And we’re back with another episode recap of The Last of Us. Have you recovered from last week? I’m not sure I have. But can we please go through today without breaking Joel’s soul? Is that too much to ask?! Episode 1, his daughter dies. Episode 2, his life partner, dies. Episode 3, his long-term buddies, who he had mutual respect for, die. Come on! Give him a break!
Like last week, there was no cold open so we are greeted with Ellie (Bella Ramsey) performing her best Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) impression (minus the dialogue) in a dilapidated restroom. She practices her “looking tough” face in the mirror. Give her points for gun safety though, ensuring it’s entirely empty before playing with it.
Joel (Pedro Pascal) is outside, siphoning gas from cars. Gas has an expiry date so they will need to do a lot of that along the way. He fails to explain the science behind siphoning, showing that he’s equally awful at science as he is at geography.
The show, then, mirrors the game as Ellie pulls out her copy of “No Pun Intended: Volume Too” and starts telling awful jokes to Joel. These are identical to those heard in optional dialogue in the game. I love a pun, so I was in bits even though I’d heard them before.
Setting off in the truck, Ellie sits in the backseat and explores. First, she finds a Hank Williams cassette tape and they put it on. “Alone and Forsaken” plays on the stereo. Ellie then finds a porno mag and asks questions like “why are all the pages stuck together.” She knows what she’s doing: trying to embarrass Joel. And then, just like in the game, she screams “Buh-bye dudes!” as she throws it out of the window.
Many people were wondering if this iconic scene would make it into the show, and to the delight of many of us, it did! This scene made our own Erika from the Watching Now: The Last of Us podcast, The Rest of Us, cry with happiness! Lily, Erika, and Nick are with you weekly to give you breakdowns, insights, and great theories and reactions wherever you get your podcasts on Tuesdays and on Youtube on Wednesdays. You may even catch some tears!
As dusk approaches, they drive off the highway to the woods to set up camp for the night. Joel explains that, although infected are dangerous, they don’t venture from the cities often and people are the more worrisome threat. Urgh. Zombie shows (not technically zombies here but bear with me) become tedious when people become the danger. When zombies become the annoyance and not the threat, that’s when you lose me.
They go to sleep. Well, Ellie does. Joel can’t sleep, worried about what’s out there, hiding in the darkness.
After brewing a pot of coffee, they get back on the road. We learn about Tommy’s backstory, Joel explaining that he’s a “joiner.” He joined the army before Outbreak Day, he and Joel joined a group that included Tess in the early days of the pandemic and then he joined the Fireflies. This could be interpreted in a couple of different ways. He could be someone who joins causes to fight and make a difference. He could also be someone searching for a place in the world. I think it’s more the latter, but it could easily be both.
Comically, Ellie falls asleep after insisting she isn’t tired, another cut taken directly from the game. When she wakes, they’ve made it to Kansas City, Missouri.
But there’s a problem. The road is blocked and there’s not an apparent diversion around. Even more suspicious is that the road looks clear for miles on the other side of the blockage. I don’t like this, Joel! By the looks of it, neither does he but they decide to turn around, head through the city and pick the highway up on the other side. I’ve got my Admiral Ackbar soundboard ready.
A little way into the city, they stop as a seemingly injured man approaches the vehicle asking for help.
It’s a trap! That didn’t take long!
Luckily, Joel was wise to it and they quickly buckle-up and floor it. The man wasn’t injured after all; he had friends, shooting and throwing projectiles at Joel and Ellie’s truck, obscuring the windscreen. Joel crashes into a laundromat.
They’re under siege but at least they have some cover and their position is semi-defensible. Joel spots a hole in the wall and tells Ellie to take cover, staying low and quiet, quickly. She does as he asks but keeps a close eye on him from her hidey-hole. Joel takes out two attackers with his rifle but a third gets the jump on him. It looks like he’s done for.
Ellie emerges, shooting the third attacker, a very young man who begs for his mom and asks them to spare him. There’s a similar mechanic in the game’s remake where wounded enemies beg for their life. He’s just a kid, but Joel won’t take any chances. He sends Ellie away and finishes him off. Damn, that’s brutal! They escape to the next building before reinforcements arrive and see the carnage left behind.
In Kansas City’s FEDRA base of operations (remember those government types?), a woman is conducting an interrogation. Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) is attempting to ascertain who snitched on her brother, causing his death at the hands of FEDRA who appear to have been overthrown by the people. The man was her doctor and she was threatening him like he meant nothing to her. Cold as ice, she is willing to sacrifice… her doctor to get the answers she needs. To find out where Henry is.
