Sorry, The Last of Us’ Joel, but it’s happening: Try though you might, you’re getting attached to Lil’ Miss Ellie.
And who could blame you? In addition to being plucky, funny and generally curious about the world, the kid saves your bacon in this week’s episode. I know you don’t want to hear this, but she’s a keeper.
Cheer up: Having someone else with a little firearms savvy on your team looks like it’s going to be an asset, considering the folks we meet — including a seriously scary character played by Yellowjackets’ Melanie Lynskey — during your sojourn in Kansas City.
Read on for the highlights of Episode 4, then see if you agree with my Joel-centric musings.
ROAD TRIPPIN’ | The hour gives us a lot of Joel/Ellie banter. Don’t worry, he’s still gruffly telling her to “wait here” or “don’t move” a lot. But he’s also getting annoyed at her gleeful recitation of puns from a kids’ joke book and discomfited when she finds a male nudie mag in the backseat of their truck. (Side note: Joel’s nervous “Uhhhhh…” when she messes with him is one of my favorite things I’ve seen this week.)
They drive until dusk, then Joel decides that’s enough for the day and pulls off the highway and into some woods. Freshly restocked from Frank and Bill’s (sniff!), they share a 20-year-old can of Chef Boyardee and she wonders why they can’t have a campfire. Joel tells her that while they’re in too remote an area for infected to be a big threat, other people certainly are a danger, and a fire might draw them. She infers that those people might rob them. “They’ll have way more in mind than that,” he says grimly.
After they both climb into their sleeping bags, she tricks him into engaging with another joke — which he does willingly, surprising her — and then she asks, “No one’s gonna find us, right?,” sounding more like a scared kid than she usually does. He assures her that no one will find them. She falls asleep.
JOEL OPENS UP (A LITTLE) | They continue their drive toward Cody, Wyo., which is the approximate area from where Tommy’s last message came. Ellie asks Joel questions about his brother; for a change, he answers them. “Tommy’s what we used to call a ‘joiner,’” he says. Per Joel, Tommy’s hero complex led him to enlist in the Army after high school and get shipped out to Operation: Desert Storm. But he became disillusioned with the military. After Outbreak Day, Tommy convinced Joel to join him and a group making its way to Boston; Joel tells Ellie he did so mainly to keep his brother alive. That group was where they met Tess.
Then Tommy met Marlene, who recruited him for the Fireflies. “The same mistake he made when he was 18,” Joel says bitterly. “He wants to save the world.” But the last he heard, Tommy was no longer with the Fireflies, which means he’s on his own “and I gotta go get him.”
Off of Joel’s acrimonious tale, Ellie wonders why he even keeps going, given that he clearly doesn’t think there’s any hope for the world. “You keep going for family. That’s about it,” he quickly responds. When she points out that she’s not family, he concurs. “No, you’re cargo. I made a promise to Tess. And she was like family.”
Outside of Kansas City, a cluster of cars — including a tractor trailer that wound up lengthwise across an overpass — blocks the highway, though Joel can see that the way is clear on the other side of the wreckage. Sighing heavily at the time it’ll take, he decides they’ll cut around and use local roads to get back on the highway on the other side. And that’s when things get real bad.
NOT OK IN KC | The pair get lost driving through the city, trying to find their way back to the main road. It’s also eerily empty for being so near to the QZ. To wit: “Where the f—k is FEDRA?” Ellie wonders. Just then, a limping man approaches the car and asks for help. But Joel notices that the guy’s got a friend positioned above them, and recognizes it for the ambush it is. He tries to speed out of there but doesn’t see the spike strips laid on the ground; Joel winds up crashing the truck into a laundromat’s storefront as people shoot at him and Ellie.
They’re both OK, and as Joel retrieves his gun from the backseat, he orders Ellie to hide in a literal hole in the wall. She scurries there as he fires to cover her; he takes down two shooters but then is surprised by a third man, who busts through the door and gets the advantage of Joel before he can do anything about it.
The guy is about to choke Joel to death with his gun when Ellie crawls out of her nook and shoots the assailant, injuring him. He falls off Joel and starts crying, babbling that he doesn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, Joel simply holds out his hand and Ellie places her weapon in it. “Get back behind the wall,” he tells her, so she does. The guy’s cries abruptly stop when Joel kills him. Soon after, some definitely-not-FEDRA type of patrol rolls by, and Ellie and Joel know they’ve got to seek higher ground in order to discern a clear route out.
