ACROSS THE STREET
Valerie: While Joel and Tommy were having their brother chat in the bar, Maria was setting Ellie up in a house down the street. Ellie gets out of the shower in a teen girl’s bedroom, and sees a note from Maria saying she’s across the street. (On what looks like homemade paper, which was a nice touch of flavor for this self-sufficient town.)
Side note: When I saw the window seat in this room, I got so stressed. This part of the show is slightly different than this part in the game but I knew exactly what conversation we’d be having at that window seat and I was not ready.
Along with the note, Maria also left Ellie a menstrual cup, which Ellie squeezes and says, “gross” with a fascinated smirk on her face. She heads across the street to find Maria, and on her way to her she finds a little memorial in Maria and Tommy’s living room with a chalkboard and two names: Kevin and Sarah, who both died in 2003, at 3 and 14 respectively. It made me sad to realize that Sarah would be around my and Nic’s age if she had survived.
Valerie: Maria comes in with a purple coat for Ellie and says she threw her iconic red shirt in the rag bin, which frankly is rude. She then gives Ellie a haircut, during which she lets slip that Sarah was Joel’s daughter, which brings some parts of the enigmatic man she’s been traveling with a little more into focus. Maria tries to warn Ellie about Joel, but Ellie defends him. Maria says you can only be betrayed by people you trust and that feels like weird advice to give a kid with no one else to turn to, but luckily Ellie was already following this advice and keeping Maria at arm’s length. (Well, emotionally. She did let this stranger get near her, out of her eyeline, with scissors. Nobody’s perfect.)
MOVIE NIGHT/THE FARMHOUSE
Valerie: Maria takes Ellie to movie night, where a lot of kids and some adults are gathered together watching an old movie on a projector. The girl who spied on Ellie earlier is sitting next to her, but Ellie isn’t paying attention to her, she’s too busy scanning the room, looking for Joel, uneasy being away from her comfort person this long. She’s been through too much too recently to relax and watch a movie like any other kid.
Nic: I imagine too that part of her is trying to process the fact that there are kids in this world who didn’t have to grow up like she did. They weren’t trained by the military, they got to have movie nights; it must seem so unfair that she’s had to be afraid for so long when in another life she could have been more carefree.
Valerie: Oh man, you’re so right.
Ellie looks and looks but Joel isn’t at movie night, he’s trying to quite literally cobble his shoe back together. Tommy shows up with a new pair of boots to save him the trouble, and they apologize for being so weird with each other. Joel asks Tommy if this trip is a suicide mission, and when Tommy assures him it’s not, he tells his brother that Ellie is immune. He confesses that he lied about Tess, that taking Ellie to these Pacific Northwest Fireflies was her dying wish, and that they were doing fine until they got to Kansas City and Ellie had to shoot a kid to save his life because he was too old and slow to save himself.
In a surprising moment of self-awareness and vulnerability, Joel tells Tommy about how he keeps freezing. That every time her life is in danger, he can’t move, he can’t breathe. He says that he’s weak, that he has nightmares every night, and he wakes up feeling a little emptier inside. He says he’s failing Sarah over and over. And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when Dad cries, I cry.
Nic: SOBBING EMOJI
Valerie: Joel is sure he’s going to get Ellie killed and he can’t go through that again. He begs Tommy to take her, because he’s younger and stronger. He’s the only person Joel trusts with this mission, and he promises it’s the last thing he’ll ever ask of him. Seeing how desperate his big brother seems, Tommy agrees.
Tommy points Joel in the direction of the house they set up for him and Ellie, and they walk by a burning barrel, which is only notable because I was reminded about how embarrassed I was about how long it took me to realize that the game used burning barrels as signals of where to go next in particularly maze-like areas and buildings.
Joel finds Ellie in the teen girl’s room, reading her diary. She can’t believe that the most stressful things in this girl’s life were which boys were the cutest and which outfit she’d wear. “It’s bizarre.”
Her tone is lacking that signature spark, and sure enough she immediately pivots the conversation into admitting she overheard the part of his conversation with Tommy about him dumping her on some stranger. She asks if he gives a shit about her, and he doesn’t even hesitate before saying he does. She says she’s not his daughter, and he stops her before she says something he can’t unhear. Ellie says she’s lost people too, but Joel says she has no idea what loss is. Ellie can’t believe his audacity and reminds him that everyone she ever cared for has died or left her. Everyone except Joel. With anger in her eyes and pain in her voice she says she doesn’t care if he thinks she’d be safer with someone else. All she’d really be is more scared.
Nic: I knew this conversation was coming, but it still punched me in the gut to watch Bella give their take on a now infamous Ashley Johnson performance. I always loved that Ellie didn’t let Joel get away with assuming that just because she’s young doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand loss. I think her age gives her a unique perspective on loss, because kids are inherently vulnerable and rely on their support systems to survive; imagine everyone who’s supposed to take care of you getting ripped away. I’d say she gets it.
