Hello and welcome back to our dual recaps of The Last of Us, wherein Valerie Anne and I (Nic) get to chat on Main about our favorite gay game-turned-TV-show instead of just chatting in our DMs! This week, Season 1 Episode 4: Please Hold to My Hand aka: it’s Melanie Lynskey time babyyyy!
Valerie: Previously on The Last of Us, we watched an epic story about love at the end of the world via Bill and Frank, Ellie and Joel geared up on Bill’s stuff, then headed out on a road trip west to find Joel’s brother Tommy and deliver Ellie to some fireflies. On their way out, Ellie promises to do everything Joel tells her to while also pocketing a gun he told her she couldn’t have, like the good little feral child we know and love.
ON THE ROAD: DAY ONE
Valerie: We open in an overgrown gas station, in the bathroom specifically, where Ellie is practicing holding her pilfered gun in the mirror, saying “pew pew” and even taking out the bullet so she can practice pulling the trigger. Satisfied, she puts the bullet back in, sneaks the gun back into her pack, and goes out to watch Joel siphon some gas.
While she waits, she pulls out a book of puns and reads them to Joel, much to his chagrin. But despite his disapproving look, the twinkle in his eye makes me think he was perhaps suppressing a smile. This scene is almost an exact replication of interactions Nic and I have had in which she’s Ellie and I’m Joel.
Nic: So what you’re saying is…you actually ADORE my love of terrible jokes?!?! I knew it.
Valerie: I SAID NO SUCH THING! AAAANYWAY, once they’re back on the road again, Ellie gives Joel another cassette tape she found, Hank Williams. He’s pleased though a little insulted that she didn’t know it was before his time. (It’s like when Gen Z says things like, “Oh you were born in the 1900s?” Ouch.)
It turns out Ellie pocketed a few things from Bill and Frank’s when Joel wasn’t looking, including a magazine full of naked men to which she has a hilarious reaction. She also asks Joel why some pages are stuck together just to watch him sputter about it. She’s having a great time on this road trip, and on this big open highway, it’s almost enough to forget the world for a while.
Nic: I was so glad to see that they used this scene from the game for that exact reason. One of my favorite things is the little moments where we get to see both Joel and Ellie forget the seriousness and just be joyful.
Valerie: After a while, Joel decides it’s time to stop for the night, and pulls off the road to find tree cover for them to set up camp. He won’t let Ellie light a fire, though, because of the smoke. Ellie thinks it’s because of infected, but Joel points out that the infected aren’t smart enough to follow smoke, and aren’t usually found in such remote areas. It’s people he’s afraid of.
Ellie kind of snarkily asks if they’re going to rob them, but Joel’s tone stays serious and he says it might be more than that they’d have to worry about. Specifically something grown men might not normally think to worry about, unless of course they once had a daughter of their own.
This obviously weighs on Ellie a little because after reading another pun before bed (which, much to Ellie’s delight, Joel already knew) she asks for a little more reassurance that they’re safe. And despite having already tucked himself in for the night, the question makes Joel get up and keep watch for the night instead of sleeping.
ON THE ROAD: DAY TWO
Nic: The next morning, Joel’s already packed up most of the camp when Ellie groggily wakes up and immediately critiques the foul-smelling coffee Joel’s brewing. He’s almost offended when he realizes Ellie doesn’t like coffee, so once they hit the road and she continues asking about pre-Outbreak Starbucks, he just continues slurping away. Let that man enjoy his wake up juice, Ellie! He didn’t complete a long rest last night!
Valerie: At the campsite after she’s done scoffing at the coffee, the little sleeping bag flop she did was so good. Little moments like that are great at reminding us that even though she’s independent and smart and loves to put on a brave face, she’s still just a kid. (And Bella is SO good at making her seem like a full teenager sometimes and a little kid others.)
Nic: Ellie’s on map duty, pointing out names of cities in Wyoming near where Joel’s brother is supposed to be, and realizes that she doesn’t actually know anything about Tommy. So naturally, she starts rapid-fire asking questions: What’s his name? Is he older or younger? Why aren’t they together now? At first Joel is reluctant to share (one of his rules was that they keep their histories to themselves, after all), but they have 25 hours together so now’s as good a time as any for a long story.
He tells Ellie that for most of their lives Tommy’s been a “joiner”; first the army right after high school, then the group that led the brothers to Boston and Tess, and finally the Fireflies after being convinced by Marlene. Tommy’s always wanted to save the world and be a hero. But Joel is clearly the more skeptical and jaded of the two, because he thinks the Fireflies are all delusional. And now, he’s pretty sure Tommy’s left the Fireflies so now, big bro has to come along and make sure lil bro’s okay; a thing he’s been doing for their whole lives it seems.
