I think I’m starting to detect a pattern.
Each week, The Last of Us will give us a tender, heartbreaking backstory about some compelling new characters and then they slaughter them in front of our eyes.
RIP Tess, Frank & Bill, and this week… Well, let’s get into it.
We open with the victory celebration of the Free Kansas City movement. They’ve successfully overthrown the tyrannical FEDRA troops that were controlling the QZ, and the people are whooping it up like they just overthrew Saddam Hussein. FEDRA troops are being beaten to death with clubs and their bodies are dragged behind trucks. Kathleen has rounded up all the known informants and collaborators and crammed them in a cell where she gloats at them. Wow, must suck to be you now, huh? Bet you never thought you’d be on this side of the cell when you sold us out! She promises that she’ll go easy on them – just a little time in jail – if they tell her where Henry is.
Kathleen is obsessed with Henry since he’s the one who ratted out her brother and got him killed. No one is willing to speak out until she starts to leave and tells Perry, her number two, to kill them. Then someone shouts out that Henry is with Eldlestein, the doctor that Kathleen killed last episode. Kathleen leaves to go find them, and then tells Perry to kill them all anyway.
Meanwhile, Eldlestein is showing Henry (Lamar Johnson) and his little brother Sam (Keivonn Montreal Woodard) to a little attic hiding place. (Last week I thought Sam was his son. My bad) They only have a bit of food and jerky between them, and if they ration it out it will last about 11 days. Sam is deaf, communicating with his brother through sign language and a peel-up writing slate. Henry does his best to keep him calm, telling him that he needs him to decorate the loft. Sam’s eyes light up as Henry pulls a big bag of crayons out of his pack and tells him to get to work. The performances of Sam and Henry are lovely. You can feel the care and concern between the two of them and it feels completely natural.
After ten days, they’re out of food and Eldlestein has been captured. They need to get out of the loft and find a way out of town. They’re just about to leave when they see the shootout from last week, where Joel gets ambushed but still manages to kill his attackers. Henry gets a new plan. Follow that guy and get him to help. And that brings the episode up to where we left off last week, with Joel and Ellie getting rudely awakened with guns pointed at them. (We now know that those guns are empty, having been used to escape from Kathleen’s troops.)
Henry knows why they came up into the tower. They want to scout out a route out of town. Well, he knows the city, and if Joel can keep them safe, he’ll show them his secret escape route. Henry’s plan is to go through the underground tunnels that connect the buildings and that will get them outside of Kathleen’s territory that’s bounded by the interstate highways. There’s only one tiny flaw in that plan. Henry asks them if they notice anything odd about Kansas City, and he points out that there are no infected on the streets. FEDRA rounded them all up and shoved them into underground tunnels, just like the ones they have to walk through. (Oh hey, one guess why that basement was bucking and heaving in the last episode.)
As far as Henry knows, they’re locked up nice and tight, so they should have no problems at all! Joel grumbles, but figures that the odds are better with zombies than Kathleen’s Mad Max Militia out roaming the streets. Henry notes that he’s the most wanted man in the city, and Joel is probably number two. Henry explains what happened here. The Kansas City FEDRA were renowned as being vicious monsters, even by the standards of FEDRA, and after 20 years of clamping down, the resistance movement led by Kathleen’s brother took them out. Henry admired and looked up to him, but then Sam got leukemia. FEDRA had the medicine to cure him, and Henry had to trade something big to get it. The leader of the resistance. That explains a little more about why Kathleen is so single-minded about finding him. It wasn’t just her brother; he was their leader and Henry needs to be made an example of. (Kathleen later admits that her brother told her to forgive Henry, but she can’t.)
Meanwhile, Ellie is introducing Sam to the joys of the awful puns in her joke book, No Pun Intended, Volume Too. Henry comments that it’s the first time he’s heard him laugh in ages. Sam and Ellie are quickly bonding, laughing, and joking. Sam is teaching her some rudimentary signs, and Ellie is reading comic books to him, like the one they find in a basement bunker called Savage Starlight, with its motto, “Endure and Survive.” (While looking up the name of the comic online, I found out that these are actually collectible items in the game, so Sam and Ellie telling each other which issues they have is a cute little Easter egg for the gamers.)
They trek through the tunnels, and whaddya know, it actually goes pretty smoothly! No infected! No militiamen! They are walking through the streets on the outskirts of town and Henry is about ready to bust out singing when shots start to ring out. A sniper in a house has them pinned down, and he radios to Kathleen that he has them. Joel manages to sneak into the house and kill him, but it’s too late. The militia is on the way.
They pull up in a convoy, with a bulldozer clearing out old cars and almost running over Ellie. Joel manages to shoot the driver in time, causing the truck to veer into a building and explode from a fuel leak. But, now Kathleen has Henry and Sam and Ellie surrounded. Henry asks her to let the kids go, but she refuses. See, the girl was with the guy that killed Bryan, and Sam’s the reason Henry betrayed them in the first place. And really, maybe Sam should have died. Nothing says he gets to survive.
