I was using a PS4 video game called The Last of Us 2 as my ‘text,’ you’ll recall, and posed a question at the end of the post which I glibly said I couldn’t answer at that moment, because I’d used up my allotted word count for the day (to my wife’s extreme annoyance, who thought that a facile excuse… though the real reason was that I wasn’t sure, myself, how to answer it, so employed one of the writer’s favourite tricks i.e. playing for time.) The question I asked was why Ellie, the protagonist, couldn’t bring herself to complete her Grand Quest Of Revenge even as she was poised at her moment of triumph.
So thanks, Constant Reader, for waiting a week --- even if it was involuntarily. For being such a patient little carbon-based unit, here’s your answer… after my week of reflection:
Because, ultimately, in the midst of a brutal, bloody battle she’s actually winning --- as I said, she’s within seconds of snuffing out Abby’s life by drowning the lass --- Ellie has, I think, a bit of an epiphany. Even in the midst of raging combat, which I grant you is not a time normally associated with thoughtful introspection. But, you know, epiphanies don’t have to be lengthy, convoluted skeins of philosophical thought; they can be blindingly quick and obvious flashes of insight, too. And it is that insight which hits Ellie like the proverbial freight train:
What the hell has this unending quest for revenge bought or accomplished? (Besides numerous deaths wrought in various grisly manners, that is.) Has it brought peace? It has not. Has it brought redemption? Definitely not. Perhaps most importantly, has it brought resolution, some kind of ending acceptable to the person wreaking the revenge? Most. Assuredly. Not. And seeing all those questions answered in the negative, then, we (or any thoughtful character who’s more than just a mindless killing machine --- paging the T-800!) have to ask ourselves: just what the hell has been accomplished?
Well… a few things: Ellie has sacrificed her relationship with her partner on the altar of revenge. It’s very possibly destroyed the family they were building (the story ends on a somewhat ambiguous note, so that’s not entirely clear, depending on what she decides to do next). It hasn’t brought Joel, the character she embarked on this bloody path for, back from the dead. It’s left Ellie physically mutilated (Abby bit off two of Ellie’s fingers in the climactic/inconclusive final fight) and unable to play the guitar --- which has a special emotional significance to her, given it was a favourite instrument of Joel’s, and he taught her how to play. (Unless she learns to play the guitar left-handed, which is doable, I suppose, but as someone who played classical guitar in the far-off halcyon days of my youth, I can assure you it would not be an easy task to rewire the brain pathways involved. Naw, I’m kidding: they weren’t particularly halcyon days, just the genesis of numerous traumas and subsequent neuroses. Oy.) And speaking of which, it’s left Ellie an emotionally devastated cripple. We’re waaay past the point of mere PTSD here. In fact, querying whether she’ll ever be emotionally whole again is a very valid thing to ask.
So… tallying up the scoresheet of what’s been accomplished, what’s been lost and gained, we’re left with a simple, bleak conclusion: Nothing Good, Just A Whole Lotta Heartbreak And Devastation. And so… she doesn’t complete her self-imposed task of killing Abby. Can’t, really. Yep, personal illumination’s really a bitch at times, you know. Or if you want to put it in biblical terms, yeah, the truth will indeed set you free… but frequently will also mightily piss you off in the process.
Watching Ellie at story’s end, as she wanders through the vacant home she shared with her partner and their kid (a home completely empty except, significantly, all Ellie’s stuff --- ooh, what a coldly mute testimonial that speaks volumes), you have to wonder what she’s feeling, because it’s kinda heartbreaking to watch. And we want to ask her, “Was it worth it, Ellie?” (Well, I did, anyway.) And I’m not being holier-than-thou… while most of us haven’t embarked on epic quests of lethal revenge --- at least, I hope not --- we’ve all had a vengeful thought or six in our lifetimes, and can relate to what the poor girl’s done. Especially in a society where all law and order, all the restraining mechanisms of civilization we’ve grown so smugly complacent about, have broken down completely.
But if Ellie hasn’t read Frankie Bacon’s essay on revenge, which she undoubtedly hasn’t, I’ll put tongue firmly in cheek and say that perhaps she should have read her Tolkien, for it’s to him I’ll give the last word today:
‘It is useless to meet revenge with revenge; it will heal nothing.’
Are you listening, Ellie?