The namedrop of Henry is exciting for fans of the game but his character will change substantially from the game if he’s a rat! He had an important role to play in the journey of Ellie and Joel.
Kathleen is called outside because men have retrieved the ambusher’s bodies from the laundromat. She’s greeted by her second in command (Jeffrey Pierce), looking like a boss, rocking a grey beard, flak jacket, and carrying an assault rifle. Not only is it great to have Jeffrey Pierce on screen who voices Joel’s brother Tommy in the games, but his character is someone I’d love to have on my side in an apocalypse. Badass.
One of the ambushers from the laundromat is alive, but, unfortunately, he won’t survive his wounds. Kathleen re-enters the FEDRA base of operations and executes her family doctor in retaliation for her fallen brethren. What’s up, Doc? Nothing. You’re dead.
She tells her people to spread out, to search everywhere to find Ellie, Joel and Henry, who she assumes must be working together.
Joel and Ellie hide out from the search parties. Joel tries to take responsibility from Ellie for the young man’s death, making it clear that she only wounded him. It was Joel that killed him. This is a rare moment where Joel is compassionate towards Ellie, taking away some of her emotional burdens.
After a lesson in gun use, he lets Ellie keep the gun she had sequestered from Frank’s desk. Although he doesn’t want her to use it, he trusts her to decide when it’s the right time to take action. Surprisingly, he’s not angry that she had it in the first place.
When the search parties disperse, Joel and Ellie head towards the tallest apartment building to reorient themselves.
Kathleen and her right-hand man search an attic in an abandoned building in the QZ. It’s clear that someone’s been living there because there are empty food cans and mattresses on the floor. There are some pictures that look to have been drawn by a child, mostly of superheroes. The occupants are no longer there.
But that’s not the only thing the right-hand man has found. On the ground floor in a service room, he shows Kathleen the cracked floor. They look worried but it’s not clear… OMG, THAT’S WHY. WHAT’S MOVING UNDER THERE?!?
Right now, they’ve got other things to deal with, so they leave and shut the door. If they ignore it, it might go away, right? Right? The coolest man in Kansas City’s QZ still looks disturbed, so I’m with him. If you can worry this man, we are all in trouble.
Ellie and Joel enter the tall apartment building and start the long, arduous climb to as far as Joel’s old legs can take him. He’s 56 years old, and everything just hurts. On the way up, Joel confides that he knew they were about to be ambushed earlier because he’s been on both sides. Tess and Joel had to do what was necessary to survive. He doesn’t respond when Ellie asks how many innocents he’s killed.
Joel is tired. They’ve climbed far enough. Breaking into an apartment, they set up for the night. Joel lays glass near the door to ensure he’ll hear anyone approaching in the night. As they go to sleep, Ellie tells another joke from her pun book. It’s about poop, so of course, Joel laughs. Who can resist a poop joke? It’s a groundbreaking, heartwarming moment between the two and it shows that they’re starting to like each other.
They fall asleep, this time both of them. But it was a mistake.
Ellie shouts Joel’s name. When he wakes, he sees they’re held at gunpoint, Ellie by a stern-looking man and Joel by a child in superhero facepaint. Sound familiar?
This was an episode to establish what’s to come. The payoff should be excellent. All of the pieces are in place for an all-out war with the people of the Kansas City QZ and, who knows, maybe even something scary emerging from the creepy pulsating room.
We get the beginning of the formation of the father-daughter-like relationship between Joel and Ellie. They have started to like and feel protective of each other. It’s this attachment that’s going to put Joel in a sticky situation later, but it’s welcome character development.
My question: where are all of the infected? We’re told they don’t go into rural areas, but not even in the city? This episode barely registered on my “I’m freaked out” meter with the only occurrence being the weird undulating concrete. That’s two episodes in a row without an infected presence. It’s not scratching that itch.
Kansas City covers different ground from that in the game, but the changes for the show have been for the better. Pittsburgh was the setting for the game and it’s a lengthy section of gameplay starting with the ambush. The story beats are similar, but instead of hunters that want to steal supplies from other survivors, this group of people from the Kansas City QZ want justice for the wrongful death of one of their own. It’s more compelling and hasn’t relied on tons of encounters where we see Joel kill over twenty men. I found it hard to see him kill the kid, so I understand why we need to keep Joel’s murderous tendencies to a minimum. There are definitely sections from Pittsburgh that I’d like to see but as this is a setup episode, I’ll wait and see where the next episode takes us.
Soup Rank: 8/10