Each week, we’ll recap the biggest moments of HBO’s The Last of Us before placing bets on the odds of survival for our favorite characters – like the sick, twisted, soulless monsters we are.
This week, The Last of Us returns to its regularly-scheduled programming. By that, we mean that the show is back to airing on Sunday nights, and it’s back to breaking our damn hearts.
In episode six’s “Kin,” Joel finally reunites with his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) and discovers an entirely different way of living exists outside of the Boston QZ. Joel’s “homecoming” isn’t as happy or as heroic as he thought it’d be which sends him into an anxiety spiral and drives a wedge between the old drifter and his traveling companion — threatening their mission and maybe even their lives.
On The Road
After reminding us of the heartbreaking ending to Henry and Sam’s storyline in episode five (rude), the show picks up sometime after Ellie and Joel escaped Kansas City. They’re officially out west now, having trekked across the country only to hold an elderly couple at gunpoint because neither of them can actually read a map. It’s cold, everything’s wet, and there’s a landmark called The River of Death that Ellie and Joel are warned to look out for so really, we can’t recommend trying this particular road trip post-apocalypse.
The time spent trudging through stark, snow-covered scapes does give the pair time to reflect on the tragedies that seem to be collecting in their wake. Ellie reveals she’s doubting whether she represents a cure for humanity because of her failed healing experiment with Sam and Joel gruffly reassures her that creating a vaccine will likely be more complicated than either of them can comprehend. Joel, for his part, isn’t as forthcoming with the memories that keep him up at night, brushing off his recent panic attacks in order to avoid facing their root cause.
Pedro Pascal is possibly one of the most likable actors on television at the moment, but rooting for Joel in this episode is difficult, especially when Ellie is so desperate to form some kind of connection with her guardian and he’s entirely closed off. He’s not her father, sure, but can he at least be her friend? His constant expression of annoyance at literally anything she does – whether it’s pestering him with questions or inviting him to dream up a future when the world is put right or even taking his watch without complaint when he falls asleep on the job – is grating, to say the least. There is a moment when they bond over their shared love of space heroes like Sally Ride and joke about dreaming of sheep ranches on the moon – which would make for a killer Ska band named, by the way — that gives you a glimpse of what their bond could look like if Joel would just pull his salt-and-pepper-haired head out of his ass but we’re never really given time to sit with it.
Instead, the pacing of a nine-episode series demands we must slog ahead, through some truly terrific dam puns to an old-fashioned, guns-drawn standoff between Joel and Ellie and a masked-up militia on horseback who are responsible for the natural landmark’s ominous nickname. They sick a scenting dog on Joel and Ellie to make sure neither is infected and the couple of tense moments before the growling mutt decides the young girl is “clean” sends Joel spiraling into another inner-existential crisis. Thankfully they pass the test and are welcomed by the group’s leader (it’s Tara from True Blood, y’all!) after Joel reveals just who it is they’re looking for.
It turns out, Commune living is the way to go should the world ever go to hell in a handbasket. Joel’s a bit bitter when he discovers this which makes his long-awaited reunion with his brother Tommy less sweet. The two laugh and cry and hug it out, but there’s resentment bubbling beneath the surface of their “hellos” and “how are yous” that’s fairly obvious. Things only get more awkward when Tommy reveals he’s married to the woman who held Joel and Ellie at gunpoint – her name’s Maria (Rutina Wesley), she used to be a district attorney, and she’s badass – and that he’s content with his life, even if Joel hasn’t been in it. It’s a weird announcement to make over the first hot meal the duo’s had in months and a slice of PUMPKIN PIE (???) but congrats, we guess? After Maria volunteers to take Ellie to get showered and changed, the brothers have it out over some top-shelf whiskey – truly, what is this place?! – and things turn sour, fast. Joel is angry that Tommy intentionally stopped responding on the radio, choosing to protect this place rather than let his only remaining family member know he was alive and okay. Tommy’s pissed that Joel can’t be happy for him, especially when he delivers the news that Maria’s pregnant. One brother is stuck in the past, the other is trying to run away from it. It’s no one’s fault but it feels particularly unfair for Joel, who’s lost Tess and suffered so much just to find someone who didn’t want to be found. As much as Tommy loves his brother, Joel is a constant reminder of all the awful sh*t he had to do to survive. He’s the embodiment of Tommy’s regret, wearing a familiar face and biting at his heels, trying to get him to acknowledge a part of himself he’s fought against since leaving Boston. It’s sad to watch both men blow up at each other rather than face their feelings of inadequacy and guilt — but we can’t say it’s surprising.
