After last week’s tearful interlude with Bill and Frank, The Last of Us dives right back into horror. And road trips. And terrible, terrible puns. And the real enemy out there. Not the fungus, but the humans left behind. (the Last of Us, if you will)
Ellie is in the bathroom of a gas station, examining the gun she stole from Frank’s nightstand. She’s practicing her quick draw moves like she’s Ralphie with his Red Ryder BB gun, but it’s clear from the way she ejects the magazine and checks the chamber that she’s handled weapons before. She still hides it from Joel in her backpack.
Joel is siphoning gas from abandoned cars outside, which they have to do quite a lot. The gas is so old it’s almost water at this point, but it’s better than walking to Wyoming. Ellie tries to bond with Joel by telling him groaners from the only book she has: No Pun Intended, Too by Will Livingston. (Too? Instead of Two? Get it?) This is making me feel retroactively bad for all the road trips I went on with my parents when I forced them to listed to my Weird Al cassettes.
The drive is pretty smooth at first. The road is open, which frankly surprised me given the state of the roads around Boston. (Joel says something about the army clearing the roads with plows, but that’s a lot of road to clear off) They settle into the rhythms of a road trip — Hank Williams on the stereo, falling asleep after saying you’re not even tired, finding an inappropriate magazine in the back seat (a porno mag from Bill and Frank’s collection, which leads Ellie to ask “how does he even walk around with that thing?”) — and all goes well.
Until they hit Kansas City.
A mass of cars is blocking a tunnel through the city. (Guess FEDRA didn’t get everything clear!) And from the looks of the bodies in the seats, they’ve been there a while. This forces them off the highway and into the city, And that’s where everything goes to shit.
They get lost in the maze of streets. Ellie notices what should be the local QZ, except there are no FEDRA guards anywhere. And that’s when they get ambushed. A decoy asks for help, and when Joel speeds around him, the windshield gets hit with a cinder block, and he drives over a nail strip then crashes into a store front. They get pinned down by gunfire, with his attackers telling him to just give them his stuff, and he’ll get out, no problem. (Yeah, right.) He covers Ellie while she elbow crawls to a hole in the wall to hide. (Again, from the elbow crawl, it’s real clear that she’s had some training) Joel kills one from across the street, and then gets the other one when he comes closer. However, he misses the last one, who gets the drop on him and starts to choke him with his shotgun barrel. Joel is choking and wheezing and looks overmatched, but then Ellie sneaks over and shoots the attacker in the back.
He’s not dead, just wounded, and it sounds like Ellie got his spine since he starts crying that his legs don’t work. He’s young, not a lot older than Ellie, and he begs for his life. His name is Bryan, and they can have his knife, just go get his mom, please…
It’s one thing in a game or a movie to mow down faceless attackers, and these guys were trying to kill Joel and Ellie. But it’s certainly another to kill a defenseless person. Even if that’s what is called for, because that kid would surely sound the alarm and get more marauders after them. Joel takes her gun sends Ellie back behind the wall. Then he picks up Bryan’s knife.
Kansas City is now “free.” A resistance militia movement has defeated FEDRA and now runs the city. They’re led by Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey), who certainly has no qualms about exacting bloody vengeance on the FEDRA “collaborators” who gave tips to the soldiers. Her own brother was killed by them after someone ratted him out. She is focused, to say the least. She is about to shoot her old family doctor in the head, since he was an informant, when a convoy pulls up with the bodies Joel and Ellie left behind. Bryan is still hanging in there, but he’s a goner. (I am assuming that Kathleen is the mom he was referring to) Kathleen asks if a doctor could help, and the medic shakes his head no. So she goes back to the doctor’s cell and shoots him.
She is quick to blame Henry, who is somewhere in the city. She’s sure that he’s the one who tipped off FEDRA about her brother. She orders everyone to start searching the city, house by house, until they find him.