Henry tells Ellie to get ready to run off with Sam. He’s going to surrender himself and buy them some time. Henry comes out, hands up, ready to face Kathleen. Kathleen’s about to kill him when the burning plow starts to sink into the ground. Growls and squeals start to emerge, followed by a swarm of infected zombies rampaging everywhere. This includes one giant one that looks a lot like Bane from the Batman movies. (Online research tells me this is a bloater. I have no idea what that means, just that he looks scary AF.)
The scene devolves into utter chaos. The big zombie tears Perry’s head clean off. The militiamen start firing at everything. Zombies are running everywhere, chewing on anyone they get close to. From his perch, Joel picks off zombies that are getting too close to Ellie. Sam and Henry are hiding under a car, frantically kicking away zombies and I have no idea how they aren’t getting bitten. Ellie uses her trusty switchblade to stab their attackers and Joel snipes them to finish them off. Our trio make it out of the field of fire and are about to get away when Kathleen pops back up and yells at them to stop. She’s about to shoot them but has a moment of hesitation. Perhaps she’s thinking about her brother’s call for forgiveness? Perhaps it really is a bigger deal to gun down children than she lets on. Whatever the reason, that moment allows one of the zombies – a flippy little acrobat that had chased Ellie into a truck earlier – to leap on her and eat her. RIP Kathleen, it’s a shame we aren’t getting you as a recurring villain.
After their narrow escape, our heroes make it to an old motel where they hole up for the night. Joel and Henry chat in one room, while new best friends Sam and Ellie read more of their comics in the other. Joel invites Henry to come to Wyoming, even though they’re going to be walking. Meanwhile, Sam asks Ellie on his slate if she’s ever scared. After a couple of bravado answers, Ellie confesses that she’s scared all the time. (She tries to play that off as a joke about scorpions, but I think that’s closer to the truth.)
Sam writes “If you turn into a monster, is it still you inside?” He then pulls up his pant leg and shows that he has been bitten. Ah jeez. I knew there was no way he got out from under that car without getting bit.
Ellie furiously starts writing on his slate that her blood is medicine. She shows him her own bite mark, then cuts her hand and presses the blood against his leg. She promises to sit up with him through the night to keep an eye on him. Ellie is desperate to help, but it does not seem like this is going to work. Still, Sam is a sweet kid and he had leukemia so maybe the writers could not wrench on our heartstrings quite so hard?
Ha ha! No. Ellie wakes up after falling asleep in her chair. Sam is sitting on the edge of the bed, and when Ellie goes to check on him, he turns on her and snarls. Her cries bring Joel and Henry into the room, and when they see Sam on top of Ellie trying to bite her, they both know the deal. Joel raises his gun, but Henry stops him and then shoots Sam himself. (It’s just like Old Yeller. Henry had to do it.) Henry is so distraught by this, that after everything he did and sacrificed to save Sam on so many occasions only to have him get infected anyway, he then shoots himself.
After they bury Sam and Henry, Ellie is all business. She asks Joel which way is west and then starts off, Joel trailing behind. The joyfulness and sweetness of her early scenes with Sam are long gone, and after another day of death and despair, a little more of her humanity is as well.
This week was a LOT and it really played on the audience’s sympathies and expectations. Henry is presented as a sympathetic character, but he sold out his friend to save his brother. Kathleen is presented as a brutal and vindictive leader, but she’s just standing up for her people against petty tyrants. Sam is a complete innocent, but was he worth betraying the resistance movement for, since even if he beats leukemia he isn’t going to have a long life span?
We are told repeatedly that the FEDRA troops in KC were absolute monsters who would intimidate people with torture and rape. However, we never see any of that. We do see Kathleen and her troops commit many atrocities – the murder of POWs, the use of state power to commit brutal personal vengeance, and hunting down innocent passers-by – so the audience’s sympathies are turned against them. Maybe everyone she ordered to be shot was a rat and a collaborator, but we heard last week and this week that FEDRA was manipulating desperate people with threats of death and by withholding life-saving medicine. And also, FEDRA actually did a good job of keeping the infected contained! Once FEDRA fell, no one was around to maintain the underground pens, and…whoops. It’s almost as though the message here is “Fascism is good because it keeps the streets safe.” Which is… not great.
The episode really dives into the humanity of the characters, and the limits they go to to try and preserve some shred of normalcy. However, they are verging on the edge of being trauma porn. They are detailing the apocalypse, so I am not expecting fields of bunnies. I would like to go a week without seeing a character get developed into fully three dimensions only to be torn in half by a bloater zombie.
The previews for next week promise a reunion with Joel’s brother, Tommy. Let’s see if he makes it out alive.
4 out of 5
LINE OF THE WEEK:
Henry: That’s a weird fucking tone, man.
Ellie: That’s just the way he sounds, he has an asshole voice.
Ellie sassing Joel is fast becoming one of my favorite things.