By Ben Konuch
“You should be mindful of who you put your trust in. There’s a lot you don’t know about Joel.”
This is the episode of “The Last of Us” that has both satisfied me and disappointed me the most. Reeling from the emotional highs, lows and thrills of episode five’s intense action, episode six slows down to present the long-awaited reunion of Joel and his brother Tommy.
With it comes new revelations about the past, glimpses of a better life for survivors, and an increasing doubt of whether Joel can be trusted to protect Ellie. But it also comes with mixed pacing, a rushed ending and the concern that the series isn’t giving Joel the credit and danger he deserves.
The story jumps ahead by three months from the events of Kansas City. This shows the weight and impact of Sam and Henry’s deaths on Joel and Ellie, as well as the way they’ve grown in their relationship. Joel still keeps her at arm’s length, but his walls are rapidly lowering by the time they find Tommy.
They’re taken in by a group that reveals that Tommy hasn’t died or was in danger like Joel had feared, but that Tommy has actually joined a community in the town of Jackson that’s fully self-sustaining. Joel and Ellie are in awe at Jackson, and as viewers, so are we. The rebuilt society is a beautiful thing to see after such a dark glimpse of humanity in the last two episodes, and it’s a reminder to both us and our characters that although humanity has a great capacity for evil, people still can choose whether the world will turn them into monsters. Being able to walk through Jackson with these characters and seeing the town itself, while the game only showed us the outskirts until “The Last of Us Part II” was a delightful addition.
It’s also adorable seeing Ellie witness aspects of a world that she’s never glimpsed before, whether that be the kindness and generosity of others who ask for nothing in return or a community movie night. Still, Bella Ramsey puts weight and grief behind even these moments, showing that she can’t shake the idea that Sam would have loved to see Jackson, too.
On the other hand, Pedro Pascal’s Joel carries this episode through his interactions with family. The revelation that Tommy isn’t just okay but that he’s actively moved on with his life, that he’s found a woman to love and marry and that he’s expecting to be a father, hits Joel and brings back every memory of loss, grief and family that he’s tried to suppress for twenty years. He sees Tommy living the life that he lost, and that doesn’t just wound him, it reopens old wounds. We see him struggle with panic attacks as he starts to experience memories of Sarah that he’s pushed down, memories that his connection with Ellie has been threatening to expose, and Tommy and the events around him are the final push.
In one of the most outstandingly raw pieces of acting I’ve seen in this show, Pascal allows Joel to drop his walls utterly and completely to Tommy as he begs his brother to take Ellie the rest of the way to the Fireflies. He doesn’t trust himself, both in his physical capabilities and his emotional baggage, and the thought of losing another girl has him in a stranglehold of fear. It’s easier to give her to Tommy than to keep going with the weight of his failure and the fear of failing again. He’s kept all his emotions and fears and pain bottled up for so long, that they finally spill out to one of the only people he trusts.
Despite his hardened exterior and ruthless nature, we see Joel for who he really is – a fragile, scared human who is tormented by nightmares that convey his terror in a way he’s kept hidden for so long. He’s a man whose regret about one loss and the fear of another have finally fused together. “I can’t remember,” he says. “I just know that when I wake up… I’ve lost somethin’. I’m failing in my sleep, that’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done, is fail her again and again.”
Through another emotional confrontation with Ellie, Joel becomes persuaded that he can’t abandon her even though the risk of losing her may hurt in the long run. Ellie has no one else and Joel finally understands the cruelty of leaving her, so the two push forward in their journey.
The last fifteen minutes or so of this episode is where my frustration came from, as a very important section of the game is brushed over and rushed through, as well as reduced drastically. They find out the Fireflies moved further West, and in the process of exploring their old base, get attacked by raiders. Joel is injured in a fight with one, but it’s such a scaled-down version of the way this fight happens in the game that it drastically alters Joel’s threat and danger. While the show is no longer a game where you can mow down twenty unnamed enemies, having him get injured by the first enemy they encounter is a frustrating way of making Joel seem weaker than he should be, even considering his fears and paranoia.
However, this writing and acting are honestly the highlights of this show so far, and while it may fail in some of its action and some of the changes from the source material have been found lacking, the depictions of its characters and the depth of the emotions they demonstrate have kept it as a solidly entertaining and emotionally-engaging story. Despite my disappointment with Joel’s new weakness, I can see how future episodes can still turn this around and use it as a meaningful change.
I give “The Last of Us” episode six an 8/10
“The Last of Us” is now streaming on HBO Max
Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.
Images courtesy of HBO Max