Meanwhile, Joel and Ellie are holed up in a bar, waiting until the cars fan out, so they can go hide in the highest building in town and try to find a route out. Joel takes this time to try and talk to Ellie about what happened, with her shooting a guy. With stammers and false starts, he tries to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, that last guy got the drop on him and that shouldn’t have happened. Ellie tells him he’s not very good at this. Joel asks her where she learned to use a gun. FEDRA school. She asks if he had to shoot people before, even innocent ones. He gruffly says that they did what they had to do to survive. Ellie admits that wasn’t the first time she had to hurt someone, but she doesn’t want to talk about it, and then she starts to cry.
Again, it’s a great performance by Bella Ramsey. She’s playing Ellie as tough and sassy, trying to crack jokes and act wise, but it covers for someone who has been damaged by her environment. (I mean, if you spend your entire life running from the mushroom monsters and FEDRA goons, how could you not have some trauma?) This is one of the few times she’s let that trauma seep through.
Joel tells her a little about his brother, Tommy, calling him a “joiner.” He joined the army for Desert Storm back in the day, but it didn’t make him feel very heroic. He joined the Fireflies, again hoping to make a difference, but apparently that didn’t work out either. So now he’s on his own. He gives Ellie her gun back and tells her to keep it in her pack. She doesn’t, of course, and puts it in her coat pocket.
Kathleen gets an update from her number two. They found where Henry was holed up. It’s an attic, covered with kid’s drawings of two black men as supermen, flying through the air. Kathleen sees the pile of empty cans on the floor and realizes that they’re out of food. Henry won’t let his son, Sam, starve, so she orders the men to guard all the provision stockpiles. On the way out, her second takes her to a back room to show her something. The floor is heaving and buckling. I’m not an architect or anything, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what people mean when they talk about buildings “settling.” Pretty sure that’s a sign of the fungus coming out. Kathleen tells him to lock the building off and that they’ll tell everyone once Henry is caught.
Joel and Ellie make it to the tower and start up the stairs. They’ll get as high as Joel’s 56-year-old knees can carry them and then they’ll camp out. They get to floor 33 out of 45 (which is a lot better than I would have done). Joel is laying some glass down on the floor as a warning to wake them should anyone show up. Ellie asks if the crunch will wake him up, since she’s noticed he doesn’t hear so good out of his right ear. A consequence of all the gunfire he’s lived through. He tells her to stick to her switchblade if she wants to keep her hearing.
As they settle in for the night on some old office couch cushions, Ellie asks him if he knew that diarrhea was hereditary? Joel is confused. What? Yeah, says Ellie, it runs in your jeans!
Another stupid pun from Will Livingston. But even though Joel calls it the stupidest thing he’s ever heard, he starts to laugh. This might be the first time Joel has smiled this entire series! Including the flashbacks to the before times! They drift off to sleep. Maybe things will be okay!
Or maybe not. Ellie tries to wake Joel, who is sleeping on his right side, meaning his bad ear is up. When she finally gets him awake, he sees they aren’t alone. Henry and Sam are there, and Henry is pointing a gun at them.
And that’s where we end.
One thing I really like about this show is the way kids still try to be normal kids, despite everything else going on. Ellie has her joke book. Sam likes to draw. You know, normal stuff! Not like basic weapons training. Even in the darkest times, a poop joke can still make you laugh.
I’m also looking forward to seeing the contrast between Henry and Sam and Joel and Ellie. Two adults with kids, trying to stay alive. (And again, since it’s just Joel and Ellie on the poster, I don’t have high hopes for Henry and Sam.) Also looking forward to more Melanie Lynskey, She didn’t get a lot to do this week, but I’d wager we’ll see a lot more of her as she obsessively tracks down Henry. You don’t hire a solid actress like her and not give her some excellent scenes.
We’ll be back here on Friday. HBO announced that next week’s episode would air a little early so as not to conflict with the Super Bowl. Which is good! Because I was definitely going to have to call in a substitute since I will be watching my beloved Eagles. #FlyEaglesFly
4 out of 5
Line of the Week: Ellie: What did the mermaid wear to math class? An algae bra!