Ellie hears this and basically asks why Joel even bothers if he doesn’t think there’s hope for the world. So Joel tells her first that all she’s known is that QZ life, so she has no idea what the world is actually like; and second, he keeps going for family, both blood and found. Again he reminds her (and us, and himself probably) that he still just considers Ellie to be cargo. Ellie looks hurt, but just asks what happens if they don’t find Tommy, but Joel insists they will and changes the subject to Ellie’s exhaustion. Despite insisting that she’s not tired, homegirl passes the eff out.
Valerie: When Ellie wakes up, she sees that they’re slowing down because they’ve reached a bit of…well, the apocalypse equivalent of traffic. They’ve reached a tunnel they can’t get through because of an overcrowding of abandoned cars. They decide to detour through the city, but they quickly get lost because Ellie isn’t great at reading maps on the fly (same) and also she’s never left the Boston QZ and also it’s her second day in a car.
They speed by a man who is calling out for help, much to Ellie’s surprise, and also see that the QZ looks abandoned, no sign of FEDRA to be found. Once they stop, they’re immediately descended on by hunters, and have to abandon their well-stocked truck to get shelter from the hail of bullets.
Nic: I made this joke on Twitter, but this is literally Thor and Loki’s “Get help!wp_postsroutine, and while the situation isn’t funny, it did make me chuckle a bit.
Valerie: Joel tells Ellie to hide while he fights them off, but ends up finding himself pinned down and nearly choked to death. But Ellie and her one bullet in her stolen gun comes to the rescue and shoots the guy, causing him to roll off Joel and start crying. It turns out the man is more of a boy, who starts immediately crying and handing over his weapons in the hopes these two will spare his life.
Ellie goes to unblock the door from inside the hole while Joel knocks the boy out so they can escape. They head out into the street, crouching behind a car in an oh-so-familiar way to those of us who have played the game, and scurry into a nearby abandoned shop.
Nic: The next thing we see is a group of armed guards keeping watch, and the next thing we hear is a man pleading for mercy from a woman who has Melanie Lynskey’s voice. And wouldn’t you know it Reader, she also has Melanie Lynskey’s face!! Her character’s name is Kathleen, but just know that in my heart of hearts, I very much want to refer to her as Melanie Lynskey for this entire recap. But alas, Kathleen appears to be the leader of a group of hunters, the very kind of people Joel warned Ellie about in the woods.
Valerie: MELANIE. FUCKING. LYNSKEY. I absolutely forgot she was going to be in this show and YELPED with delight when she showed up.
Nic: Kathleen reads off a list of names, and the older man insists he knows nothing about any of them; however something in his answers clues Kathleen into the fact that he definitely knows the whereabouts of a man named Henry, who was allegedly also involved in the torture and death of Kathleen’s brother. This interrogation takes place in an old FEDRA detention center, and when the man apologizes for what’s happened in the past, Kathleen calls out his hypocrisy now that he’s the one in the cell instead of snitching to FEDRA. You know what they say bro, snitches get… well, apparently they get a gun pointed at them in a way that made me feel things I certainly didn’t expect. Melanie Lynskey said “have I satisfied the necessary conditions for you to talk?wp_postsand I said “Mommi? Sorry. Mommi? Sorry.”
Valerie: Yes, this is the correct reaction. No matter what “side” she’s on in any given show, it’s REALLY hard not to root for Melanie Lynskey.
Nic: Ahem. Moving on. We find out that this dude is the town doctor and the one who delivered Kathleen. Before she can prove that she has no problem killing him, a commotion outside draws her attention.
In the middle of the street lie the men that Joel killed after they attacked him and Ellie. They’re surrounded by onlookers, including a soldier who says the attack came from outsiders. (Fun fact: this character’s name is Perry, and he’s played by Jeffrey Pierce who voices Tommy in both The Last of Us games!) Kathleen’s main concern is whether the men will live, even if she has a doctor, but as soon as she learns that there’s nothing to be done, she goes back to the cell and shoots the doctor out of frustration.
Back outside, she publicly continues her vendetta against this Henry fellow by insisting that this is his work, and instructs the soldiers to kill every collaborator they find.
Valerie: I’d do anything Melanie Lynskey asked me to. I hope she never starts a cult.
Valerie: Joel and Ellie hide out in the empty store and watch as the hunters try to find them. Their plan is to eventually go into the tall building across the street so they can get higher ground and scout their escape.
In the meantime, they have a conversation. At first they sort of talk…at each other. Or rather, Joel talks at Ellie; Ellie tries to respond, but Joel doesn’t really hear her. He feels bad she had to shoot that guy, thinks someone her age shouldn’t have to deal with such heavy shit. She asks for reassurance that she did the right thing, but he just keeps rambling, eventually leading to an apology. Ellie is surprised by this, and a little emotional, but after wiping away her tears, she admits to Joel it wasn’t her first time hurting someone.
