WARNING: Spoilers for The Last of Us Episode 4
Episode 4 has a shorter run time than the previous episodes, which led me to believe a fast-paced, potentially violent, episode was in store. However, while episode 4 did bring some cool action sequences, some new (original) characters, and important development for Joel and Ellie's relationship, it also managed to slow down the pace of the series somehow and brings in some new storylines that weren't in the game that could potentially derail the consistency I’ve come to love so much from The Last of Us.
Ellie slowly moves her way up from Joel’s “cargo” to his “friend” (if those exist in The Last of Us universe) throughout the course of the episode, as Joel and Ellie bond over some silly puns from a book called “No Pun Intended: Vol. Too” by Will Livingston (featured in the video game) and some delicious 20-year-old Chef Boyardee. Joel is clearly skeptical to trust the 14-year-old, but Ellie is determined to prove her worth. You can tell she is very mature for her age. But at the same time when you are 14, you are 14. Joel faces “raising” and protecting a teenage girl once again, and while it must be hard on him, I think it is cathartic for Joel to have Ellie as a surrogate daughter.
In Episode 3, Ellie snuck a gun from Bill’s desk as though she just wanted some protection, but after seeing Ellie staring at herself in the mirror holding the gun, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was impressed with the idea of the gun or infatuated with her reflection wielding such a powerful weapon in a time when seeing your own reflection is scarce. It's probably a bit of both, but the sadistic smile on her face will be the last time she thinks of a gun as a toy (hopefully).
Upon entering the FEDRA-less Kansas City QZ, Joel and Ellie are ambushed in a replica of a cut scene from the game that is incredibly well done, which leads into a gunfight from the perspective of Joel and really allows viewers to experience what it is like to play the 3rd person view video game. In the game, you get one perspective in a battle, usually Joel’s. The limited view takes away from the action and misses some opportunities to show the attacker's perspective, but I see it as more meaningful to have little hints at the game that aren't so obvious, like this filming technique.
Joel is almost defeated by one of the assailants, forcing Ellie to use her secret gun.
This situation forces Ellie to face the harsh reality of using a gun to hurt someone and shines a light on the humanity of the men who ambushed her and Joel. Just like everyone else, they are just trying to survive; unfortunately at the expense of others (including Joel). Ellie saving his life forces Joel to face that the fact that Ellie is a lot more mature and capable than he thought. Which leads him to let Ellie keep the gun. He even teaches her how to properly hold it, allowing for some important bonding time. We also get to see Joel’s darkest and lightest sides in this moment.
We are then introduced to Kathleen, an HBO original character played by Melanie Lynskey. She's on a bloodthirsty hunt for two characters that are in the game (Henry and Sam) who we briefly see at the end of the episode. She is the leader of the survivors (possibly the Hunters from the games) that have seemingly overthrown the FEDRA QZ in Kansas City. Also here is her right-hand man (and another HBO original character) Perry, played by Jeffery Pierce. If his name sounds familiar it might be because he played Tommy (Joel’s brother) in the video game. I am always glad to see some respect put on an underrated voice actor's name, so shout out to HBO for offering him more acting opportunities.
I thought Melanie Lynskey did an okay job, but I am intrigued to see where this character is going. I’m not sure I was sold on her ferociousness, but I’m not sure “ferocious leader” was the writer's goal. It’s too early to tell the motivations of this unorthodox leader and she could prove to be a strong character in the future if done right. However, I don’t see her lasting as a leader for long considering she neglected the sinkhole Perry showed her and decided to keep it on the low. Nothing good comes from a sinkhole, but a sinkhole that has Cordyceps chillin’ under it? No thank you.
Episode 4 was slower than I had hoped, which affects the momentum built in the first 3 episodes. But Joel and Ellie’s relationship took two steps forward and there were a lot of great scenes too; many of which are in the actual game. While it is the weakest episode in the series so far, it is not by any means bad. And the end of the episode certainly leaves viewers wanting more. Episode 5 is sure to be a real banger.