Have you recovered yet? Have you restocked your tissues? Henry and Sam are dead and we’re all sad. But we’ve still got to move forward no matter how much we want to curl up in a corner and cry. I mean, how much further is there to fall?
We open with a quick flashback. Oh, great! I’d just moved past Henry’s death and you’ve shown it to me again! Damn you, Mazin!
Snow on the ground suggests that it’s Winter. Who’s this guy carrying the spoils of a hunt, a trio of white rabbits? The man enters his cabin and greets his wife. She motions into the darkness of the cabin as Joel (Pedro Pascal) steps out threateningly. It’s a home invasion.
The elderly couple is unperturbed by the situation, regularly throwing shade at Joel. The wife had already made soup for Joel and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who now joins them against Joel’s wishes.
Joel asks the man to show him on the map where they are. He’s already asked his wife and is using the man as confirmation. He uses this trick in the games but with a more violent, unhappy ending. Satisfied that they’ve told him the truth, he asks if they’ve seen his brother, Tommy (Gabriel Luna). They haven’t and warn him about crossing a nearby river. Nobody returns from there.
That’s where they need to search for Tommy. Joel looks genuinely scared and the couple knows it. Ellie and Joel exit the cabin, stealing a rabbit on the way out.
Joel? You ok, bud? He’s having a small panic attack, a chink in his usually sturdy armor.
That night, our protagonists talk about the future whilst Joel repairs his boot with duct tape. Got to love duct tape! They share a drink of alcohol (it tastes nasty) and Ellie says she’d like to be an astronaut. Good luck! She also confesses that she tried to cure Sam’s infection by mixing her blood into his wound – a futile effort. Weirdly not angry, Joel theorizes that any cure from her would be more complicated.
Joel takes watch while Ellie sleeps.
Or so he thought. Our boy was so exhausted that he passed out. Ellie took sentry duty when she woke up. Joel lashes out, angry at himself for letting her down more than anything.
Time to cross the river, “The Death Bridge,” as Ellie calls it. It’s narrow and a good place for an ambush… although none arrives. They then come across a hydroelectric dam. “Dam[n]!” exclaims Ellie, her pun book obviously paying dividends. This dam is a pivotal part of the game as it’s where we reunite with Tommy, but it’s only shown from afar in the show. Having already demonstrated that he’s terrible at science, Joel doesn’t even try to explain how the power station works.
Suddenly, they’re surrounded. The ambushers ask some preliminary questions and then send in a dog. As we discovered in the first episode, dogs are good infection detectors. Joel is first up and is clear. But Ellie? How’s man’s best friend going to react? She’s infected but, also…not?
Joel has another panic attack before he hears Ellie playing with the dog. Phew! We could have had a Cujo moment there! Joel confirms his name to the ambusher’s leader and they agree to take them in. So much for “Death Bridge.”
Ellie and Joel enter Jackson. It almost looks like normal life, a life before the outbreak! Jackson is bustling with people, a seemingly safe haven in the world. It looks exactly like Jackson in the second game (we don’t really see it in the first).
Who’s that? TOMMY! YES!!! Finally, something Joel can be happy about! He’s found his brother safe and sound. A heart-warming hug occurs between the estranged kin (yep, I just said the name of the episode. I’m proud of myself).
Joel, Tommy, Ellie, and Maria (Rutina Wesley) eat in a dining hall. Joel and Ellie are ravenous and manners are secondary to devouring the best meal they’ve had in years. Ellie snaps at an onlooker who is staring at the pair of new arrivals. It looks like a young version of Dina, who we meet in the second game, but I’m unsure. I think it’s just a carrot for speculation and it’s worked!
Joel wants a private chat with family, but Tommy reveals that Maria is family. She’s his new wife. Wait, what’s the timeline here? How long has it been since Joel set off from Boston since Tommy went missing from his post in Wyoming? Tommy works fast!
They go for a tour of Jackson. Maria reveals that one of Joel’s assumptions is wrong. The infected have, in fact, started venturing out of the cities and into the wilderness. This excites me for things to come, hopefully setting up events later in the season. A last easter egg is introduced in the form of a horse called Shimmer which, again, is prominent in the second game.
Joel and Tommy finally get some alone time. The last time Tommy heard from the Fireflies (remember them?), they were holed up in the University of Eastern Colorado (UoEC), a fictional college created for the game. Tommy shares that he’s going to be a father. Joel makes a snide remark, questioning his parental abilities, which did not go down well.
Joel exits the bar and sees someone who looks like Sarah from behind. It triggers another panic attack. Poor Joel. All this loss has caught up with him.
Ellie is at Maria’s house where she finds a memorial to her son Kevin and Sarah, who she assumes was also her child. Maria confirms that she was Joel’s daughter, which silences Ellie. Why hadn’t Joel told her? Ellie receives new clothes and a haircut before heading to the movies. This place is unreal compared to everywhere else we’ve seen.
Joel tries to repair his boots again but to no avail. Tommy thoughtfully brings him a new pair. It’s then that Joel confides in Tommy. Ellie is immune. She’s so damn important to the world and Joel doesn’t feel good enough. He’s not a good enough person, and he’s old and broken, half-deaf and creaking. He’ll get himself, Ellie, or, most likely, both of them killed. He’s scared of losing the most important thing in his life: Ellie.
