
Esme said it matched our luggage. I was looking for a new portable and well, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury is your mother’s sister’s husband.
So, I sat at the bar, enjoying another cold libation, a new cigar from the hotel’s walk-in humidor, and playing around with my new toy. I had already transferred the few hundred gigs of dissertation data over and was spending some time fucking around with Zotero and Mendeley. I looked up every now and again to see what Work and his brood were doing.
They were out enjoying the Dubai sun and heat, as they found the hotel, kept at a brisk 26C ‘a bit too chilly for them’.
Gads. They must have lived on the sun if they find this hotel anything but uncomfortably warm.
I note that the lifeguard chair out by the pool is empty. Shabdiz brings me another tot and I ask him about that.
“Shab, last time I went for a swim, there was this asswipe of a lifeguard. Said I couldn’t smoke around the pool. He shut up and left me alone when I pointed out the ashtrays strewn about the deck.” I remarked.
“Yay. Todd. He’s a gomer, that soulless fucker. Never there. Always out getting baked. You know, the ganja man? He’s a pothead. Hotel don’t care because it’s so empty. Most bosses out anyway vacationy.” He relates to me.
“That’s seriously fucked,” I replied and tipped my glass his direction.
“Thanks, boss” Shabdiz says, “It is, how you say, very dusty here today.”
He helps himself to a top-shelf tot on my tab.
I’ve either trained the hotel staff well or I’m a real bad influence on them.
Either way, it keeps my drinks full and iced and my ashtrays empty.
I return to my translations. Damn, my Russian’s gone all to hell and back. Still, it’s keeping me occupied and I have to read these bloody .ПДФ files anyways…
A couple of hours later, I glance over at the pool and see Work and company have departed. I suddenly realize I haven’t visited the euphemism for a couple of hours and my bladder’s sending out an urgent SOS.
I call over to Shabdiz, “Gotta go make a fatter bladder flatter, Shab. Watch my shit for me while I’m gone?”
“Sure, Doc”, San smiles, “Awfally thirsty work watching your shit…”
“Go ahead, you pirate.” I laugh and head off to the head. He taps another tot off the top-shelf for himself.
I’m gone a few minutes. No hurry, quick comb through the locks, a quick comb-comb-comb of the beard and I’m looking my Grizzly Adams best.
Which isn’t all that good. But I care not, he says.
I wander back to the bar and the two ex-pats and Shabdiz are staring out the bar window toward the pool.
“What’s up? I ask. “Another clandestine nude photoshoot?”
“Naw, man”, Shabdiz says, “Looks like a kid’s over in the deep end of the pool. Maybe being in trouble all lonesome there by herself.”
I look out and see a small African child thrashing in the deep end of the pool, obviously in way over her head.
“Holy shit! It’s Zarrineh!”, I say. I tear off the Stetson and toss it on the bar. I rip off my watch and hand Shabdiz that and my wallet.
I didn’t wait for an answer.
I was gone as fast as my scarred and battle-worn carriage would allow.
I hit the pool doors, flung them open, and did a pretty creditable aging Johnnie Weissmuller maneuver into the pool.
One thing about being from Baja Canada and growing up cheek-by-jowl with the greatest of the Great Lakes. Everyone there knows how to swim like the state fish, the mighty muskellunge, by the time they can walk.
I am no exception.
I may be old, beat-up, MS-addled, scarred, keloided, and road-weary, but I can swim like a goddamned narwhal.
Take that, Johnny Tremain.
I was under the divider and suddenly outside, some 300’ directly above the distant pavement in a motherfucking glass-bottomed pool.
Fuck that. There’s a kid in danger. That’s my first priority.
Two strokes later, I’ve got her around the waist, facing away from me. I’ve enough natural buoyancy to keep both of us out of the danger zone; even though she’s thrashing around and clearly panicked.
All those years of API RP T-7 offshore survival training and HUET drills come flooding back like a tsunami.
“Zarrineh! I know your father! Calm down. I’m a trained rescuer, not some dingbat off the boardwalk. Settle down, I’ll get us out of here. But you’ve got to help me. Now, Zarrineh, chill out or whatever you kids say these days. I got you. Let me do my thing” I said, in calm, clear, reassuring registered tones.
She turns to look at me.
I’m surprised she didn’t faint or go completely bananas.
I must have been a sight. A sodden, soaking, gray 1/3rd of ZZ Top.
“I’m a very young Ethiopian child and this old, very large, very white behemoth has me around the waist.” She must have been thinking.
“But he talks nice. I guess I’ll listen to him. Not much else I can do.” I would suppose her inner dialogue was going.
She calmed down, and we just bobbed there for what seemed like a few minutes. It was actually probably all of 60 seconds, but I was doing a quick assessment to see if she swallowed any water and was going to dry-drown on me once I got her to the side.
“OK. That’s much better. Zarrineh. Are you OK? Swallow any water? Can you breathe OK?” I asked.
“Yes. Sir. I’m OK. No water. Just got too deep so fast. Floor is slippery. Now I’m OK sir”, she said, much calmer.
“Call me Rock”, I said. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll swim backward and hold you, you just go along with the flow. OK?” I asked.
“OK, Rock. We go.”, she said, absolutely calm.
I slowly paddled over to the divider, and we slipped silently under. The water’s much shallower here and I just kind of instinctively sort of aim for the side when my feet hit bottom. A few more feet and I can stand up.
I gently undo my death-grip on her and stand up. I pick her up bodily and set her, feet-first, on the side of the pool.
“Give me a minute”, I say, “I’m an old cigar smoker. It takes me a minute to work up a head of steam to get out.”
I get out and take her over to a poolside lounge chair.
I have her sit and I go over her vitals, as best as observation and inquiry allow. She hadn’t aspirated any water nor had any in her lungs, that much was clear. She looked scared but OK.
“Looks like I got there just in time”, I said.
“It got so deep so fast”, she said. “I’m a good swimmer and told daddy I’d stay on this side of the pool. There was even a lifeguard here. He left, and I didn’t think it was so slippery and deep.” She said, somewhat shakily.
“See?”, I said, “Your parents set rules for reasons. But, you’re OK and I’ll bet you won’t do that again.”
