Please Hold My Hand: The Last of Us, Episode Four
Why hello! I’m back with another episode of The Last of Us. By the time this post appears, the series will probably (if I’ve done my math right) have completed its first season. Rest assured I have watched it already, I just haven’t written about it.
Let’s crack on, shall we?
We return to the present, as if the last episode of the show didn’t just rip out our hearts and leave us emotionally empty. The opening up on Ellie in the abandoned petrol station playing with the gun in the mirror is not, for obvious can’t-really-play-that is not in the game. Its inclusion in the show is another small clue as to the reality of Ellie’s character; and an important reminder on how Ellie is not much like Joel’s daughter Sarah at all. There’s a darkness in Ellie that wasn’t in Sarah.
When the book of puns made its appearance, I damned near choked. It’s such a small nod to the game — Ellie will often break out the pun book in the quieter moments; as you try and figure out a puzzle for example, or if you’re jogging along in one of the few areas where there are no enemies while you’re playing — but it’s very much appreciated. It’s a beautiful character moment in both game and show, and was one of my favourite character interactions in the game. They got it nearly spot on, including Joel’s exacerbated responses.
Several lines while Joel and Ellie were in the car come straight from the game. When Ellie hands Joel a cassette and asks whether it makes Joel nostalgic, for example. Ellie teasing Joel by examining the gay magazine she stole from Bill was almost beat for beat the exact same. It made me laugh just as much in the show as it did in the game. Also making me laugh, simply because it is such a parent-child dynamic, in both game and show was Joel advising Ellie to sleep while he drove. Her response and the immediate cut to a short while later were identical in game and show.
There are some key differences, though. There is no scene in the game where Joel and Ellie discuss making a fire. The lesson Joel imparts here is not so bluntly spoken in the game. It is taught, though. The greatest evil our anti-hero and his adopted daughter face is not the infected. It’s people. Some of the most horrific enemies in the game are not infected at all.
It is also a great foreshadow to something that happens later. Having played the game and knowing what happens later on the story, Joel’s response when Ellie asks about what people might do is exceptionally chilling. It’s a beautiful piece for foreshadowing that is so understated as to be missed entirely except by those of us looking for it.
This scene, not in the game, also leads to a really lovely character moment for Joel, whom we see standing guard over Ellie in the night, gun at the ready. One of the less subtle hints that Joel is starting to care. I cannot tell you the number of sarcastic “Okay, Joel” tweets and captions I’ve seen all over social media when Joel tells Ellie that she’s not family, she’s cargo, is hilarious.
Interestingly in this world, coffee is still a thing. Again, this is such a small difference as to be inconsequential, but I couldn’t help but notice. In the game, coffee is one of the things Joel misses about the pre-infection world. In the show, the QZs still have Starbucks. Also, Joel’s passive-aggressive sipping of the coffee at Ellie made me laugh.
Much of what follows also happens in the game, but with a major difference that I’m not quite sure how I feel about yet. Joel and Ellie do run into murdering scavengers that lure their victims by pretending to need aid. They do crash their car. A fight does ensue.
However, in the game, this is another scene in which Joel proves to be a terrifying, coldly competent killer. While Ellie does help out with the fight in the manner that vastly improves on the usual companion dynamic in video games, Joel can take them all out with frightening, exceptionally violent efficiency.
In the show, Joel proves competent with a rifle, but that slightly unhinged violence is entirely absent. I have very mixed feelings about this. His and Ellie’s life are both threatened here. It was a prime opportunity to to prove it when Tess said ‘We’re not good people.”
In the show, however, Joel loses a tussle with a young man and Ellie has to shoot the attacker to save Joel. This does happen later on in the game, when Joel is surprised while climbing a ladder, and Ellie ends up killing the man instead of just injuring him for Joel to finish off. I’m sure there is some sort of reason for neutering Joel like this in the show. Perhaps there will be a huge payoff at the end. But I do miss the Joel of the game; the no-good-very-bad person who is a demon to those trying to harm him and his.
As I noted, there is a scene in the game where Ellie does shoot someone to save Joel, but it doesn’t happen in this moment. It happens a little later, and Joel is far more angry about it in the game. To the point where I, the player playing him, scolded him out loud. In the show, we get something we never get in the game:
He never apologizes to Ellie in the game. And he remains angry with her for far too long. He does, however, relent and gives Ellie a gun. She proves instrumental in providing back up as he clears an area entirely of bad folk looking to hurt him and Ellie. In this scene in the game, he admits that he’d have died if Ellie hadn’t intervened, but that’s as close to an apology or any display of gratitude we get from Joel. This feels true to character for me. The apology, while it does demonstrate (perhaps) why game Joel was so angry will Ellie, feels a little out of character for Joel; especially the Joel that is still trying to convince Ellie and himself that she’s just ‘cargo.’
