As we’re here to talk about the fourth episode of HBO’s The Last Of Us, I think it’s okay to start the recap with a bit of a fourth wall break. Sunday’s episode, “Please Hold To My Hand,” is great. There’s lots of character-building, new conflicts, solid action, and more. However, I feel the need to disclose something. Having seen the rest of the season already, and specifically what happens in next week’s episode, this episode plays even better once you see it in tandem with episode five.
I won’t spoil why, but I do think it’s important to note. If you were in any way underwhelmed by this week’s short-ish episode, you are not likely to feel that way after next week. In reality, the two episodes are one and the storytelling choices here are so much more powerful and clear after seeing what’s next. That said, let’s get to the episode.
After the emotional bombshell that was last week’s episode, you might have almost forgotten that Ellie stole a gun from Frank and Bill’s house. She didn’t forget though, and things started with her posing with it in a mirror. She’s excited, empowered, and for the first time we see a duality starting to grow. Ellie is a smart-ass teenager, but there’s something darker in there too.
Ellie and Joel are at a rest stop gassing up Bill’s truck. Apparently, gas is so old, it’s degraded a lot and now they need to fill up every hour or so. To kill the time, Ellie breaks out a book of puns, hoping to lighten the mood. Joel stoically responds, but in Pedro Pascal’s performance, we can begin to see some of Joel’s hardened exterior cracking.
Set to the tunes of Hank Williams, Ellie and Joel get back on the road. Here, for the first time on the show, we really get a full look at 2023 America in The Last of Us. Abandoned cars, broken bridges, and desolate theme parks appear on the horizon as the pair drive across the wide-open plains. At one point, Ellie even breaks out a sticky magazine with a shirtless man on the cover, in a moment that’s sure to make fans of the video game very happy.
The desolation of the drive lets Joel and Ellie chat, bond, and joke before deciding to call it a night. Joel parks the truck in the woods and over a plate of 20-year-old Chef Boyardee, Joel explains his fear not of the infected, but of people and what they might do if anyone finds them. The thought keeps him from sleeping, but not before he blows Ellie’s mind by correctly guessing one of her puns.
After an uneventful night, the pair hit the road again. First Ellie can’t believe people drink the “burnt shit”-smelling beverage called coffee. Then, as they look at the map trying to figure out the best route to Wyoming, Ellie asks Joel about Tommy. Watching the show, we know that Tommy was with Joel on the first day of the outbreak and that Joel is looking for him now, but not what happened in between. Finally, we find out. Joel tells Ellie that Tommy is a “joiner,” always looking for a way to make a difference. First, that meant the Army. Later, after the outbreak, Tommy and Joel joined a group that worked its way up to Boston, which is how they met Tess. Once in Boston, Tommy met Marlene and he joined the Fireflies, which is how he found his way to Wyoming. However, Joel reveals, he doesn’t think Tommy is even with the Fireflies anymore and that’s why he’s worried about him.
Ellie senses Joel’s general pessimism and asks him why he even tries then. Is there no hope for the world? Joel says you move ahead and try for family. But no—Ellie isn’t family. She’s cargo that Tess made him promise to take care of, and Tess was family. This exchange, after all these days bonding in the car, felt like it should’ve been more important than the episode gave it credit for. It was a very shitty thing to say.
The Boston to Wyoming drive takes the pair through Kansas City, except the highway is barricaded. Instead of doubling back, Joel decides he can find the next on-ramp by driving through the city. Which, even in our reality, never ever works. So it’s no surprise that he and Ellie immediately get lost in the quiet city. Tensions rise as they frantically drive around looking for the highway when a man comes into the street asking for help. Sensing a trap, Joel speeds around him. Instantly, a cinder block smashes their window, the car’s tires are blown, they’re shot at, and they crash into a store. Joel’s instincts were right on the money. It was indeed a trap.
A shoot-out ensues. One of the show’s patented short but intense action sequences. Joel picks off two attackers as Ellie crawls to safety but, another sneaks up on Joel and pins him to the ground. Joel is going to die… until Ellie pulls out her gun and shoots the attacker in the back. It’s then we see he’s just a young kid and he starts begging for his life. Joel tells Ellie to go into the other room and we hear Joel end the kid’s life. They leave the building just as a bunch of trucks pull up to the scene.