I give the high sign to Shabdiz for him to call hotel security.
There’s supposed to be a lifeguard here.
Someone’s just catapulted himself onto my shit list.
“So, you’re OK. That’s the main thing. Bet I scared you when you were thrashing around out there. The look on your face when I grabbed you was priceless”, I chuckled.
“I was scared. Ascared of drowning and scared of you. You’re so big and old and…hairy. And white. Then you grabbed me…” she said, stiffening a bit.
“Yeah, hey. I’m all that”, I chuckled.
“But you knew my name. You said you knew my daddy. Then I didn’t have ascared anymore. I knew I was OK.” She smiled at me.
Fuck if something tough inside didn’t melt a little at that declaration.
“That’s what’s important.” I said, “Ah, blast. Could you hand me that towel?”
She did and I ripped off my left-hand glove.
My new techno-digits are supposed to be waterproof, but that’s yet to be seen. Shower? OK. Jacuzzi? No worries. Full-on laps in the pool? Ummm…
I removed the sodden leather glove and dried off my Kevlar-ed faux-fingers…
“Nope”, I exhale heavily, “Everything’s OK.”
Zarrineh stares mouth-agape at my left hand. She sees all the keloids, the scarring, the mangled paw, and those outrageous black fingers in that ever so white hand.
“Oh, sorry. Industrial accident. Years ago. These are new, just got them. Still trying to figure them out.” I say.
She stands and stares.
“Don’t be scared. They’re just replacements for the ones I lost in Russia years ago.” I said.
“What do they do?” She asks.
“Same things yours do, just a bit faster and more strongly”, I said, flexing them so she could see how they work.
“That is so cool! Wait until I tell Yekameh!” she squealed, “I got rescued by a robot man.”
“Cyborg-American, if you please.” I chuckled.
Right at that moment, a certain Todd showed up.
He walks right past us and heads towards his chair.
“Hey, Chuckles. You work here?” I asked.
“Well, duh!”, he scoffs.
“Were you supposed to be on duty over the last hour?” I asked.
“Yeah. There wasn’t hardly no one here. I left for a bit.” He slurred.
“Oh, really. You always leave when there are young kids alone in the pool?” I quizzed him.
“There weren’t no one here”, he said with bacon-shot eyeballs.
“You were out getting high, weren’t you?” I asked.
“Yeah. So the fuck what?” he scoffed.
“The fuck about doing your job, asshole. I usually don’t swim in a Hawaiian shirt and Chinos, you prolapsed fuckhole. I was in the bar and saw Zarrineh here drowning in the deep end. I had to jump in to get her before she died. That’s what the fuck about, you shithead sumbitch!” I growled.
“Ah, yeah? One less pickaninny, more or less. Big deal.” He scoffed and tried to turn to leave.
“YOU SORRY COCKSUCKER!” I roared, reached out and grabbed him by the neck.
He was such a fucking pipe stem, I swear my new fingers could have wrapped twice around his scrawny collar.
I lifted this asshole bodily off the ground, by the throat.
I dragged him to within 10 centimeters of my face and snarled:
“You want to ever take another goddamned breath, you apologize to this young lady like your life depends on it. Because it fucking damn well does!” I snarled.
I hadn’t been this seeing-red angry for many, many years.
It was most refreshing.
“I’m so..sorr…sorry…” he croaked.
“Um, Rock, I think you’re crushing his little neck bones there”, a voice from behind me says.
I turn to look and it’s Work.
“This cocksucker…out getting high…Zarrineh was in trouble…he…made me angry. Very angry indeed.” I said.
‘That we can see”, Work says, “Zarrineh’s OK, Rock. Let it go.”
“’ Let it go?’ What a great idea.” I said, walked over to the pool and threw the miscreant as hard as I could at the wall divider.
Fucking gravity got the better of the situation. Either that or I’m losing my arm. Whatever the case, he made a sufficiently satisfactory splash upon re-entry.
“Asshole!”, I spat in his general direction.
He was already crawling out of the pool, on the opposite side, and slinking away like the soggy ferret he was, towards his perch.
“Yeah, you fucking Jobbernowl! Like now is a good time to watch an empty pool. You clodpate!” I go all archaic when I’m really spitting angry.
Work and Zarrineh are talking. I wander over, splotching over in my soaked shirt and sodden shorts.
“Rock, Zarrineh just told me. Thanks. Thanks so much, we owe you the world.” He said.
‘Well, probably wasn’t the brightest idea to leave her here alone.” I mentioned, cautiously. No need to add insult to near-miss injury.
“There was supposed to be a lifeguard here.” He said, “But You’re right. We’re all a bit muddle-pated with all the flying.”
“That’s a good word.” I chuckled, “However, all’s well that ends well. Let me go terrorize Todd a little more. That was fun. I haven’t had that much fun in a while.”
Work talks me out of having a spot more fun just as hotel security, a day late and a dollar short, shows up and asks “Right. What’s all this then?”
I tell the tale of how Todd was AWOL and Zarrineh, as any inquisitive 8 year-old would be, was checking things out. She got into a spot of bother, how I jumped in, and rendered aid.
“That’s all”, I said, “Except for that Todd motherfucker cowering over there!”
“Sir!”, the hotel security guard exclaimed."Language!"
“That’s right. I tossed that ignoramus knucklehead in the pool, only because I didn’t think to toss him off the fucking ledge first. After he was derelict of duty and very nasty and bigoted to this young lady.” I said.
“Is that so? And you are?” he asked.
“I’m the Motherfucking Pro from Dover, Scooter. I’m DOCTOR Rocknocker, a native of these here parts. And I don’t like skinny, little douchebag job-toking retards. Especially when they’re out fucking off, and leaving a child alone in a huge, dangerous pool.” I replied.
“Ah, yes. Doctor. Sorry, sir. Didn’t recognize you sopping. We’ll look into this. Thank you. “ he said and shuffled off Todd-ward.
Work and Zarrineh were sitting on a chaise lounge, and she was telling her daddy of the big, crazy-haired white guy that hit the water like an angry erne, grabbed her in the deep end, calmed her down and got her back to safety and out of the pool.