While Joel’s experiencing a full-blown family crisis, Ellie is enjoying the creature comforts girls her age took for granted pre-outbreak. She’s had a hot shower. She’s had a haircut. She’s traded up for an eggplant Parka. She’s been gifted a complimentary Diva cup. She’s experiencing what we call “luxury” for the first time … and she’s completely unsure of how she feels about it. Maria’s attempts to bond with her and impart some wisdom re- her relationship with Joel are met with some defensive posturing and the girl’s signature snark. It’s clear Tommy’s wife doesn’t view her brother-in-law in the best light, but Ellie sticks up for her traveling companion, rightly countering that whatever terrible things Joel has done, Tommy was right there along with him doing it too. Maria leaves Ellie with some prescient advice, telling the kid “The only people who can betray us are the ones we trust.”
She thinks Joel will wrong Ellie and she’s right. The more he lets himself care about Ellie, the worse his panic attacks get. He hasn’t really dealt with the death of his daughter and that trauma is starting to grow through the cracks like emotionally invasive fungi, pushing him to self-destruct in ways that hurt the ones he cares about most. He tells Tommy the girl’s secret, asking him to take her to the Fireflies in his stead because he can’t be trusted to protect her anymore. Ellie hears some of their conversation and immediately concludes that Joel is trying to ditch her. They’re still crossing wires and not picking up on each other’s shortcomings and it all devolves into a heartbreaking argument that turns nasty when Ellie brings up Sarah and Joel affirms that she’s not his daughter and he’ll never be her dad.
Woof, even post-apocalypse, break-ups are rough.
On The Road Again
Despite Tommy agreeing to guide Ellie to the Fireflies when the pair goes to leave, Joel is waiting with a saddled horse he’s been trying to convince himself to steal all night. His reluctance to leave Ellie is sweet and when she’s given the choice, she quickly decides Joel is the better caretaker despite his bouts of crippling anxiety. The pair head to the university to meet Marlene’s group, joking with each other and ignoring any leftover tension from the night before, but they’re met with an empty base when they get to campus. Things only get worse when they go looking for signs of life – besides the escaped monkeys wandering the grounds – and discover the group has picked up and moved south. On their way out, the pair have a run-in with some scavengers and one gets the jump on Joel. They’re able to escape on horseback, but Joel’s been severely injured and the rapid blood loss causes him to fall off the horse as Ellie begs him to wake up.
That’s how the episode ends – with all of us wondering if The Last of Us is about to pull a Ned Stark with three episodes in its first season left. (We’re not irrationally worried, you are!)
Tommy (4 to 1 odds)
Tommy is a joiner and that’s gotten him into some tough straits in the past but he’s gotten one hell of a lucky break by stumbling on this Communist Utopia – even if the C-word gives him the heebie-jeebies. Quit questioning your political theory beliefs and start being grateful that your wife took pity on you and gave you access to hot water, you idiot.
Maria (8 to 1 odds)
Maria has graduated from former district attorney to elected councilmember of a 300-person commune that, as Ellie marvels, “actually f*cking works” in the middle of a fungal apocalypse. Maria is going to be just fine.
Ellie (9 to 2 odds)
Terrible accuracy with a rife besides, Ellie has improved when it comes to her survival skills this season. She’s made it through a horde of Infected in Kansas City, shot a guy dead to protect Joel, stayed awake during her watch, and covered the pair with gunfire while they escaped some amateur bad guys. She’s doing pretty good for a girl who doesn’t know how dams work.
Joel (2 to 1)
Do we think this show will kill off Pedro Pascal before the finale? No. Are we sure about that? Absolutely … not. Joel has made amends with his brother, he’s finally accepted his feelings for Ellie, and he’s doing the right thing for once in his life – naturally, this would be the most tragic time for him to die. We’re begging the showrunners to not take that bait.