REVIEW: The Last of Us – “Please Hold to My Hand”

Bella Ramsey as ‘Ellie’ and Pedro Pascal as ‘Joel’ in HBO’s THE LAST OF US — PHOTO: HBO / Liane Hentscher.

The following is a recap and review of the fourth episode of HBO’s The Last of Us. Expect story spoilers.

In the fourth episode of the first season of the HBO adaptation of the masterful video game franchise known as The Last of Us — titled Please Hold to My Hand — Joel (played by Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (played by Bella Ramsey) are on their way to Wyoming to find Joel’s brother. But when they have to take a detour, they are ambushed in Kansas City. Please Hold to My Hand was directed by Jeremy Webb (Downton AbbeyThe Umbrella Academy) and written by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl).

After last week’s supersized bittersweet post-apocalyptic romance episode starring Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett — in Long Long Time — Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have switched gears in episode four, which is the shortest episode thus far. Please Hold to My Hand — which is named after the Hank Williams song (“Alone and Forsaken,” which is also played in the original video game) that Joel and Ellie listen to on their way to Kansas City — isn’t just relatively short, it is also relatively light on plot. Here the focus is mostly on building the central relationship between Joel and Ellie, which allows for Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey to take center stage and prove once again how good they are in these iconic roles. 

Just like with the previous episode, there is no pre-title sequence cold open to set the table. After the opening title sequence, we follow Joel and Ellie as they bond on their road trip which is eventually cut short by a detour that goes awry. But first, we see Ellie inspecting her newfound gun — Frank’s gun — and looking at herself in the mirror. It almost looks like she is doing her best Taxi Driver-Travis Bickle impression. At this point, she feels more powerful and in control than she perhaps has ever felt. However, when she is forced to pull the trigger later in the episode, she starts to realize just how heavy such a weapon really is and the real damage it can do. 

The road trip features a lot of scenes that have been taken — beat for beat — from the original video game. There is the recurring joke book which I was so happy to find out that the showrunners had decided to use, there is Bill’s magazine which I was pleasantly surprised to see them include in the show, and then, of course, is the reason why they eventually have to head into the city. Now, yes, the writers did change the location from Pittsburgh to Kansas City, but it is a change that isn’t all that significant in the grand scheme of things. 

Eventually, they are ambushed in the city and they crash into a store (a different kind of store here than in the game), where Joel has to defend himself and Ellie from harm (and exercise violent ruthlessness in the process as he shoots and stabs the ambushers to death). In broad strokes, this is a very faithful adaptation of the iconic crash sequence in the game. The build-up is pretty perfect, but there are some pretty significant alterations inside the store. They seem to have blended this scene together with the one later in the game where Ellie fires a gun to protect Joel from harm. In the game, this scene leads to a massive argument between the two lead characters, but here Joel isn’t as outwardly upset at Ellie, which makes sense seeing as the show has less time to deal with this tiny subplot from the game. 

Eventually, Joel and Ellie somewhat stealthily (but mostly just by hiding in a store) make their way to an apartment complex and climb thirty-three flights of stairs. Our central duo ends up going to sleep in an apartment. Joel tries to connect with Ellie -. and he really tries — by leveling with her that he’s sorry she has to go through this at her age, and Ellie finally succeeds in softening up Joel with a well-time joke about diarrhea. When Joel wakes up, a gun is in his face. Somehow Sam and Henry — two characters that fans of the game will know very well — have made their way into the apartment, and they now have them at gunpoint, as the episode comes to a close. 

And so, who ambushed Joel and Ellie in the first place? Well, in the B-plot we meet Kathleen played by Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets), the cutthroat leader of the Kansas City-based gun-toting revolutionary group that appears to have overtaken the city and gotten rid of the city’s FEDRA forces, the military dictatorship that was seen in the Boston quarantine zone. I am really fascinated by Lynskey’s Kathleen. This is an entirely new character, as we never really saw the leader of this group in the video game. The energy with which Melanie Lynskey carries the character is that of a woman completely altered by the outbreak. We hear how her brother was beaten to death by FEDRA and that — somehow — Henry (more on him in the next episode) had something to do with it. The loss of her brother and the end of normalcy has turned this woman into a ruthless military leader with tunnel vision.

In particular, I want to hone in on Lynskey’s line delivery of her order to her group (about finding and killing whoever did this — she insists that Joel and Ellie must be somehow connected to Sam and Henry). She could have said this like any other actor could’ve. In a cold way. But rather, I think she says it with the trembling energy of someone learning this as she goes along. I can imagine Kathleen as a teacher or a nurse who now has had to adapt. And in this new role, she has partnered up with Perry, a bearded military man who looks like the exact military specialist you wouldn’t want to come across in this world. He is played by Jeffrey Pierce, who voiced and motion-captured ‘Tommy’ in the video games, and I’m really excited for him to get this kind of role in the series. Together, he and Kathleen inspect a massive crack in the ground. It looks like something massive is growing or moving underground, and if you’ve played the games, then you have a pretty good idea of what that is. 

With it being relatively short and light on plot, Please Hold to My Hand is probably the slightest episode of the series thus far. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t excellent. I think the show benefits from getting to focus on Joel and Ellie in the aftermath of Long Long Time. A short but solid set-up episode that ends on an exciting cliffhanger.

B+

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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