“All while Todd, the sorry…scumbucket, was out toking up.” I snarled Toddward.
He leaped back seeing me giving him the stick-eye.
“Rock”, Work, says, “What can I say? But I thank you. I owe you a huge debt. We owe you a debt that cannot be repaid.”
“Look, let’s your family and mine do dinner.” I say, “That way, we can call it even.”
“How is that even?” He asked.
“It’s even in my book”, I said, “Since I’m currently writing a book, that’s the way it is.”
Work looks at me puzzling. Zarrineh breaks the tension by mentioning to her dad that she was rescued by a robot-man.
I hold up my left hand and waggle my fingers.
“Industrial accident. Years ago. New techno-fingers. All your base are belong to us.” I chuckled.
Now Work thought I was really off the deep end.
We shook hands and I slogged back to the bar.
Shabdiz was there with the bar manager.
“We saw what you did.” The Arab manager, one Mohammad, said.
“Don’t worry. I don’t charge extra for the show.” I lamely replied.
“Shabdiz here watched your gear. Your bar bill is paid. We thank you.” he said.
“That’s mighty nice of you. Thanks. Twernt nothin’. I’d do the same for either of you.” I laughed. “Just make sure that Todd asshole finds employment elsewhere, like Afghanistan.”
I gathered up my gear and splooped off to the elevator.
“Ding dong”, dinged the doorbell.
My hands were full, I didn’t want to bother searching for the key.
“Yes? Rock, what the hell?” Es says as she opens the door.
“I was bored. I went swimming.” I replied.
“Get in here. You’re making a mess.” Esme commanded.
After changing into some dry duds, Es had a very tall, very cold libation waiting for me.
“OK, give”, she commanded.
So, I told her the story, in full three-part harmony.
“Whatta bastard.” She exclaimed, referring to Todd. “I’m surprised he’s still breathing.,”
“Yeah. Pity stayed my hand. It’s a pity I didn’t want to talk to the local constabulary if I killed him. At least, he’ll be off breathing somewhere’s else. He’s lost his job for certain. At most, he’s breathing on a jet plane, taking him back to Schmoeland or from wherever the fuck he originated”
“Good. Dubai’s got enough assholes as it is without importing more.” Es smiles.
Esme Rocknocker knows the score.
I go back to work on my dissertation/paper for ‘Precambrian Research’ magazine.
Esme is busying herself doing jigsaw puzzles.
I loathe and despise jigsaw puzzles. Long story. Remind me not to tell you about it some time.
The phone rings. It’s for me.
“Work! How are you and yours?” I ask.
“I am calling to see if you and your wife would like to meet me and my family in the Al Cadence restaurant around 1900 hours tonight. Our treat.” He asks.
“No. Sorry. Can’t make it tonight.” I reply.
“Tish tosh. Tomorrow?” He asks.
“Nope. Can’t do it.” I reply.
“OK, you tell me the time.” He says.
“Time’s got nothing to do with the situation. We’re not going if I’m not paying.” I said.
“Rock. You can’t. We owe you so much….we can’t let you pay” Work protests.
“I’m on retainer with a generous expense account and per diem,” I say.
Silence for two ticks.
“So, tonight at 1900 hours then. We’ll all be there.” He laughs.
“See you then.” I chuckle back.
“Esme! Break out your good Sunday-go-to-dinner duds. We’re going out and hit the town. Or a restaurant, actually.” I say loudly.
“With Work and Moneereh?” she asks.
“Yep. Should be interesting., They’re from Ethiopia. You and Tash were there, right?” I said.
“Oh, yes”, Es whooshes, “I remember their food. Holy wow! Was that hot!”
“Esme, my darling. You think ketchup is hot.” I replied.
“I remember you tearing up over that bottle of hot yellow-pepper sauce I brought back from Addis Ababa, so don’t go here.” She scolded.
She was right. That stuff was thermonuclear. Nice, fruity, and 6.023x106 Scovilles. It hurt so good.
“Hmmm…better check the restaurant. See the cuisine de jure." I said. “Hope it’s not TexMex.”
“Remember, they might not drink. If they don’t, you can’t either. Wouldn’t be right.” Es admonishes.
“No worries, my dear. I’ve already done my homework. No such problems here.” I said, having already vetted the situation in the bar with Work.
“Good.” She replies, “But remember now, if they order a well-done steak, it’s not polite to toss them out of a high window.”
“Of course, of course. “ I replied, “I’ll just dangle them for a brief time.”
They ordered lamb and chicken that evening. Es had her a nice filet mignon.
They ruined all my fun. Although it was a splendid evening.
Zarrineh insisted I show her sister my electro-digits. “They’re so cool.”
Yekameh was less than impressed. “Nice.”
Teenagers. Am I right?
About a month ago, I wrote a post
to provide some clarity regarding the leak Naughty Dog sprung about a month ago. In it, I addressed some of the criticisms that were being levied at the time without unveiling any of the spoiled material, that way my curious spoiler-virgins would go unsullied until release day. There, I explained why all the major criticisms at the time weren't (and still aren't) warranted. Toward the end of the post, I noted that the outrage was not only political, but also emotional. I correctly predicted that there would be some spoiler-virgins that would not be pleased with the game's controversial narrative direction. I wish I'd been taking bets because not only was I right, I was right to an extent I never imagined. The response to this game has been chaotic, to say the least. This post will explore this phenomenon, directly respond to the most prominent criticisms and those who make them, and address my own criticisms of the game (as well as how I believe those flaws can be fixed).
Part 1: The Chaotic Controversy
I need to lay my cards on the table: I thought this was a fantastic game. Having purposefully indulged in the leaks back in April, I knew about every major death/plot twist before it happened, and I approached the story with an open mind. While I thought TLOU was a great game, TLOU2 blew me away with its darker, more complicated themes, the tiny details that collectively enrich the game's themes of gray morality, superb character interactions, the gosh diddly darn adorable
relationship between Ellie and Dina, the endearing big sister-little siblings dynamic between Abby and Yara/Lev, and the excellently crafted set pieces that made each part of the game unique. I also loved the new gameplay mechanics that made stealth satisfying, such as crafting silencers for the pistol or taking cover in tall grass/ferns. It irks me to no end that such an obviously
great game has received so much undeserved abuse. Can it be criticized? Of course it can. There's always room for criticism, but I think this
is downright pathetic.
