SPOILER ALERT: This column contains potential spoilers about the sixth episode of “The Last of Us.”
Episode six: “Kin”
I think the emotional fatigue of this show is finally catching up to me.
I’m glad that HBO Max didn’t release season one all at once. I’m kinda sick of that model, if I’m being honest; it doesn’t hold up long-term. You end up bingeing a dozen or so episodes — often less in this television climate, which does not necessarily make for better content — in a matter of days, if only to avoid spoilers on the menace and gift that is social media. Or because I, and you, simply have no self-control and watch all the episodes in one or two sessions.
But this show — for me, anyway — has reminded me why appointment television is important. Watching one episode at a certain time every week feels responsible. It feels mature. It feels vital to fully comprehending and valuing “The Last of Us.”
And I know that it technically just starts streaming at 9 p.m. EST on Sundays — you can watch it whenever. But I think a lot of us diehards choose to watch it at the same time. It feels like that, anyway. And I think it makes for a better experience.
There’s just so much to process. All the time. Left and right. Up and down. Pain hits you from every direction, unforgiving and horrifying. I couldn’t watch episodes back to back to back to back. Especially after this Sunday’s episode. Because, well, if Joel (Pedro Pascal) really is dead…
I want that to linger.
The weight of that.
And the weight of leaving Ellie (Bella Ramsey) behind.
I think one of the finest scenes of the show came from this episode. From the writing to the acting to the set design to the directing, it was a perfect hearken back to the American life that once was. A meaningful microcosm of father-daughter dynamics, captured in just a few minutes — and a few blunt, heartbreaking lines.
The way Joel walks up to that pink and green room so pensively, calling Ellie’s name once, like he’s just another dad on just another day with just another daughter. The room is littered with remnants of a teenage girl: bulletin boards full of memories, a turquoise desk with drawers surely stuffed with trinkets and secrets, posters galore — a Radiohead fan, which I actually wouldn’t have guessed — a closet emptied, maybe from an attempt to run away from zombies. Or maybe just a fed-up girl attempting to run from her fed-up family. Who knows.
Then there’s the window seat that every girl dreams of, with a cushion long enough to sleep on, and with windows big enough to gaze longingly out of and imagine something better and different. Ellie, looking so small as she curls up by the window, reads the long-gone girl’s diary, complete with even handwriting and misspellings. Observing how petty those girl’s problems seem to her own — “boys, movies, deciding which shirt goes with which skirt” — Ellie, rightfully so, remarks, “Is this really all they had to worry about?”
Ellie had overheard Joel’s conversation with his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) from earlier in the episode. Joel didn’t feel strong enough to continue with Ellie, but he felt his much-more-youthful brother could take her to the next destination.
A disheartened Ellie screams, “Do you give a shit about me or not?” to which Joel says, “Of course I do.”
Should be enough, you’d think. To carry on with someone because you care about them. Ellie feels this way, therefore prompting the all-important question, “Then what are you so afraid of? I’m not her, you know.”
Ellie admits to knowing about Joel’s dead daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker), who was everything Ellie isn’t: sweet and respectful with a heart of gold.
Ellie even gives Joel a frustrated shove, letting tears well up in her eyes. And when he says, “You’re right, you’re not my daughter,” it’s an unnecessary dig at a vulnerable Ellie, cementing the idea that Ellie and Sarah are two totally different people.
But that doesn’t mean Joel and Ellie aren’t meant to be father and daughter.
Just means Ellie’s different.
After Joel slammed the door like a father, I thought of “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads. It’s a strange, off-putting love song, very David Byrne. It’s about feeling comfortable — and recognizing that you’re comfortable and at home with someone — but you’re still not sure what to really make of it.
Joel and Ellie aren’t Joel and Sarah. But that doesn’t mean Joel doesn’t love Ellie — Ellie’s just the new love amid an eternal heartbreak. And I’m not sure that anyone could ever be fully comfortable in that.
The morning after the fight, Joel gives Ellie a choice: him or Tommy. Without hesitation, Ellie throws her bag at Joel. No thought. No regret. Just a knee-jerk reaction.
After everything they’ve been through — actually, because of it — Ellie will always choose Joel, and it’s time Joel started choosing Ellie. Fights and all, it should always be those two, taking on this harrowing hellscape together.
Or so I hope.