Nic: I was almost as surprised as Ellie was when Joel apologized! Look at these two with their talking and their growth.
Valerie: To break the tension of this rare dual showing of vulnerability, Joel asks Ellie to show her the grip she learned at FEDRA school, and immediately tells her it’s bad and shows her a better grip. He tells her to put the gun in her bag (“or you’ll shoot your damn ass off”) but of course as soon as he’s not looking she slips it into her coat pocket. As they prep to make a break for it across the street, Joel says, “We’ll get through this.” And Ellie says, “I know.”
She knows he wouldn’t say it, but if there’s anything today taught her, it’s that he knows she’s more than just cargo. And though she was wary when it first became just her and Joel on the road with no Tess, the one who was nicer to her of the duo, she now is starting to feel safe with Joel. Starting to know he’ll keep her safe.
Nic: Meanwhile, Kathleen is supervising the search when her main soldier dude informs her of a lead. He takes her up to an attic where it’s clear two people have been living. What’s also immediately clear is that one of those people is a superhero-loving child, because there are so many drawings of two masked heroes saving the day. It is at this point that Gamer Nic realized what they’re setting up, so let me go on record saying how rude it is to give me Melanie Lynskey only to pit her AGAINST Henry and Sam.
Valerie: Same, though. I wasn’t registering “Henry” as a name I knew but as soon as she said, “Henry and Sam” I knew exactly what part of the game we were at.
Nic: There are empty food cans strewn about so Kathleen knows they can’t be far because there’s no way Henry will let Sam starve. Once they leave the attic, soldier guy leads Kathleen to a room with a massive crater in the middle of it. Which like, that’s wild enough, but then something under the crater starts to move?! I might be dense but WHAT IS THAT? (*Cardi B voice*)
Valerie: I’m not too picky about flooring but one requirement I do have – and I feel pretty strongly about this one – is that it’s not BREATHING. (Or doing a fungus dance or whatever the fuck this floor is doing!!)
Nic: Kathleen doesn’t want to make a big deal about the perfectly fine situation down there, so she tells them to just seal off the building until they find Henry and Sam. Sure, let’s do that.
Under cover of night, Joel and Ellie make it to the ground floor of the super tall building they spotted while they were hiding earlier. They decide to start the walk up 45 flights of stairs, but they’re only going to go as far as I imagine Joel’s knees will allow. I say again, Creaky Knee Hive rise up!! As they walk, Ellie asks Joel how he knew they were heading into an ambush earlier. When Joel admits that he’s been on both sides of this, Ellie asks if he’s killed innocent people. His silence gives her the answer that she needs. One of the things I love about this episode is the way they’re slowly peeling away the layers of Joel and Ellie’s relationship. As much as Ellie gives him shit, she looks up to Joel. I think a lot of that is down to the fact that he doesn’t sugar coat the world for her and he admits (more than once in this episode) that even he gets it wrong sometimes.
They make it up an impressive 33 flights before they decide to call it a night. Before bed, Joel sets up a trap so he can hear if anyone crunch crunch crunches on the glass trying to sneak up on them in the middle of the night. As they settle in, Joel asks Ellie what she meant when she said that day wasn’t the first time she hurt someone, but Ellie doesn’t want to talk about it. He says it’s okay and acknowledges the unfairness of a 14 year old experiencing what Ellie has, though he also admits it doesn’t get much easier with age.
Valerie: Can we just talk about how the turns have tabled, and now Joel is asking Ellie things about HER life? And she’s the one clamming up? He’s breaking his own rules! She’s thawing the ice block he’s carefully constructed around his heart and I’m here for it.
Nic: Almost as if to prove the skills she’s had to pick up, Ellie notes that Joel’s hearing seems a bit weaker on his right side, so that’s why she questioned if he’d be able to hear someone set off their trap.
Before bed, Ellie tells Joel one more incredible bad joke, only this time, it gets a chuckle out of him. She won’t let it go until he admits she got him, and when he FINALLY relents, Joel’s face lights up with a smile we haven’t seen since Outbreak Day; the last time he saw Sarah. And oh how it warmed my heart to see those two laugh together!
Valerie: The way their lighthearted laughter filled me with equal parts unbridled delight and overwhelming terror. In a show like this, a happy moment usually just means an unseen shoe is about to drop. And sure enough…
Nic: The joy is short-lived though, because in the middle of the night, Ellie wakes Joel up with the sight of two people with guns pointed at them; a man…and a little boy dressed as a superhero.
Now, I’m not going to give too much away for you non-gamers out there, but I will say that this here section is one that I’ve been waiting for. Next week, it looks like we officially meet Henry and Sam plus…more Melanie Lynskey!