It should be noted that this avalanche of negative reception is not coming from a single body of grievances. It is, in fact, coming from up to at least three different factions. Sometimes there is crossover between factions, but a member of one faction should not
be immediately assumed to belong to another. Faction 1: "Get Woke, Go Broke!"- The Reactionaries
Not every person who dislikes/criticizes TLOU2 is a homophobe/transphobe/racist/misogynist. Make no mistake, though: there is a significant portion of "h8ers" that most certainly are
angry at this game solely for its unapologetic progressivism. These are The Reactionaries. The anti-SJWs.The anti-feminists. The "YouTube skeptics". The traditionalists. Whatever you want to call them. Back in 2018, TLOU2 took E3 by storm with not only a gameplay trailer but also a front-and-center kiss between Ellie and Dina, marking a historic moment for LGBT inclusion in video games. While the explicit romance did receive some negative feedback from The Reactionaries1
, the worst was yet to come. Fast forward to April of 2020. Naughty Dog sprung a devastating leak that revealed every card TLOU2 had up its sleeve. Controversy ensued, particularly around a new character named Abby, who was presumed to be male-to-female transgender due to her masculine features and silhouette. A contemptuous amount of abusive anti-transgender slurs and jokes were subsequently forwarded against Abby on places like 4chan, Reddit, and even YouTube. These assumptions ended up being bullshit, but that didn’t stop TLOU2 from solely representing itself. No, April 2020 was the moment this game became more than itself; it became a symbol
for progressivism in high-profile video games–a perceived weapon in a culture war.
If you think these people and their audiences only make up a small portion of this outrage mob, think again: 1
Name: "Naughty Dog's SJW Agenda in Gaming Exposed"
Uploaded by: No B.S.
Name: “Last of Us Part 2 Ending Leaks Reveal Progressive Agenda”
Uploaded by: No B.S.
Name: “Last of Us 2 Influenced by SJW Anita Sarkeesian”
Uploaded by: No B.S.
Name: “Last of Us 2 Spoiler Talk, This Gets Really Woke!”
Uploaded by: No B.S.
Name: “LGBT Activists: The Last of Us 2 Needs MORE WOKE Representation!”
Uploaded by: Lauren Chen (Roaming Millennial)
Name: “The Last of Us Part 2 LEAKS ONLINE | Another Franchise Falls To SJW Pandering”
Uploaded by: Geeks + Gamers
Sometimes it seems like TLOU2 goes out of its way to stick it to these people, what with its female-driven narrative, unapologetic pro-LGBT stance, and racial diversity. It should be said that TLOU2’s progressivism is a neutral element in terms of how it contributes to the story’s quality, and the game should be neither defended or
criticized solely on these grounds. It is, however, a heartening sign that these people’s neanderthalic values are dying out. Stay mad, you slobbering troglodytes.
To close this section, it is undeniable that this specific contention with TLOU2 is not
in the minority of the overall controversy surrounding the game. If you are not a fan of this game for unrelated reasons, I’m afraid it is a fact of life that you are going to have to perpetually disavow and distance yourself from these people when you criticize the game. Some of The Reactionaries are wise enough to realize that “it’s bad because it’s woke” is a flimsy criticism, so they will cling to any other criticism that simultaneously grants them credibility and tears the game down, no matter how unwarranted or slanderous
that criticism is. They are disguising themselves as one of you.
If you are arguing about this game with someone, do not
get mad at your interlocutor when they have to verify that your criticism doesn’t come from a place of bigotry, and stop pretending everyone is eager to use bigotry as a scapegoat that dismisses good-faith criticism. Faction 2: “Neil Disrespected the Fans!” - The Entitled Fan
The Entitled Fan thinks TLOU2 is a poorly-written game simply because they did not like the themes it explores or the narrative direction it takes. Whatever it was they wanted, TLOU2 didn’t do it, so that means the game had bad writing!
Faction 2, on the surface, is similar to another group of people I dub “The Disappointed Fan”, but there’s a key difference that separates the two: whether or not they think the game was poorly written, and if they do
think the game was poorly written, why
they think the game was poorly written. The Disappointed Fan is not its own faction because they can fall into either Faction 3 (which I will discuss next) or Faction 2. When The Disappointed Fan falls into Faction 2, that is when they evolve into The Entitled
Before we proceed with my addressal of this faction, let me make something really
clear: if you didn’t like the game because it wasn’t what you wanted it to be, this section doesn’t apply to you unless you think the game was poorly written because it wasn’t what you wanted it to be.
Got that? This isn’t me calling you entitled just
because the game disappointed you. With that said, let’s move on.
Never go into a piece of media with expectations.
Judging by a lot of the discourse I’ve seen regarding this game, many people were expecting to simply get more of what TLOU was, this time with prettier graphics. As such, I’ve seen several posts, videos, comments, etc. that keep comparing TLOU2 to TLOU, then criticizing it for not containing a certain element that was in TLOU.
“TLOU Ellie was funny, but now she’s not.”
“TLOU was about a blossoming father-daughter relationship, but TLOU2 shits all over that.”
“TLOU had Ellie’s immunity as a source of hope. TLOU2 is just nihilistic and depressing.”
“TLOU didn’t throw a character I don’t like at me and force me to play as her.”
Stop. Stop judging this game for what it’s not. Judge this game for what it set out to do and how well it did so.
So what did
this game set out to do? TLOU2 sought to be a dark tragedy surrounding the true toll of violence on the end of the perpetrator and the recipient. It’s a tale showing how a tragedy blackened our plucky heroine into a beast aching for destruction which, in the end, only resulted in more tragedy. It’s a tale that explores how the heroes in our eyes may be the villains in the eyes of another and vice versa. Hot dog
did it depict these themes with brutal proficiency. Whether or not you personally like these themes or the writer’s decision to explore them is irrelevant to the story’s artistic quality. To act otherwise is beyond annoying; it’s childish and entitled. Yeah, I said it. I think it’s outrageously entitled for someone to lash out at a writer for not writing a story the way they
wanted it to be written.
