REVIEW: ‘The Last of Us’ Puts An Emphasis On ‘Us’ In Tender Fourth Episode

the last of us episode 4

It’s worth restating every week: The Last of Us, for better or worse, is a love story. In a world full of monsters, it’s easy to forget that the series – HBO’s acclaimed adaptation of Naughty Dog’s original 2013 video game classic – lives and dies with the bond between two people. Pedro Pascal’s Joel and Bella Ramsey’s Ellie are the beating hearts of the franchise, and with the show’s intimate fourth episode, they finally take center stage as the sole beneficiaries of showrunner Craig Mazin’s genius character development plan. While previous episodes have utilized excellent supporting characters as a means of tangentially building Joel and Ellie’s relationship, Please Hold My Hand leaves them all alone for the first time and acts as a much-needed segue into the story’s brutal following chapter.

What Mazin and franchise creator Neil Druckmann have been able to do with The Last of Us in an episodic format is nothing short of astounding, and an installment like Please Hold My Hand is a perfect example of why. As previously stated, Joel and Ellie have thus far had a string of semi-friendly faces to help move their time together along. Each one, bottled into its own episode, served a distinct purpose in constructing the series’ foundational connection between its leads. Merle Dandridge‘s Marlene brought one into the other’s life, Anna Torv‘s Tess forced them to work in conjunction, and Nick Offerman‘s Bill reminded them of their purpose. Now, four episodes into the season’s run, the duo needs some time to grow without an escort. Otherwise, when the going gets tough down the open road, their inevitable drama won’t be believable – or worse, it won’t feel earned.

Luckily, Please Hold My Hand knows exactly what it needs to do, and spends much of its runtime fixating on the little things. At least half of the episode is composed of Joel and Ellie proving how charming they can be as a unit, and viewers are right to eat it up. It’s amazing just how far a short conversation about coffee, or a running gag with a terrible jokebook, can take the characters involved. HBO’s The Last of Us has the luxury of expanding on moments in time that the original game could not, something that has often led to a much more authentic feel on screen, and its fourth episode does so once again to great effect. By giving viewers plenty of time with Joel and Ellie on the road, simply learning to live with each other, the eventual trap door that takes the ground out from under them hits with far more velocity.

Joel, in a surprise to nobody, very quickly begins to reenter a paternal mindset, and Ellie, looking for someone to care about her, leans into the burgeoning relationship with everything she has. At the start, neither of them wanted the other, but Please Hold My Hand expertly demonstrates the primal nature of humanity and its desperation for tribe and compassion. The episode is, for all intents and purposes, a miniature of the series as a whole. A study of people and their love for one another, as well as the consequences that come with that deeper, complex emotion. It’s genuinely beautiful to watch, and for a brief instant, it seems as though Joel and Ellie have found some sort of temporary bliss. Unfortunately, as should be apparent by now, nothing good lasts forever in a world ruled by nightmares.

The keyword of the episode – people – has already been used multiple times. Notably, this is the first entry in the series not to feature any infected, and thematically speaking, that feels as though it must be purposeful. Please Hold My Hand introduces the show’s first real human antagonists, a violent group of Kansas City survivors led by Melanie Lynskey‘s Kathleen, not long after Joel makes it clear to Ellie that people will be the biggest threat standing between them and their goal. Thankfully, however, these characters aren’t just one-note ravagers. Instead, they appear to be a group haunted by what they perceive as wrongdoings of the past, much like the protagonists themselves. More humans were broken by their love, and are now driven to commit heinous acts because of it. The episode makes an effort to portray the “Hunters” (as they’re called in the game) parallel to Joel, blurring the line between hero and villain and hammering home the point at hand.

Joel, as it’s shown, is someone who has done very bad things and would do them again. Ellie, as it now seems, is on her way to matching that sentiment. Please Hold My Hand does an incredible job of getting in the legwork necessary to make the next few episodes all the more impactful and ends on a note that should be familiar to longtime fans of the game. The next few weeks promise to be a non-stop, brutal ride through the apocalypse, so viewers should cherish the tender moments they receive here. They won’t be the last, but they might just be the most important.

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