Remember last week, when I said that The Last of Us was settling into a pattern? Where they’d show us the heartbreaking backstory of a character, and then kill them? (RIP Tess, Bill, Frank, Henry, Kathleen, and…sigh… poo little Sam) Well, you’ll be happy to know that they’re changing it up this week!
Three months after burying Henry and Sam (and after a brief stop to get directions out of Graham Greene in a nice cameo), Ellie and Joel finally make it to Wyoming. While Ellie is coming into her own in the trip, Joel is looking rough. He’s having chest pains that he’s trying to hide from Ellie, he looks haggard and worn down and he’s falling asleep on his watch. I love this show, but their foreshadowing can be as subtle as a Bloater Zombie.
They cross the River of Death – so named by Graham Greene and his wife because anyone who heads west across it comes floating back dead – and get captured by a bunch of cowboys. This is the welcome wagon from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Before they’ll take them in, they have to let their fungus-sniffing dog check them for infection. This leads to an incredibly tense moment where the dog approaches Ellie, and Joel is frozen, unable to think of a good excuse to tell them why Ellie should be left alone. But, Ellie passes the test, the only penalty being licks from the puppy. I have no idea why she passed the test. Either her infection level is too low to detect or else the dog was just a bluff – figuring people would try to run if they were infected.
They get in to the walled compound of Jackson Hole, and… It’s super nice. The town has lights and electricity because they got the dam running again. They’re decorating for Christmas! There’s fresh food, alcohol, hot water, and a stable communist government (literally, as they explain, because it’s a commune). And Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) is here! They hug! Tommy is genuinely happy to see him! He introduces them to his wife, Maria (Rutina Wesley), one of the council members in town.
It all seems great! Like too good to be true great. This show has gotten me so conditioned to expect disaster that I was sure there’d be a Shirley Jackson twist at the end, where the town is kept safe by sacrificing a 13-year-old girl to the Mountain God once a year or something. But no. They’re just a nice little mountain town, with sheep and horses. After showing Ellie the newest horse, a two year old named Shimmer, Maria takes her off to get settled in and let Joel and Tommy have some bro time.
Tommy takes Joel to the bar in town, and asks him how Tess is and what’s the deal with the girl. Not entirely sold on the town, and not sure how much he can trust Maria, Joel lies. He tells him Tess is fine, and Ellie is the daughter of some Firefly higher up and they need to get her to the Firefly Base. Tommy tells him it’s on the campus of the University of Eastern Colorado, about a week’s ride south, but it’s a rough trek. The land is full of raiders and the infected. Joel shrugs it off. He made it all the way across the country, the two of them can make it to Colorado. Tommy shakes his head. He can’t go, he has a new life here. This angers Joel. Is that why he went radio silent? Because Maria wouldn’t let him talk? Joel gets very defensive, feeling like he’s being judged for his past, and all the things he had to do to keep them alive, which Tommy reminds him weren’t just things, but actual people they murdered. And Tommy isn’t judging anyone. They kept alive the only way they knew how. And that’s not all. He and Maria have a kid on the way.
This is making Tommy scared, since he has no idea if he’ll be a good father. Which is about as easy a softball as you can toss to someone in a conversation. But Joel wants no part of it. “Guess we’ll find out.” Remind me not to invite you to the baby shower. This, of course, pisses off Tommy. Just because life stopped for you, he tells him, doesn’t mean it has to stop for everyone. Which is a reference to Joel’s daughter (and Tommy’s niece!) and a very low blow.
This is a very believable argument. Family members grow in different ways and the person you expect to find after some time apart may not be the person you get to meet. Of course it’s completely rational of Tommy, a newly married man with a baby due soon, to not want to ride off into a land full of infected and raiders! And of course Joel is expecting to reunite with his brother, the ex-firefly, the guy he raised hell with and who he bailed out of jail! And of course brothers know exactly what to say to anger each other the most.
Meanwhile, Ellie is coming out after a luxurious, hot shower, washing off three months of travel and dirt. She finds a pile of new clothes on her bed, along with a note from Maria to meet her at her place across the street. And also a diaphragm, so, cool i guess? (Which also made me think that the town secret was a weird sex thing. Damn, this show is just programming me to not expect a moment of joy.) She heads over to Maria’s place, and above a roaring fire, she sees a memorial to two people. Maria, while trimming Ellie’s split ends, tells her that Tommy set that up it’s for Sarah (Joel’s daughter), dead at 13, and Kevin, Maria’s son, dead at 3. This is the first time Ellie has learned that Joel had a daughter, and you can see the pennies drop for her. Maria knows Ellie isn’t telling them everything, but tells her that’s good. She shouldn’t trust people. The only ones who can betray you are people you trust. (There it is! That’s the true TLOU spirit!)
