THIS POST CONTAINS spoilers for this week’s episode of The Last of Us, “Kin”.
Towards the end of “Kin”, Joel passes the time on a long road trip explaining the rules of soccer to Ellie. “So you’re basically only moving in one direction?” she asks. “Basically,” he acknowledges. “But violent.” This could perhaps be seen as a metaphor for The Last of Us, which is extremely simple at times, but exciting and done to a high standard. The series is, of course, much more complicated and versatile than that, as demonstrated by the stark contrast between last week’s episode and this one. Where ‘Endure and Survive’ was full of chaos, spectacle and despair, ‘Kin’ is quiet and contemplative, heavy on character and so light on action until the very end that we don’t even see any infected. It’s remarkable how easily this show can leap from Bill and Frank’s love story in the dark two-part Kansas City to this calm, very Station Eleven look at Joel and Ellie’s relationship and the possibilities of finding peace even in a post-apocalyptic world.
We pick up three months after the deaths of Kathleen, Sam, Henry and the rest of the Kansas City crew. It’s midwinter and our heroes have come across an older Native couple – played by great character actor Graham Greene and Northern Exposure alum Elaine Miles – who have managed to carve out a life in a cabin in the middle of nowhere that few people or infected ever come across.
This is a teaser of what will happen when Joel and Ellie finally cross paths with Joel’s brother Tommy, who has found a home, friends and family in what was once a Wild West tourist trap in Jackson, Wyoming. The reunion of brothers is the first of many showcases in this episode for Pedro Pascal’s ability to convey so much with that superhuman and expressive face of his
And also a reminder of how bizarre it is that his other big TV role at the moment does everything to keep him from using his greatest strength as an actor.
It turns out Tommy is not only safe, but thriving, as Jackson has been transformed into a safe and peaceful community with the power and other amenities of earlier times.
. Tommy has a partner, Maria (played by Queen Sugar and True Blood’s Rutina Wesley), and they are expecting a baby. This happy news unfortunately brings Joel’s unending pain to the surface, for talking about children inevitably brings him back to the moment when he saw Sarah’s death. But everyone suffers in her own way and we learn over time that Maria managed to live even though her three-year-old son Kevin died two days after Sarah.
Ellie’s conversation with Maria is the first she’s heard of Joel having (and then losing) a daughter. It comes just as Joel is starting to come to terms with two conflicting feelings: that he has begun to feel protective of Ellie in the way he once felt of his own daughter, and that he fears that age, injury and PTSD have weakened him too much. be his true guardian.
Usually in this type of story, where the protagonists find a post-apocalyptic paradise, the whole place is inevitably destroyed. But Jackson is doing just as well at the end of “Kin” as when Joel and Ellie came along. Instead, the threat is to the relationship of the two protagonists, as her fear of opening up to her instead makes her think she has been abandoned by him. Even after he confesses the truth, she doesn’t have it, pointing out that he’s the only person important to her in her life that she’s never died or left her—until now, apparently .
Pascal is a wonder throughout the episode. For most of the Kansas City Detour, Joel has been presented as an unabashed killer and protector, but here Pascal lets his guard down to show how much that has worn down the character and how terrified Joel is of failing his young charge. And when he finally convinces him to stick with her and let Tommy be with Maria, her fears are somehow proven right. The fireflies have abandoned the university where Joel was supposed to take Ellie, and instead run into a group of armed men. In the fray, Joel briefly appears to be the superman he wants to be to Ellie, snapping the neck of one of her attackers. But in the process, his stomach is pierced by the fragment of a baseball bat, and the episode ends with a panicked Ellie tending to his wound and begging him to get up. Trending Previously, when they left Jackson , something has radically changed in their relationship. They are friendlier and he is more willing to act and talk to her in a fatherly way. He’s spent the last 20 years rooted to where he saw his daughter bleed and finally allowed himself to go on to care for another teenage girl. But at the end of the episode his position is reversed. Now he’s down with a terrible wound to his torso, and her surrogate daughter is the one who hopes against hope that she will survive. It’s a heartbreaking end to what had previously been a relaxed hour that had a warmth that belied the snow all around our heroes. That The Last of Us can do both in the same episode, and make it feel in one piece, is among the most impressive traits about him.