‘The Last of Us’ Welcomes a ‘Yellowjackets’ Star, Who’s Out for Blood
THIS POST CONTAINS spoilers for this week’s episode of The Last of Us, “Please Hold to My Hand.”
After last week’s romantic magnum opus that was Bill and Frank’s beautiful, heartbreaking post-apocalyptic love story, “Please Hold to My Hand” can’t help but feel like a bit of a comedown — or, at least, a comparatively slight episode.
The returned focus on Joel and Ellie is both fine and valuable. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey remain excellent together, and they are essentially the entire world of the show. Unless co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann intend to go full-anthology at some point, we need investment in the two leads, and the actors continue to do the job. It remains fun to see how Ellie amuses herself by pestering her guardian, this time via whipping out the book of puns(*) she brought with her from Boston. And we continue to peel the onion that is Joel, who explains that all he cares about at the end of the world is family. He claims for now that Ellie doesn’t qualify, but he will protect her because Tess (Anna Torv) asked him to, and she very much was family. The whole opening stretch on the road and in the woods works very well, as does their later discussion of how Joel has been both ambushee and ambusher in the past, implying that at times, innocent people were his victims.
(*) On the one hand, I understand why she might have been so quick to throw Bill’s sticky porno mag out the window once she realized what it was and how it had been used. On the other, reading material seems to be in short supply on this journey, and perhaps the mag might have had an article or two in it to help alleviate the boredom?
The bulk of the episode, though, feels largely like setup for what’s to come in the following installment. Our heroes’ westbound travels, along with some blocked roads, force them through downtown Kansas City, and straight into a trap that Joel recognizes too late to avoid. In the process, they lose the truck and all the supplies they took from Bill and Frank’s house. They survive the ambush — in a harrowing sequence that includes Joel making Ellie hide behind a wall so she won’t have to watch him stab an injured and helpless man to death — and then they begin looking for a way out.
From there, it becomes a kind of tragedy of misunderstandings. Joel doesn’t know at first that the citizens of the local Quarantine Zone have overthrown their fascist rulers, which makes the city more dangerous in many ways than if FEDRA was still in charge. And rebel leader Kathleen mistakenly assumes that Joel and Ellie are working in concert with Henry, a man she’s seeking revenge on for his role in the death of her brother at the hands of FEDRA.
The good news is that Kathleen is played by the great Melanie Lynskey. Like all the other prominent performances on the series, Lynskey is playing somewhat to type(*). Kathleen evokes Lynskey’s Yellowjackets character, as a woman with a seemingly innocuous demeanor capable of ruthless violence. She talks like a disappointed schoolteacher, but is also willing to personally execute the obstetrician who delivered her, because he collaborated with FEDRA. (And also because he’s an outlet for her anger at the missing Henry.) So even though the episode is relatively thin on plot — a lot of it is just Joel and Ellie hiding out until they wake up to Henry and his young sidekick Sam holding them at gunpoint — she’s compelling to watch.
(*) Jeffrey Pierce, who plays Kathleen’s right-hand man Perry, played Joel’s brother Tommy in the game. Not the exact same kind of character here, but close enough as the trusted, sharpshooting sidekick to the protagonist of a Kansas City-centric version of this show.
Of particular note: the last episode featured barely any mushroom people, while “Please Hold to My Hand” pretty much goes without them altogether. There is a scene where Perry shows Kathleen a basement with a big crater in the foundation, suggesting that there is a lot of infected trapped underground, waiting to come out. As I believe the playwright Anton Chekhov said, if you show a mushroom zombie crater in your first episode…
Not a bad outing by any means, and without spoiling the next episode, I can say both that it’s terrific and that the setup here proves to be necessary. But if “Long, Long Time” demonstrated the upside of giving viewers only one episode a week to savor, “Please Hold to My Hand” is a reminder that in the traditional release pattern, you sometimes get an episode that’s essential in the larger picture, but that can leave you frustrated that you have to wait a whole week for what comes next.