I think TLOU2, for its depressing themes/atmosphere, is of a specific, bitter taste many may not find appetizing. That's fine. Personally, I get a thrill out of stories that take the Shakespearean tragedy angle because stories that give its protagonist(s) an undeservedly tragic ending are rare and particularly gutsy. I think this direction, on top of being unique, is fascinating... and most of all, especially fitting for a world like TLOU. Let me ask you something: did you honestly
think this game was going to give Ellie or Joel a happy ending? TLOU has always been a grim series about the loss of everything people held dear. Their homes. Their security. Their family. Their friends. Their own lives.
Those who are calling TLOU2 "ToNaLlY iNcOnSiStEnT" must've missed how TLOU depicted this inescapable aspect of this hellscape: it sucks
for everyone, and nobody
is safe! If TLOU2 never had the guts to pull off what it pulled off, the series as a whole would've wound up bankrupt of stakes and suspense. Who the hell’s going to care about an action scene if we knew the author couldn't scrounge up the temerity to disrobe the main characters of their plot-armor?
If you were disappointed that the game did not meet your expectations... I'm sorry. I genuinely am. It sucks when something you've been looking forward to ends up being different from what you were expecting. This is why I said what I said near the beginning of this section: never go into a piece of media with expectations. Chances are, they won't be fulfilled. Not only will expectations leave you disappointed, they'll also close you off to something you may have otherwise appreciated.
Unfortunately, many fans were already too emotionally attached to Ellie and Joel to possibly consider the idea that they're villains in another perspective (especially the latter). The game wasn’t even asking the players to like Abby and co. over Team Jackson; it just wanted you to at least acknowledge that Abby’s course of action was sympathetic in her perspective.
There's nothing inherently bad about being emotionally attached to a character, but Jesus Christ is it frustrating when that emotional attachment makes people unreceptive to an unconventional narrative direction.
Naughty Dog decided to take a controversial, but fitting, route with the next chapter of TLOU, and whether some people like it or not, they did an outstanding job. No, the professional critics were not bribed by Sony. No, the defenders are not deliriously fooling themselves into liking the game because they spent years emotionally invested in the project. No, the defenders are not SJWs who “secretly know the game sucks but are defending it because it advances their political agenda”. We've simply looked beyond our emotional biases and saw this game for what it is: a nuanced, gut-wrenching tragedy. I'm sick of hearing otherwise from a bunch of entitled children who are too busy longing for a game that isn't there instead of analyzing the game that is. Faction 3: “Why ‘The Last of Us: Part II’ Doesn’t Work” - The Good Faith Critics
The final hostile faction against this game are The Good Faith Critics. While they accuse TLOU2 of being poorly written, they do so not through an emotional or political lens, but through a critical lens. While I have counterarguments to almost all of their criticisms, Faction 3 tends to be the least toxic of the three factions. For that, I tip my hat to most of them for actually behaving like civil adults that are capable of having a critical discussion about TLOU2’s potential hiccups.
I will address their most prominent criticisms one-by-one in the next part of this post. But first I need to mention the last combatant in this bloody battleground: The Opposing Side: The Professional Critics
While the audience response to TLOU2 is almost literally split straight down the middle, the professional response to has been overwhelmingly homogeneous in TLOU2's favor.
It has been a common sentiment that professional art critics/reviewers are pompous and not worth listening to–that their "professional opinion" is not worth more than the average Joe's. This sentiment stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the job of a media critic. It is the job of critics and analysts to know how to take a story apart and understand what makes it tick. Once they've arrived at a proper diagnosis, they relay it to their audience. The audience can then make an informed decision over whether or not that movie/game/book/etc. is worth their time or money. Professional critics are supposed to abandon their personal opinions and emotions while reviewing a work and view it strictly through an analytical lens.
That said, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that almost all
of this game’s praise is coming from the people who are specifically trained to disassemble and analyze the inner mechanisms of a story… and almost all of the antagonism is made by... oh, how do I put this... casuals
who in large part have no interest or experience in the art of storytelling (in addition to the YouTubers who’ve realized they can make some sweet ad revenue off the outrage).
And no, I'm not siding with the critics here because they affirm my enjoyment of this game. There are plenty of cases in which I agree with critical praise for pieces of art I personally don't
like, my favorite example being "Persona 5". I went into "Persona 5" with an open mind genuinely believing I'd fall in love with it. The opposite happened. I couldn't connect or empathize with the characters for the life of me. I thought the gameplay was restrictive and repetitive. I didn't like the jazzy music style. I didn't like the minimalistic, toon-shaded art style. Suffice it to say I don't like "Persona 5". However,
despite my personal
opinions on "Persona 5", I'd be insane to dare insist it is a bad game. While they failed to click with me,
the characters were fleshed out, rarely written with inconsistent behavior, and had a ton of rich dialogue. While it's not to this metalhead's taste, the snazzy music is competently composed and played. The gameplay features unique mechanics that were sturdily programmed (i.e., very few bugs/glitches). "Persona 5" deserved every 5/5, 10/10, 90%+ score it got because it is a well-crafted game. Anybody who's honest should be able to say the same for TLOU2, regardless
of whether or not they personally enjoyed it.
It is worth mentioning that there is a certain sect of the internet, usually those from Factions 1 and 2 (or both), that insist there was an under-the-table quid pro quo that occurred between Sony and major game reviewers. As I do with every conspiracy theorist I encounter, I’ll simply quote the late Christopher Hitchens to these people: “that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
Let’s move on.
Part 2: Responding to Criticisms
"If I were to lose you, I would surely lose myself."
- Ellie behaves out of character, which is a sign of inconsistent writing.
Joel's song at the beginning of the game foreshadows Ellie's spiral into darkness. The blackening of Ellie's personality over the course of the game was not bad or inconsistent writing, it was intentional and seamlessly executed. One of the first things that struck me as I played through the first few hours of the game was how consistent Ellie's dialogue was with the last game. As the game progresses, Ellie devolves into a restless, cold-blooded girl who is fixated on nothing but vengeance, even if that means throwing away a peaceful life. All of this culminates into one of the game's most important scenes
, where Ellie finally realizes that her pursuit of revenge stripped her of everything she held dear–even herself.