Another change, which I minded far less, was the backstory of Kansas City and how and why the Fedra-run QZ there fell. No, it wasn’t infected. It was an uprising. Rebels, tired of the horrific governance of their fascistic military junta, and angered over the brutal death of their leader, rose up and obliterated Fedra’s forces, led by said deceased leader’s sister Cathleen. She is an entirely new character, created just for the show.
I’m curious about her role. I understand she’s the mind behind the Kansas City crew, and she acted in grief for her brother. We didn’t get a Cathleen figure in the game. Just a bunch of awful people who hunted other people for their supplies. I like the deeper understanding and complexity of the villains we get from this episode.
That isn’t to say that Cathleen isn’t entirely unhinged. She kind of is. But it’s nice to get a peek at the behind the scenes that we aren’t afforded in the game. There’s no need, really. You have to fight your way through Kansas City and there’s no real reason to know why when you’re gaming (I’m also a fan of Melanie Lynskey, and I was very pleased to see her in this).
There are some awesome foreshadowing moments that I believe will pay off in the next episode. The mention of Henry had my heart in my throat. That is one storyline I’m in no hurry to bawl my eyes out over again. I also really loved the hint of what is lurking beneath the city. Or, in terms of my initial reaction when I watched the episode:
Why is the floor heaving? WHY IS THE FLOOR HEAVING?!
There was another not-in-the-game inclusion that just made me happy, and that is at the very end of the episode when Ellie tells one last terrible joke and, unable to contain himself, Joel starts giggling. I particularly liked the line “I’m losing it” as it harkens back to the morning of Joel’s birthday, when Tommy remarks the same thing of Joel to Sarah. It made the scene feel very familial. I honestly feel like that scene is much more Pedro and Bella than Joel and Ellie, and might have made it into the bloopers if the show was directed by someone else. That makes me smile.
Similarly to the coffee existing, in the show, Joel is deaf in one ear. This made me smirk a little, as Joel’s remarkable hearing is one of the mechanics of the game. If Joel concentrates, he can, via sound alone, locate the exact position of the enemies and what kind, precisely, of enemy it is. Joel was, I joked often during my game play, part bat. Literally, batman. Or, would become a clicker the moment he was bitten. I like this change, to be honest. Much like many gaming protagonists, Joel was superhuman in the game. I like the writers scaling that back a little, even if it means they curb Joel’s scary violent side.
Lastly, the introduction to Henry and Sam is both much different and very similar to the game. In the game, Joel doesn’t wake up to a gun in his face, but rather crawls through a window after Ellie to find a gun in his face. The mechanics are different, but the outcome is more or less the same, and I appreciate that very much about the show.
The episode ends with the guns in our protagonists’ faces, which took me by surprise. I hadn’t realized that the hour was over. I was relieved, to be honest, as it does delay a pretty traumatic event. I’m not looking forward to that.
All in all, this episode was a fantastic mix of never before seen and from the game. I’m still uncertain how I feel about Joel this episode, but I’m trusting the showrunners with this. They’ve been right about so much, I expect they will be right about this, too. Still, I do miss my scary, scary, angry old man. He’s a fun character to play.
I’m dreading episode five. I’ll see you when I get there!
Articles in this series:
When You’re Lost in the Darkness: The Last of Us, Episode One
Infected: The Last of Us, Episode Two
Long, Long Time: The Last of Us, Episode Three
Please Hold My Hand: The Last of Us, Episode Four
When S.M. Carrière isn’t brutally killing your favourite characters, she spends her time teaching martial arts, live streaming video games, occasionally teaching at the University of Ottawa, and cuddling her cat. In other words, she spends her time teaching others to kill, streaming her digital kills, teaching about historical death, and cuddling a furry murderer. Her latest novels are Skylark, Daughters of Britain, and Human.
A lot of this episode felt “game-y” to me, as in, why would you drive through Kansas City and not around it? (We call it “railroading” in table-top gaming when there is no way to avoid following the “road to ruin(s)”.) But the use of a set-up episode is not bad, as the pay-off delivers in the next episode.
As for Joel, well, he is still ramping up his bad-assery quotient. I like the dynamic of Ellie being forced to kill Joel’s attacker, as it shows how violence spreads and cannot be contained on these “mean streets” by “a man … who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid”, to steal Raymond Chandler’s prescription for noir detective fiction. The Last of Us is indelibly noir, and that darkness permeates everything.