Already a few of the things you’ve seen in this episode are going to make more sense when you see next week’s episode—but, specifically, all of what happens next is even more important. The scene shifts to what looks like a FEDRA prison. Only, FEDRA is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we meet a woman named Kathleen, played by Yellowjackets’ star Melanie Lynskey. She interrogates a mysterious (for now) doctor and asks him if he knows the whereabouts of someone named Henry. This Henry, apparently, told FEDRA where Kathleen’s brother was, and, as a result, her brother was killed. She now wants the doctor to rat on Henry like Henry ratted on her brother. It’s a tense scene that results in Kathleen putting a gun to the doctor’s head. However, he doesn’t think she’ll kill him and he’s right.
Kathleen is distracted by some noises and goes outside. She learns from what seems to be her second in command (a Will Forte-meets-Commando dead ringer played by Jeffrey Pierce) that strangers who arrived in a fully loaded truck killed several of their men. She thinks that these might be mercenaries hired by Henry to help him so she orders everyone to go out into the city and find them. It’s here that we see the true power of Kathleen’s group, as several trucks and dozens of people set out into the city. She has an army. One that, somehow, overthrew FEDRA to take Kansas City back for the people.
Oh, and when Kathleen realizes her captured doctor won’t be able to help one of the men Joel and Ellie wounded, she walks back in and kills the doctor in cold blood. Kathleen is no joke.
Joel and Ellie are hiding and peek out to see Kathleen’s army searching for them. Ellie asks Joel who they are since they aren’t FEDRA or Fireflies and Joel says they’re just people. People who, he knows, will find them soon if they don’t start moving. As they wait for the trucks to pass through, Ellie checks in on Joel. He did, after all, just almost get killed. Joel responds by asking Ellie how she is—since really, it was Ellie who had the traumatic experience of having shot a man in the back. Joel blames himself for getting into a position where she had to do that and he apologizes. She says it’s okay because it’s not the first time she’s had to hurt someone. A mysterious statement that’s left unanswered not just now, but later in the episode too when Joel brings it back up. (Fans of the game, however, might have a clue what she’s referring to.)
Before heading out, Joel gives Ellie her gun back and teaches her the way to properly hold it. She’s excited to finally have Joel’s permission to have a gun and you see more of his armor coming down and their trust and respect continue to grow.
One last time in this episode, things cut back to Kathleen’s people. The Will Forte-ish guy takes her into a hidden attic where, it seems, this mysterious Henry has been hiding. The attic is covered in empty canned goods and drawings of superheroes. Clearly, Henry is with a child, who Kathleen says is named Sam. In the same building, Kathleen and the soldier find a crater in the basement. A crater that starts to rumble. Terrified of it, they run out, but Kathleen says they can’t tell anyone about what they just saw and to just seal up the building. This too, as you can expect, all become a bit clearer next week.
Hoping to get a clear view of the entire city so they can find a way out, Joel and Ellie start to climb the stairs of a 45-story building. On the way up, Ellie asks Joel how he knew the situation before was an ambush and he explains his group did similar things to survive in the past. When Ellie asks him if he’s ever killed innocent people, though, Joel stops answering.
They get 33 flights up the building before Joel gets too tired to continue. So they find a nice quiet apartment, Joel spreads broken glass on the ground Die Hard style so no one can sneak up on them overnight, and Ellie mentions to him that he probably wouldn’t even hear it anyway because she’s noticed he doesn’t hear in his right ear very well.
Joel does hear Ellie tell one more of her punny jokes and though he tries to hold back a laugh, he can’t. The pair bust out laughing and just for a moment it seems like maybe these two are going to be okay. If they can share a laugh, can it really be that bad? The answer is yes. A few hours later Joel, now with his right ear in the air, is woken up by Ellie. A man is holding her at gunpoint. Joel looks up and he is also being held at gunpoint, this time by a young child. The child holds his finger to his mouth so Joel will be quiet, and the episode ends.
Who are the people holding up Joel and Ellie? If you’ve been paying attention, it should be pretty obvious, but I won’t spoil it here. But, suffice to say, we learn more about how they got to this room next week and it will make several scenes in this episode work so, so much better.
“Please Hold To My Hand” may not have been anywhere near the genius of “Long, Long Time” but we got to see Ellie grow into herself a bit, Joel become more comfortable with her, and the pair make good progress on their road to Wyoming. Plus, Melanie Lynskey shoots a dude in cold blood. What could be better than that?
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