A tragic hero
at its finest.
- TLOU2 perpetuates the stereotype that lesbians are never happy, seeing that the story ends with Dina leaving Ellie. The game that tried to be pro-LGBT only ended up being a hindrance.
I appreciated how TLOU2 starred a variety of characters that fall under the LGBT umbrella. Not only does it normalize LGBT people (which is good), it was also a refreshing change of pace that truly makes this game stand out. I also appreciated how TLOU2 had this sort of diversity without patronizingly pandering to these groups. TLOU2 treats every LGBT member of its cast as real people whose status doesn't make them exempt them from hardship. Dina and Ellie's disagreement is a component of this, for it is treated no differently than any straight couple's. They're not two lesbians who have a bitter end; they're two romantic partners who have a disagreement, which, believe it or not, happens to people in relationships. If Ellie were Elliot, the dynamic between him and Dina wouldn't have to be altered. That,
friends, is how you write LGBT people: you don't treat them any differently than non-LGBT people!
- Abby is a poorly written character that is difficult to empathize with. Unlike Ellie, Abby never shows any visible dismay or regret when she kills key figures in the story. She is also shown to be overly enthusiastic to kill Dina after Ellie reveals she is pregnant.
I should briefly lay another one of my cards on the table: I approached Abby with an open mind, but also trepidation. Unexpectedly, she ended up becoming my favorite character from the franchise. What is discussed in my response to this particular criticism is part of the reason why.
Ellie and Abby are different people with different backgrounds. Unlike Ellie, Abby is a literal soldier who distinguished herself in the WLF as one of their top Seraphite killers. The result is a jaded girl who copes with trauma on an internal level; she bottles up her sorrows, seldom making them outwardly apparent. When her stoicism does
slip, her insecurities usually escape in the form of snappishness2
. No, this isn’t me desperately clawing to delegitimize this criticism. It is simply a fact that (and I hate to sound pretentious here) Abby is indeed a well-written
but also complicated
character that is difficult to read on a surface-level. Diagnosing her thoughts2,3,4
, reactions, and desires6
often requires a more attentive analysis, as they are rarely expressed in a straightforward manner (except in extraordinary circumstances
). Here are some independent points that should paint a picture of what I mean: 1.
2Abby: "Hey. Why have you been avoiding me?"
Mel: "I wasn't avoiding you."
Abby: "C'mon. You've barely said anything to me since Jackson."
Mel: "I don't know... I guess I was... Shook by Jackson too."
Abby: "You don't think Joel deserved what he got?"
Mel: "I think he deserved worse, I just... I just wish I didn't take part in it."
Abby: "I get it. What kind of person could do that, right?"
Mel: "I'm not saying that."
Abby: "Let's see if there's a way to the hatch."
Mel: "All right..."
This exchange from Seattle Day 1 more than suggests Abby has begun to internally acknowledge that the way she killed Joel was inhumanely brutal, and she’s already having second thoughts. 2. 3
Since the player is not always directly told Abby’s thoughts, they are often relayed through dream sequences. Each of Abby’s dreams return her to the exact same hall in St. Mary's Hospital and end with her opening the door to the operating room where her father was murdered. The repetitiveness of these dreams communicates that Abby has never gotten over Jerry’s death, and it is constantly
on her mind. This is further exemplified by her continued interest in collecting state quarters: one of the only connections she still has to her father. You'll notice, however, that Abby never speaks of this issue–not even to her friends. Compare this to Ellie, who is very open about her grief over the death of Joel. 3. 4
At the end of Seattle Day 1, Abby finds Owen in the cabin cruiser at the aquarium. This is when Owen reveals his plan to travel to Santa Barbara to find the remaining Fireflies, a decision for which Abby chides Owen. We then get this exchange:
Abby: Sorry I grew up. You should try it.
Owen: Oh yeah? How do I do that, Abby? Should I go find the people who killed *my* family? Cut into 'em? I could torture them until they're crying in their own-"
Abby interrupts Owen violently, shoving him into the cabin’s walls. She does this because she knows
what she did to Joel was cruel and perhaps unjustified, and she cannot bear to listen to Owen remind her of her monstrous actions. Their clash then shifts into a rough lovemaking session. This sex scene was not implemented arbitrarily; this is Abby trying to make the guilt go away.
She’s desperate for any kind of temporary pleasure (like a night of coital bliss with the man she loves) that could distract her from her regrets. Unfortunately, this rash action ultimately exacerbates her guilt. 4. 5
Abby’s motivations for returning to Yara and Lev are externally dubious. Some players may think Abby helped them out of pity or a sense of obligation since they saved her from being lynched. Mel suspects that Abby wanted to use the kids as a means to manipulatively gain the favor of Owen (who’d begun to grow sympathetic toward the Seraphites). In reality, it’s none of those things. Abby was motivated by a desire to cleanse herself of guilt.
Guilt for animalistically torturing Joel to a degree that even made her friends uncomfortable2
. Guilt for betraying Mel by sleeping with Owen. Guilt for not being there to save her father
. The most beautiful part of Abby’s arc, I believe, is how these selfish motivations evolve into a fiercely protective fraternal love for Yara and Lev. 5. 6
In the scene where Abby prepares to slice Dina’s throat, her enthusiastic “good” upon discovering that Dina was pregnant was born not out of sadism, but a grief-fueled desire for Hammurabian justice. This is a component of how she copes with losing her friend Mel, who was also pregnant. “Good”, in this instance, translates to: “oh, you killed my
pregnant friend? Then I’ll kill your
pregnant friend”. Lev, thankfully, pulls Abby out of her vengeful tunnel vision before she could follow through with the deed. 6.
All of this is not to say Abby is 100% a hardened killer who never reacts to trauma in the moment; during gameplay, after you kill your first two Wolves as Abby, she is programmed to always
exclaim: “oh shit… shit!”
in a severely distressed tone. She is mortified that she is killing her own comrades to protect Lev.