Valerie: I’d say so, too.
Joel steels himself and says he sure as hell isn’t her dad and that in the morning they’ll be going their separate ways. He storms out and goes to his own room, where he’s bombarded by memories; memories of a time when his watch was just stopped and not broken, memories of Christmases long long ago. Memories of Sarah.
Stop me if this is too heavy-handed, but you know I love a metaphor, and I can’t help but think of the watch as one. We don’t know for sure what happened to Sarah’s mom, but the watch stopping could be symbolic of her being gone. Emotionally, his life as he knew it stopped, but also literally; focusing on being a single father, Joel never took the time to get it fixed. But then as Sarah got older and more independent, his watch started again. They had their own groove, their own traditions and jokes. Their own life. And Sarah fixed his watch. Again, literally and figuratively. And then Sarah died, and his watch didn’t just stop, it shattered. Broken beyond repair. Over the years, Joel’s broken watch became a part of him, like a scar you sometimes forget is there but is a permanent part of you. A broken part, but a part nonetheless. He was able to ignore the watch on his wrist, or try to at least, until a scrappy teenage girl with the mouth of a sailor strolled into his life and pointed right at it, reminding him of his broken watch. Literally and figuratively.
Nic: No notes.
Nic: The next morning, Ellie is fully dressed and ready to head out. When the door opens, there’s a split second when she hopes that it’s Joel on the other side, and her face falls when she sees that it’s Tommy. They head over to the stables and are surprised to see Joel there getting a horse ready. He apologizes and tells Ellie that she deserves a choice in her journey, but she doesn’t even let him finish before tossing him her bag so they can get going. There are so many points in this episode where Joel’s emotional growth is on display, and this is one of my favorites because he knows he fucked up the night before. He thought he was making a decision for Ellie, but he hadn’t even talked to her about it. He recognized that even though she’s 14, she does have agency here, and she’s proven that she can survive in this hellish world.
Tommy gives them directions, a gun, and an offer to come back to Jackson whenever they want, and then they begin their journey to the University of Eastern Colorado. Joel even gives Ellie a shooting lesson on the way. As they ride, we’re treated to some of the most beautiful scenic shots on the show thus far. Canada, y’all.
I love that we get to hear the kinds of conversations Joel and Ellie have while they travel. When you’ve got a week on the road, what else are you going to do but explain America’s former two-party system to a girl who never experienced it? They hit other major topics like what Joel’s job was in the Before Times and the rules of American football which, when described like that, does seem pretty silly.
Valerie: I love that Joel took Ellie’s advice here. She said back at the dam that he could have lied to her about how it worked and she would have believed him. So when Ellie says that being a contractor sounds cool, Joel smirks and lies with his whole chest, saying that everyone loved contractors.
Nic: Hahaha his whole chest!!
When they arrived at the university, I had another one of those moments where I was in awe over the set design because it looked like they lifted it directly from this part of the game. Even down to the monkeys frolicking in the quad!
Nic: Joel explains college to Ellie who can’t understand the concept of mini adults deciding what to do with their lives; probably because all she’s done is try to survive.
I swear, Joel’s word count is increasing with each episode. He tells Ellie that he changed his mind about raising sheep. If he could truly do anything, then he would want to be a singer, like a tiny Joel once wished. Ellie can barely keep it together and Joel does that cute “how dare you laugh at me after I open up to you” thing, and I just care about these two a lot, okay?!
They eventually make their way to the building where the Fireflies are supposed to be, but it appears abandoned. Once inside, they find it torn apart, and assume they left to go to Salt Lake City according to a map they find. Before they can loot the building (okay, I just really want to see Joel pick up a brick, leave me alone), they see a group of raiders outside, so they sneak out the back to get the horse and leave before they get caught.
They’re not quite fast enough though, because one of the men approaches Joel from behind and attacks him with a bat. Joel stealth kills him and then discovers that he’s been impaled by a piece of the bat. And because he has seen zero episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, he just yanks that sucker out of his gut and immediately starts bleeding.
He manages to get up on the horse and they ride away while Ellie shoots at the raiders. Once they’re sure they’re not being followed, it becomes clear just how dire Joel’s injuries are. He falls off the horse and Ellie is distraught. She tries to put pressure on the wound, but she knows this is bad. All she can do is plead with Joel to open his eyes because she can’t do any of this without him.
Valerie: Hello please pardon me while I push my nerdy glasses up my nerdy nose and nerd out about the song that plays as the credits start to roll. The song is a haunting cover of Depeche Mode’s Never Let Me Down Again, which is devastating for two reasons. One is because the lyrics are, “I’m taking a ride with my best friend, I hope he never lets me down again.” Which is all that more impactful in this moment with a female voice singing it. Two is because this is the song Bill had set up to play as his failsafe when he didn’t press the button every
108 minutes two weeks. And 80s means trouble.
Nic: 1) I can’t believe you made a LOST reference before I did. 2) Next week: EMOTIONAL DAMAGE!