Later on, the town is having a movie night. They are watching Richard Dreyfuss’ Oscar willing turn in The Goodbye Girl. (I am reminded of a tweet I saw which mentioned that all pop culture stopped in 2003 for this world, so these poor people never got a chance to see Shrek 2.) While the movie is on, Joel tries to patch up his shredded boots with duct tape. I’m sure 3M isn’t making any more tape in the apocalypse, so I have to wonder how effective 20-year-old tape is going to be. Tommy spares him from finding out by bringing in a brand new pair of boots for him as a peace offering. After they make their apologies, Joel tells him everything. Ellie might have a cure and it’s vital they get her to the Firefly base. And Joel is getting more tired and guilt ridden every day. If Ellie hadn’t shot that kid in Kansas City, he’d be dead. He’s still filled with guilt over failing his daughter in Austin. He’s getting panic attacks that are literally stopping his heart. He needs Tommy to take her to Colorado because he doesn’t trust himself to make it. Tommy agrees.
Joel goes to tell Ellie, but she already knows. She overheard them after she left the screening. She’s rightly mad at Joel. She doesn’t know Tommy. The only person she trusts is Joel. She start’s to tell him she’s sorry about his daughter but Joel stops her. You know nothing about loss. This pisses her off, since everyone she’s ever known and cared about has either died or left her. This is some really shitty behavior on Joel’s part. Literally everyone in this world has experienced heartbreaking loss, and he knows it. I know he’s trying to make her want to leave him, like he’s yelling go ‘way, git, at a dog he’s chading away, but it’s still hurtful.
Tommy comes the next morning to get her, and they march to the stables, only to find Joel there, saddling up a horse. He tells Ellie that she has earned the right to choose, and she instantly picks Joel. Tommy gives them directions and lets them out though the gate. And now I can exhale. They made it through the Too Good To Be True Town without any horrifying surprises. I can now fully relax and enjoy the last five minutes of the episode as they make their way to Colorado.
The five day trip is extremely quiet! No infected, no raiders, just open road. The finally get to the Campus and find…
The fireflies are gone. They have packed up and left. I’m starting to think that Boston was the only active chapter in the country.
The only things on campus are some monkeys running about that Joel guesses were once part of the research lab. They find a map, with a bunch of pins heading towards Salt Lake City. They guess that that is the new muster point for the Fireflies.
They’re about to hit the road, when they spot a band of raiders. Guess Tommy was right after all. They sneak out the back, but one of the raiders spots them. He swings a baseball bat at Joel and misses, shattering it on the tree the horse is tied to. Joel wrestles him into submission and breaks his neck, but not before the raider jabbed the broken bat handle into Joel’s gut. It’s in deep, and the wound is bloody. Ellie gets him on the horse and they ride off, the other raiders chasing them until Ellie fires a few rounds at them.
They make it out of town, and Ellie doesn’t see anyone following them. Just then, Joel falls off the horse and slumps to the ground. Ellie jumps off and tries to revive him, but to no avail. Joel closes his eyes as the camera pulls out and the scene fades to black.
What the fuck…
If Joel is dead, then this is the most shocking midseason twist in an HBO show since the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones. I almost expected the Rains of Castemere to start playing at the end instead of Depeche Mode. It’s a complete misdirect, much like with Sam last week, where he survives so much only to get killed in a mundane way. It’s a completely unexpected turn. (At least for me, the non-gamer). I mean, I expected Tess to die. She wasn’t on the poster. But Joel was!
This was such a good episode for the interplay between Joel and Ellie. Ellie joking with him, sharing their dreams (She wants to be an astronaut like Sally Ride, Joel wants to be a singer), and helping each other out. (The way she growls “The Contractor” after learning about Joel’s pre-apocalypse job, like she’s reading the ad copy for a Jason Statham movie…) And now poor Ellie is on her own, having to get to Salt Lake City to meet the Fireflies without her protector.
Well played, The Last of Us. No one is safe, and you mean it.
I continue to be impressed with Bella Ramsey’s performance each week, able to go from laughing kid to serious to scared all in the same scene. She’d better get some Emmy love come September.
Next week looks to be a flashback, showing how Ellie growing up at the QZ school in Boston. A trip to the mall is promised, so we may see how Ellie got bit and found out she was immune.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Was going to go lower, but that was a ballsy ending.
Line of the Week: Marlon (Graham Greene) If you got a map, why are you lost?
Ellie: Must’ve missed all the street signs in the enormous fucking forest.
Never change, Ellie.