‘KILL THEM ALL’ | Elsewhere, an old man in a cell is being interrogated by a woman we’ll learn is named Kathleen (Lynskey), and he’s not giving her the answers she wants. “I wonder if this is the cell where my brother was beaten to death?” she muses. “You were wronged, and I’m sorry, but this has gone too far. It has to stop,” he pleads, on the edge of tears. She accuses him of ratting on his neighbors to FEDRA, but he denies it, reminding her that he was the doctor who delivered her when she was born. But she’s unmoved, saying that someone named Henry certainly did help FEDRA, and she wants to know where he is.
She’s distracted by a lot of honking and ruckus outside: The men Joel shot and/or killed have been brought back to headquarters, and Kathleen is instantly so sure that this Henry guy had something to do with it, she marches back inside and fatally shoots the doctor where he sits. Then she announces to the crowd that “This is Henry’s work, understand?” and puts them on a mission to find every FEDRA collaborator “and kill them all.”
‘WE’LL GET THROUGH THIS’ | Joel and Ellie hide in an abandoned bar while the patrols roll by, waiting for the opportunity to continue on to a tall building four blocks away. (Side note: The strength of the story means I often lose sight of the fact that this show was, originally, a video game. But then Angry Dad and Wonder Kid have to traverse some ridiculously dangerous distance on foot, and all the ducking and slinking along walls reminds me.)
While they wait, it becomes very clear that Joel is shaken because he didn’t hear the last guy coming, and he feels bad that Ellie had to attempt to kill someone on his behalf. “You’re just a kid,” he says haltingly. “You shouldn’t know what it means — It’s not like you killed him. But shooting or, I know what it’s like, the first time that you hurt someone like that. If you…” he trails off. “I’m not good at this.” She agrees. (Ha!) He apologizes for putting her in that situation, but as she wipes her eyes, she lets him off the hook: “It wasn’t my first time.” As they both marinate in how terrible the entire world is and how it’s not likely to get any better anytime soon, Joel pulls out Ellie’s gun and, after a little instruction on grip and such, tells her to put it in her pack. She shoves it in her pocket instead.
“We’ll get through this,” he says. “I know,” she replies. (“THESE TWO MAKE ME ACHE,” I cry to anyone who’ll hear me.) They head outside. Meanwhile, Kathleen and a guy named Perry who I’m guessing is her lieutenant (and who I know is played by Jeffrey Pierce, who voiced Tommy in the games) find an attic where it looks like a kid lived for a while; there are drawings of super heroes on the walls. She notes that the people they’re looking for are out of food, and “Henry won’t let Sam starve.” She’s sure that the fugitives are close.
WE’VE GOT COMPANY | Joel and Ellie get to the tall building safely. Their plan: Climb to the top (45 flights!) and wait until morning, when the sunlight will help them see a route. As they climb, she asks how he knew the guy who said he was hurt was part of an ambush, and he replies that he’s perpetrated a surprise attack like that before. “It was a long time ago. We did what we needed to do,” he says, clarifying that the “we” was him, Tess, Tommy and the people they were traveling with. He doesn’t answer her follow-up query: “Did you kill innocent people?”
Though Joel’s 56-year-old, broken-several-times-over body needs a rest on Floor 33, and Ellie of course teases him, they eventually get to the top and find a room to sleep in. Joel spreads broken glass near the door to serve as an alert if someone enters. Then they settle down to rest, with him trying to draw her out about the person she had to kill and her stonewalling him about it. He gently agrees that she doesn’t have to tell him anything, but reaffirms that it isn’t fair to have to deal with the fallout from that at her age. “So it gets easier when you get older?” she asks. “No, not really,” he admits. “But, still.”
As they talk, she points out that he doesn’t hear well on his right side. He says it’s probably from shooting guns. She tells him a dumb joke. He laughs, then denies that he’s laughing, and then they get the giggles and it is perhaps the first moment of true levity either of them have had in a really long time.
And I hope you enjoyed it, because it’s over real quickly. Later, Ellie calls Joel’s name, then does so again, sharply. He wakes to see a young boy pointing a gun at him and bringing a finger to his lips, telling him to be quiet.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think about the episode? Sound off in the comments!