Does this complex style of characterization make Abby difficult for many to empathize with? Probably. I can understand why many people are unreceptive to her semi-abrasive disposition, especially
if they’ve already decided to hate her from the get-go. Is it impossible to empathize with her? Absolutely not, especially if you are willing to analyze her with an open mind. Does her polarizing depiction make her poorly written?
Hell no. A well-written character is not always universally likable, and Abby is an exemplar of this. For her nuanced portrayal, subtle execution, endearing dynamic with Yara and Lev, and continued mercifulness toward Ellie, I think Abby is a remarkable (and woefully misunderstood) character.
- In the scene where Ellie is drowning Abby, a glimpse of Joel suddenly flashes across Ellie’s mind. This image causes her to have a change of heart about killing Abby, who she subsequently lets go. This turn of events is the result of poor writing due to its randomness.
While Ellie does hate Abby for killing Joel, she also hates Abby because she represents something Ellie has spent years wrestling with: what Joel did in Salt Lake City, an act for which Ellie has never forgiven Joel. It was never revealed to Ellie that Abby's quest to kill Joel was to avenge her father, so she has always operated under the notion that Abby and co. traveled to Jackson to avenge humanity, which had been robbed of its only chance at a cure. Thus, in Ellie's perspective, Abby is an agent of karma–the inevitable consequence of Joel's actions. Abby's very existence, to Ellie, is a reminder of how Joel took away her chance of making her life meaningful.
While drowning Abby, a glimpse of Joel strumming his guitar on his porch flashes through her mind. It isn't too long later in the game when it is revealed that this is a memory of the night Ellie makes her first conscious effort toward forgiving Joel for his selfishness. When Ellie releases Abby, this isn't her forgiving Abby; this is her forgiving Joel.
This particular criticism is so silly I almost consider it to tread in the “dishonest” territory. While TLOU2 is undoubtedly more violent than a bulk of its M-rated peers, it has most certainly not
earned the crown of that category. Here
is a fatality from “Mortal Kombat (2011)”, where Kung Lao drags his opponent crotch-first through a buzz saw until they’re sliced perfectly in half. Here
is the first combat scene in “Bioshock: Infinite” where Booker DeWitt slams the face of a policeman into an operating Sky-Hook. Here
is a scene from the beginning of “Resident Evil 2: Remake” where Elliot Edward’s hip is torn off his torso, entrails hanging out in all their glory. Here
is a scene from “Spec Ops: The Line” where the player is revealed to have deployed white phosphorus on military relief efforts and civilians. For Satan’s sake, here
is Joel getting his jaw torn off his face by a Bloater. This objection against TLOU2 is nothing more than a red herring that has been brought up and blown out of proportion for dishonest purposes. Since when were Gamers™ concerned about violence in video games? That’s the job of Karens and Republican politicians. If we take a step back from the outrage, we’ll see that the degree of violence portrayed in TLOU2 is not abnormal–if anything, it’s tamer than some of its contemporaries.
But even if TLOU2 were the most violent video game ever made, that has no bearing on whether or not the story is well-written. If anything, its exorbitant violence is justified since it actually serves a narrative and thematic purpose in this game, unlike the scenes I mentioned above (except “Spec-Ops: The Line”). In a story that focuses on the emotional consequences of horrendous acts the main characters perpetrate, violence is an excellent tool that adds stakes, highlights the ruthlessness of its world, and most importantly, shows
the audience how traumatizing brutalization can be, which helps you empathize with distraught characters. If your stomach is too weak to handle this kind of violence, that’s fine, but it isn’t an objective mark against the game.
- TLOU2 disrespects Joel by by cheapening him to a call to action.
Frankly, I'm of the opinion that TLOU2 respects
Joel by making him the most important figure in the entire game. Joel is at the center of everything.
His morally gray legacy lives on in an adult Ellie, the privilege she gets to experience in her peaceful life with Dina, her pursuit of revenge, Abby's pursuit of revenge, and the continued misery the rest of the world faces with the Cordyceps fungus. Killing off a character is not always the end of that character’s role, and that’s especially the case with Joel. His presence, be it implicit or explicit, can be felt everywhere in the game. I believe this was an excellent way to handle a character as morally dubious as Joel. It wouldn’t be right if the story allowed him to live the rest of his life peacefully in Jackson–not after condemning humanity. Millions will continue to die and suffer because of what he did. However, it would also be cruel of the story to simply kill and leave him by the wayside. Selfish or not, he was still a grieving father who obeyed the urge to save the one he loved, something anyone can empathize with. Joel deserved death for his betrayal of humankind, but he did not deserve to be demonized. TLOU2, as demonstrated by the flashback sequences, treated Joel as anything but a villain.
Part 3: Criticisms From Yours Truly
It's time for me to lay down my shield and pick up my sword. Here we go!
A neat addition to the game was how human enemies call out to their fallen comrades by name. This humanizes the enemies and tremendously adds to the game’s exploration of the consequences of violence. However, this remarkable detail falls flat on its face thanks to one hiccup: names are repeated a lot. By the time Ellie killed her third Ashley, I was having a difficult time taking this detail seriously.
But that’s just a nit-pick. Time for me to break out the big guns. My biggest grievance with this game can be summed up in two words: Santa Barbara. Santa McFreaking
Barbara. Like a malicious Cordyceps that hijacks the mind and distorts its host into something unrecognizable, the Santa Barbara segment takes TLOU2 and warps it until you have to keep reminding yourself you're playing the same game you were playing an hour ago. The characters it built. The message it built. The themes it built. It is all thrown out the window.
Here's why: 1.
The Rattlers and their portrayal betray the game's theme of ambiguous morality. The Rattlers are unapologetically sinister, what with how they enslave their captives with a degree of brutality that makes death preferable. They keep and taunt their captives even after
they become mindless zombies, which is unjustifiably sadistic. They tie up and leave their misbehaving slaves to die in a macabre yard of decaying bodies that wouldn’t be out of place in the middle ages. Unlike the Seraphites or the WLF, both of which are shown to have sympathetic qualities, the Rattlers are blackened to the bone and indefensible. This results in the most explicit case of thematic inconsistency I've ever seen in any
professionally-written story. 2.