Pedro Pascal acts the crap out of this scene. It’s Joel’s tipping point. It’s odd to see such an emotional display from Joel, a stoic character in the games, almost cold. But this was terrific to see in the show. He asks Tommy to take her to the UoEC in his place. Tommy refuses because Maria is pregnant, another departure from the games but a hell of a good reason for Tommy to refuse. But, in the end, he relents.
Unfortunately, Ellie overheard a lot of that conversation. Awkward! Back at the house, she argues with Joel, raging that he’s going to ditch her. She said to Sam in the last episode that her worst fear is to end up alone and now the last person who has ever stuck with her is leaving. She mentions Sarah, which instantly puts Joel’s barriers back up. He affirms that they aren’t father and daughter, so they should just go their separate ways.
Come on, guys! That’s enough! You care about each other!
In the morning, Tommy collects Ellie and takes her to the stables. To both of their surprise, Joel is still there. He didn’t get very far. In a moment of clarity, he decided to give Ellie the choice of who…
Ellie chooses Joel and that’s that. The brothers say their goodbyes, but he’ll always have a home in Jackson.
Our dysfunctional pairing makes their way toward the University where the Fireflies are supposed to be. Weirdly, the journey is accompanied by the music from the end credits of the game. It was jarring for me, but it fit the scene well.
On the way to UoEC, Joel teaches Ellie how to shoot a rifle. She blames the gun for her bad aim, but Joel demonstrates that she’s wrong with perfect aim.
When we get to the University, we’re hit with a barrage of dialogue and scenes lifted directly from the game. Joel says he’d like to be a singer when it’s all over. They talk about the rules of American Football. Monkeys appear, the first time Ellie has seen any. I felt like that Leonardo DiCaprio meme, pointing at the tv repeatedly. They did/said the thing!!
To find out about more easter eggs, listen to the Watching Now: The Last of Us podcast, The Rest of Us. Lily, Erika, and Nick will be with you weekly to give you breakdowns, insights, and great theories wherever you get your podcasts on Tuesdays and on Youtube on Wednesdays.
Eventually, Ellie and Joel find a Firefly symbol, pointing them to where they need to go. Entering the marked building cautiously, they start to investigate. It looks abandoned. Aw, crap! They’ve packed up and left.
Huh, what was that noise? Joel and Ellie ascend the stairs to explore. It was just monkeys again. However, the commotion has led them to a map of the Fireflies’ exit strategy. They’re going to Salt Lake City, Utah – a new lead.
Another noise? Oh, this is worse. Four raiders are outside, about to enter. Let’s get out of here! They sneak out back to their horse and start untying it, ready to exit stage right.
A raider swings at Joel with a baseball bat and it breaks before Joel manages to subdue him in a chokehold. Go to sleep…or not. Snap goes his neck. It’s the same motion as the animation in the games when you strangle a human. But wait, there’s a problem. Joel’s been shivved with the handle of the baseball bat.
And he’s pulled it out! Don’t do that, JOEL! That’s survival 101!
They manage to mount the horse and speed away, Ellie shooting at and missing the raiding party as she goes.
A little down the road, Joel falls off the horse and Ellie is distraught. Get up! PLEASE! JOEL!
So just as we finish breaking Joel’s spirit, we break his body?! It’s unrelenting!
For the most part, I liked this episode. But I do have some criticisms.
Firstly, where’s all the combat? I know we’re trying to have a more grounded story, and I understand that we can’t have our protagonists killing people willy-nilly, but there’s a balance that should be struck. After an action-packed last episode, this one has barely any threat. Four people were armed with melee weapons and only one died! In the game, this University encounter triggered an epic revenge mission from the raiding party. Still, it’s hard to think the murder of one henchman would cause that in the show.
Secondly, this episode is the first time I’ve thought that the creators have tried to placate the game fans by lifting exact scenes and dialogue from the games and cramming them into a small space of time. The Dina carrot (although I still don’t think that’s her) and the astronaut tease sets up the next season, but I felt it was a distraction, a ploy to ensure fans of the game don’t complain about the painfully short University sequence. There’s so much lore and great combat in that level that’s been missed!
But everything in Jackson? Amazing! Tommy and Joel’s reunion was tear-jerking and the catharsis we needed after the loss of Henry and Sam. Rutina Wesley’s Maria was excellent and we learn much more about her in the show than in the games. She’s smart, a former Assistant District Attorney. It adds a depth that her character needed.
Joel’s breakdown was welcome and necessary for the audience and the character. He needed to open up to somebody to show that he cares deeply for Ellie. She, in turn, showed she cares for Joel with her outburst in the house. Guys! We’ve done it! We’ve got a dysfunctional, codependent, de facto father-daughter relationship! It’s about time.
And I’m glad they’ve set up the prospect of having infected outside of cities, too. They’re just a bit too safe. I know that sounds stupid with the amount of death we’ve seen in the series so far, but at no point in this episode did I feel that Ellie was in danger.
But Jackson feels like home. I sure hope we see it again…
Soup Rank: 7.5/10