Episode 6 of HBO’s The Last of Us, titled ‘Kin’, trades the intense action and physical peril of Kansas City for cold, contemplative snow and a far more relatable danger: family.
Early on, the episode takes some time to demonstrate the change in the relationship between our two main characters, Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal). The pair are more at ease, discussing what they want to do after this journey is concluded. Ambitiously, Ellie points to the moon.
The show does an excellent job of illustrating the panic attacks Joel has begun to experience. His inadequacies are weighing on him and the macho unshakable shell is beginning to crack.
When the pair reach Jackson, they find Tommy (Gabriel Luna), Joel’s brother, living a life that is out of reach for many in the post-apocalypse. He is thriving, with a wife (Maria, played by Rutina Wesley) and a baby on the way. The brothers share a moment of confused amusement when Joel announces “I’m here to rescue you.”
As the pair find some time to catch up, Pascal and Luna’s absolutely fantastic acting sells the scenes they have. The kind of relationship where you know when someone is lying, or where you can let the mask slip and reveal the roiling fear beneath the surface looks authentic and natural between the pair.
We should pause to give three cheers to Bella Ramsey’s scene where she investigates the Menstrual Cup left for her by Maria. Naturally Ellie has never encountered such an object before, but the fascinated and disgusted and thrilled little “oh, gross” as she folds it up and watches it ping back into shape tells us that she has understood its purpose and the small instruction leaflet. It’s not often that what you do on your period in the post apocalypse is discussed, but when one of your main characters is a teenage girl, addressing it rather than ignoring it is a refreshing change. More period representation in media.
When Maria is giving Ellie a haircut, she says “the only people who can hurt us are the ones we trust” and Ellie dismisses it, but it’s proved to be true later in the episode. As she yells at Joel: “everyone I’ve cared for has either died or left me – everyone except for fucking you. So don’t try and tell me I’d be better off with someone else because the truth is I’d just be more scared.” The audience can see it dawning on Ellie’s face. When Joel rejoins with “You’re right, you’re not my daughter, and I sure as hell ain’t your dad.” There’s a collective breaking of hearts.
The issue of Sarah, Joel’s dead daughter comes up, too. Ellie treads on some extremely thin conversational ice, and Joel makes it extremely clear that this still isn’t a topic he’s happy to discuss. Ellie’s right though, it does explain some “stuff” about him.
Of course everything in the previous episodes has served to prove to us that Joel is in too deep now. He can’t just abandon Ellie, even though he tries. And of course, this isn’t a cheerful show where things go right for the people we care about, so he’s almost immediately proved right about not being the best protector for Ellie. When the pair are set upon at an abandoned university campus, Joel is horribly wounded with a snapped baseball bat while fighting off an attacker. He falls from their horse, pale from blood loss, leaving Ellie leaning over him muttering “I don’t know where I’m fucking going.”
It’s an incredibly impactful ending, and when contextualised alongside Joel’s fear and Ellie’s trust and dependence, leaves us longing for the next episode to come quickly.
This episode was paced slowly until the final five minutes or so, which felt very rushed. Everything from Boston onwards had been leading to this point, to Ellie making it to the Fireflies who might be able to make something of her immunity. When they arrive and it’s clear the Fireflies are gone, no time is given to explore where that leaves the characters or examine the impact of the finding.
The show has been really good at allowing every story beat room to breathe, and not exploring the impact of this huge discovery seems like a missed opportunity.
Catch HBO’s The Last of Us every Sunday night on HBO or NowTV.
Featured Image Credit: HBO