Finally, the worst offender: the time skip. While I felt a tense emotional investment in the Ellie vs. Abby fight in the theater, I felt the opposite during the Ellie vs. Abby fight on the coast of Santa Barbara, which was supposed to be the emotional peak of the story. Here's the difference between these two events:
-In the theater, I had a deep investment in both of the involved characters. I'd spent 25+ hours watching both girls brave the dangers of Seattle. I saw Ellie banter with Dina, cope with the trauma of losing Joel, discover a new type of infected, chase and beat the snot out of Nora, discover the Seraphites, kill Owen and Mel, and surrender to Abby to protect Tommy. I saw Abby's interpersonal drama with her WLF comrades, meet and bond with Yara and Lev, cross the bridges, descend deeper and deeper into the infected hotel, face the terrifying Rat King, refuse to move from Isaac's line of fire, and grieve after discovering her murdered loved ones. These were the characters I was with every step of the way as they seamlessly evolved during the trio of days in Seattle, and I wanted neither of them to get hurt by the end of it.
-On the shores of Santa Barbara, I didn't know who either character was. I guess
Ellie helped Dina start a farmhouse and deliver a baby, dealt with chronic PTSD attacks, and shared a peaceful life with Dina and JJ on the farm, but I never saw any of that, so why should I care about the person these experiences made her into? I guess
Abby had been enslaved, beaten, starved, and on the cusp of escape (only to be denied it), but I never saw any of that, so why should I care about the person these experiences made her into?
Whoever these new characters are, they're not the ones we spent the entire game getting to know. Those characters are long dead and gone, lost in the 1-2 years between Seattle Day 3 and the moment we first find Ellie in the farmhouse. As much as I hate to say it, the Santa Barbara segment, in only a mere hour,
renders all the hours that came before it obsolete. Worthless. A waste of time.
This isn't me getting upset at the ending. I have no qualms with it at all. How we got
there is where the issue lies. Is there a solution to this massive problem? Yes, and it's quite simple: time.
It would've been worlds better if this game ended with Abby and Lev leaving the theater (preferably on this
screen), which makes for a juicy cliff hanger that leads into Part III (which is probably inevitable with sales like these
). If Part III was almost or entirely dedicated to fleshing out the Santa Barbara segment, I firmly believe these problems would cease to exist.
Time would allow us to marinate in the aftermath of Seattle. Maybe we get to see Ellie and Dina search for a farmhouse to claim. Get some sheep. Plant their crops. Dust up the house and make it a home. See Ellie's simultaneous terror and joy when JJ finally comes into their lives. See the ups and downs of Ellie and Dina's shared parenthood. In the meantime, packs of infected and wandering bandits are sure to spring up, providing the player with some stimulating combat as Ellie and Dina defend their new home and family. But in the meantime... Ellie wrestles with night terrors. She continues to see and hear Joel in his final hour. She sees Abby lurking in the theater, but she can't reach her weapon fast enough! The PTSD Ellie carries provides an undercurrent of negativity to her and Dina's otherwise peaceful life, and the pressure only builds over time. It makes her colder. Snappier. Maybe she even occasionally lashes out at Dina, only to quickly apologize afterward. But one day, Tommy pays his first visit in months, and he's brought a map and some information...
Time would allow us to see Abby and Lev's journey to Santa Barbara and their search for the Fireflies. Their big sister-little brother bond grows stronger in their adventures. They probably have lots of run-ins with the infected. A trader probably tips them off to the Rattlers in the area. When they're ambushed and kidnapped, Abby does everything in her power to resist their captors to make sure Lev isn't mistreated, as his transgender status likely puts him at considerable risk for abuse. Resistance is her initial instinct, but she quickly realizes that she can exchange her compliance for Lev's safety. So she works gruesome jobs for gruesome hours. Maybe after realizing how much leverage they have over this talented soldier, the Rattlers give her a weapon and force her to help hunt for escapees and unfortunate travelers (of course, if she turns her weapon against her captors, they'll make sure Lev faces a fate worse than death). After months, Abby finally builds up the confidence to stage an escape with Lev... but their operation fails. She is punished severely for her misconduct. She's starved. Tortured. Beaten. We see her spirit break, and her body emaciates until she is just as weak and helpless as the man she killed in Wyoming. She thinks of him and wonders if this was how he felt. Once the Rattlers are through with making an example out of her and Lev, they're strung up and left to die among dozens of corpses... until a familiar voice comes calling through the fog...
Unfortunately, as it exists now, the rushed nature of the Santa Barbara segment alienated the player from all
of the characters involved-even Ellie, who the player is in control of throughout the entirety of the segment. Now, alienating an audience from characters via a time jump can certainly be used to great effect in some stories, but one such story is not
this one. For 30ish hours, TLOU2 established itself as the kind of story that earned your investment through subtle character growth. What is the natural predator of incremental character growth? Time skips that gloss over major character-altering events.
This was a disastrous decision on the writer's part, and it critically injures what I'd otherwise call a nigh flawless game.
Yes, my criticism of the Santa Barbara section was harsh, but it heartens me to remember it was only ~1.5 hours long. I wouldn't dare condemn the entire ~30-hour game for a fraction of a fraction of its content, especially not when the rest of it was as masterful as it was. A poorly paced ending does not make a story bad, and shame on anyone who thinks it does. It's about the journey, after all, not the destination, and by Satan was this an emotionally thrilling journey indeed. Excluding its ending, I’m glad to give it the highest praises I can offer. Unfortunately, due to a perfect storm of circumstances, this sequel may have cemented itself as the most controversial game ever made. I think that’s a crying shame because this is a great game that often goes where no game has gone before. It is one of the few games that not only challenged its players mechanically, but *mentally,* for it encouraged them to question their biases and see the reasons behind every seemingly evil action. It made giant steps forward for social progress, playing a part in making the world a better place for everyone. I sometimes fear the vitriolic reaction to this game may intimidate future screenwriters from making such bold decisions for their stories, and I believe that would ultimately hold the medium back from its fullest potential, particularly in the storytelling department. I have hope and a little bit of faith that this work of art will eventually stand the test of time, especially once the outrage simmers. Cheers to the developers for making such a wild ride, and I look forward to seeing what happens next.
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