[Editor’s Note: By the very nature of a “recap”, there will most certainly be spoilers in these weekly pieces, we didn’t think to mention that with the premiere, but we will keep a “SPOILER WARNING” label at the top of these weekly recaps for the rest of the season. Thank you and sorry if we spoiled anything for you!]
The Last of Us on HBO truly set a benchmark for singular television episodes with last week’s emotional wreck piece with Bill and Frank, Long, Long Time. Though we are clearly in store for more heartache and pain as the series progresses, we got back to basics of sorts with the continuing journey of Joel and Ellie across the US. A more straight-forward episode with equal parts action, humor and gut-wrenching emotional heft, Ep. 4, titled Please Hold My Hand, is a great reintroduction to the main thrust of the story. While it can’t possibly reach the emotional highs of Ep. 3, it does what it needs to do to get the viewer back in the mindset of the true center of this story – Joel and Ellie.
After a little sequence where Ellie does her best Dirty Harry impression in a gas station mirror and finally getting our introduction of the pun-loving Ellie – all coming from a book she found called No Pun Intended -, we are back on the road toward Tommy’s location in Jackson, Wyoming. We get a slew of references and wholesale lifts from The Last of Us game. Ellie’s penchant for bad pun jokes, the banger of a classic Hank Williams song “Alone and Forsaken” and Ellie flipping through one of Bill’s men’s magazines are all direct lifts of their video game counterpart and are just as effective in their usage to bring some well-deserved lightness to the grim surroundings. I even enjoyed the shot of an Arby’s neon sign on their journey, calling back to a sarcastic line uttered from Bill in Ep. 3.
A great scene follows as Joel and Ellie pull off the road to get some shuteye. Joel makes it clear to Ellie that they can’t have any fire going at night as that will alert other people, who Joel finds just as threatening as the infected. As they lay down for the evening, Ellie whips out another pun joke – this one involving a scarecrow – but is thwarted as Joel already knew the punchline. It was great seeing Joel just crack even the slightest of smiles, showing there is some small glimmer of a human still left in there. He resorts back to overly cautious Joel soon after as he stands guard all night after Ellie asks for reassurance people will not find them overnight. It’s heartbreaking to see how worried he is for her safety while at the same time trying not to get emotional involved in the moment and mission.
As they resume their journey the next day, Joel gives Ellie little backstory on Tommy, calling him a joiner who went from one righteous cause to another, always ending up dissatisfied and moving on. After Ellie takes a nap, she awakens to a packed highway that is blocking them from proceeding further. Seeing no way through, Joel backtracks a few feet and takes the exit to Kansas City, hoping to get around the mess. As we can all see it coming, especially after noticing the QZ zone in KC is all open and abandoned, they get ambushed by raiders, who force their vehicle to crash into a nearby laundromat. After a brief and intense confrontation, Joel manages to kill two of the raiders before a third gets the drop on him, which leads to Ellie putting a bullet in the raider to save Joel from being choked to death. The injured raider, a man seemingly in his 20’s, is laid out on the floor, pleading for his life to be spared, showing us the harsh reality of what Joel/Ellie are fighting. Creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin really trying to instill some sort of humanity into everyone, even the “bad guys” (which comes into play even more so later), and it works for the most part. Joel isn’t having any of this, however, and tells Ellie to walk off next store while he ends this poor soul’s existence.
Cut to the introduction of the leader of these raiders – or freedom fighters as they seem to think of themselves as – named Kathleen, played with a subtle intensity by Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets, Heavenly Creatures). You are immediately pulled into her character and backstory as she’s introduced threatening a doctor she has known for years (John Getz) to give up the location of party members who have splintered off from their group, with special interest in someone name Henry (an immediate bell rings in all the people who played TLOU). After not getting what she wants from him, she is lured away to the main gate, where the three men Joel killed are brought back to the base by a group, led by the heavily armed Perry (Jeffrey Pierce, who played Tommy in the TLOU game). After learning she is not able to even safe the one person who is still alive, it triggers her to mosey on back to the doctor and shoot him cold. Kathleen then orders her entire group to hunt these two invaders down, thinking they are part of Henry’s group or even hired mercs. This immediate parallel between someone who just wants to help her people and killing someone in cold blood when it doesn’t go her way works like gangbusters here, especially in introducing a character and giving them believable and multiple layers, all within a span of five minutes.
Hiding out in a storefront as the raiders do some door-to-door searches, Joel has a heavy and emotionally taxing convo with Ellie, with Joel feeling real guilt that Ellie is forced to go through with shooting someone to save his life, especially as she is so young (and around his daughter’s own age when the outbreak began). That guilt, however, does seem to wash away when Ellie informs him that this is not the first instance where she had to defend herself. Knowing the horror of the current state of the world and that, even at 14, Ellie has had to kill to survive and will probably have to again soon enough, Joel decides to give Ellie her gun back plus a quick lesson on how to properly hold her pistol, a complete 180 from his thoughts were on the matter previously.
We cut back to Kathleen and Perry as they are conducting their search. Perry shows her an attic space where it appears Henry was holed up with someone named Sam. I don’t want to go into the connection between Henry and Sam as, from the vibe I am getting from the show so far, that perhaps the lineage and backstory of Henry and Sam might be altered to some degree, and I am quite excited for that IF that comes to fruition. Before we leave Kathleen and Perry for the remainder of the episode, they come across a room with a slightly collapsed floor, with the rubble pulsating like a heartbeat. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are about to get our introduction to the large bulbous creature called the Bloater, but that reveal will have to wait until Ep. 5.
The episode finishes up as Joel and Ellie get holed up in a high-rise building on one of the upper floors to get a clear look of the city and how to escape in the morning. As they lay down for the evening, Ellie busts out yet another pun joke – a gross one involving diarrhea – that has Joel in stitches. It’s a genuinely sweet scene that made me chuckle. Cut to later that night, as Ellie is calling for Joel. As he awakes, we find that Henry and Sam pointing a gun at them both, with Sam putting his index finger to mouth to keep quiet. Cut to credits.
I love how this episode was a great amalgamation of action, genuinely good humor, emotional weight and tons of great nods/winks to the video game. “Please Hold My Hand” was a great way to get the main story back on track and propelling forward toward its inevitable goal. We get great character developments from Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as Joel and Ellie plus we get the brief sweet sincerity of madness, pain and suffering that is Melanie Lynskey’s Kathleen. The promise of Henry and Sam, in addition to the quick tease of the Bloater creature, is going to make Episode 5 quite the intense little piece of entertainment.