[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Last of Us Season 1 episode 4.]
Remember last week when Ellie (Bella Ramsey) wound up with a gun? It was blatantly obvious that she’d have to use it—probably in some dramatic, traumatic way. (A literal Checkov’s gun, if you will.) Well, the payoff for that plot point came this week, in typically devastating Last of Us fashion.
Ellie and Joel (Pedro Pascal) start out well enough, stopping to spend the night in the woods. Joel lets Ellie believe he’s going to sleep, but instead, he stays up all night to keep them both safe from whatever might be lurking out there… Infected, or—as they discuss—people, who are sometimes worse.
The next day, they continue their trek to find Joel’s brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna). That’s where things go sideways. The freeway is blocked, so they’re unable to continue on their planned route; Joel insists they’ll go around and “get right back on” past the jam. (Rarely, in post-apocalyptic shows, is that the case.) They wind up in the heart of Kansas City, where a group of people try to trick them into stopping their car. Joel doesn’t fall the “injured” act and speeds right past—then runs over a strip of nails, then crashes.
The car is useless. The thugs are in hot pursuit. Hurriedly, Joel tells Ellie to hide. He then manages to take down most of them save for one, who gets the upper hand and starts strangling him. Ellie, hearing all of this, emerges with her gun in her hand and shoots the man in the back. The bullet is enough to save Joel, but it’s not enough to kill the guy, who, paralyzed from the waist down, transitions to tearfully begging Ellie and Joel for his life. It’s a tough scene to watch, as is the moment just before Joel kills the man; the mostly incapacitated, murderous baddie cries out for his mother in his last moments. (Later, we find out that wasn’t the first time Ellie had shot someone, which begs the question: will we ever learn more about that?)
From there, we’re introduced to a new FEDRA camp that appears to have been taken over by everyday people. Their leader, Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) is determined to track down someone named Henry, who she believes is responsible for her brother’s death. She proves how far she’s willing to go by killing the camp’s doctor, who was supposedly withholding information. I don’t consider myself an expert survivalist, but generally speaking, killing the doctor is a bad move. Kathleen finds this out quickly when her forces roll in from the city and she has no one to treat the injured—although her immediate concern is the people who attacked them. (That’s Joel and Ellie!) She sends groups out to kick down doors.
While Joel and Ellie haven’t been caught by the episode’s end, they don’t stay out of trouble, either. They think they’re safe in an abandoned hotel, but when Ellie awakens, she finds Joel being held at gunpoint. By whom? Henry (Lamar Johnson). His young son puts a finger to his lips, shushing them. Yikes!
Any episode would have a difficult time following last week’s visual poetry and should-be Emmy contender “Long, Long Time.” It’s almost unfair to judge this week’s Last of Us in comparison, although it does feel slightly slower and less emotional. Melanie Lynskey’s character wasn’t in the game—thus, her storyline is murky. My assumption is that these people conquered a FEDRA camp and are trying to hold it, but are having a difficult time establishing their new society. You know, that kind of post-apocalyptic stuff. I’m reserving judgment on them as villains until we know more about their motives and backstory.
The real standout moments in this episode, though, go to Ellie and Joel. Their father-daughter relationship takes off here, as Joel can no longer snap and sigh and grunt his way through their interactions. She’s obviously disgusted by coffee, which makes Joel smile. Further Joel smiles come from Ellie’s book of dumb jokes; despite his initial gruff annoyance, by the end of the episode, they’re laughing together. And most movingly, after Ellie saves his life, Joel (heartwarmingly) tells the poor kid that she “shouldn’t have had to” pull that trigger. Pascal and Ramsey make for a perfect, believable duo, and Ellie’s paradoxically tough innocence combined with Joel’s slowly melting heart makes their story fantastic to follow.
The Last of Us Season 1, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO