Anyone wondering how the hell The Last Of Us could possibly follow up the agonisingly touching previous episode of Long Long Time, rest assured that the show runners are way too intelligent to even try.
The installment was, plainly put, revolutionary, audaciously telling a beautiful story of love in a setting normally known for professionally crushing the joy out of any scenario and delivering a genuinely life affirming slice of television while hardly effecting the flow of the main story. In response, Please Hold My Hand, brings things back fully to focus on Joel and Ellie’s gradual bonding as their journey takes them progressively into yet more danger.
Shorter, simpler and a far more conventional episode of television, there’s a temptation to label this fourth episode a step backwards, but while it admittedly doesn’t have the emotion of the previous installment, or even the gut-tightening tension of the episode before that, this latest visit to Cordyceps central still is vital in moving things forward.
Still diligently heading in the vague direction of his brother, Joel and his precocious human cargo of Ellie travel through Missouri on their way to Wyoming. As the back and forth and occasional banter between the two seems to be getting more easier and breezier by the day, the two decide to take a shortcut through the hollowed out shell that once was Kansas City, but instantly realise that they may have made a sizable error once they find their route barricaded up with cars.
Opting to cut through the city rather than going all the way around, it isn’t long before Joel and Ellie realize that there’s been a massive power shift in Kansas City and the FEDRA run quarantine zone has been overrun by an army of civilians led by the vengeful Kathleen. Spotted early, the two travelers narrowly avoid an ambush and despite crashing their car, manage to kill a couple of their attackers before they succeed in losing themselves in the dilapidated maze of the city. What Joel and Ellie don’t know is that they’ve wandered into the middle of something far bigger as Kathleen is convinced that these intruders are in league with someone called Henry who apparently is responsible for the death of her brother and her thirst for justice is clouding any rational thought. In fact, she’s so obsessed, she’s opted to keep a rather serious matter a secret from her own men, that of an undulating patch of floor in a building which insulates as if something is burrowing from up under the ground…
While the search for them continues, Joel and Ellie try to rest, but when they awake they find themselves nose to muzzle of a pistol wielded by a man who we assume to be Henry himself.
Most other shows would suffer making the switch from a stand-alone, apocalyptic love story back over to the main story thread, but while episode 4 does feel like a strategic step back, it’s also invaluable in building up some genuinely intimidating stakes and solidifying the most important aspect of the show by far – the growing kinship between our two leads. Simply put, it’s masterfully handled with the two leads excelling as these two lost souls slowly start connecting over a mixture of fatherly advice, a joke book crammed full of awful puns and a subtle helping of shared trauma. Pedro Pascal is, unsurprisingly, a rock, his mumbled, grumpy delivery slowly thawing as Ellie’s endless trash-talk bores inexorably through his defences until he finally cracks with a laser guided joke about diarrhoea (classic). However, as epically dependable as Pascal always it, the continuing revelation still proves to be Bella Ramsey’s Ellie. As impressive as she’s been up until now, the actress excels as the teen, deftly balancing her hardened, foul-mouthed nature with genuine moments of exuberance that still shows that there’s still a kid swirling around within that wise-ass exterior. While we got a showcase of this during the Joel/Ellie bookends of the previous episode, it’s in full force her and boy, is it glorious. Not only to we have Ramsey shifting gears between Ellie feeling giddy about seeing an actual tank, or mischievously baiting Joel after finding a porno mag crammed full of naked dudes in the back of a car, but we also see another side to her, one that’s willing to shoot a raider in the back as he tries to choke Joel to death.
Of course, this brings us to the episode’s antagonists and after the first episode gave us the threat of FEDRA and the second was a showcase of the various breeds of infected, this time the issue is a community of humans hardened by the apocalypse to become exactly like the brutal, fascist regime they’ve just overthrown. The head of all this is the obsessive Kathleen, a gun toting Karen hardened into a vengeful despot due to the death of her brother. Played by the normally motherly form of Melanie Lynskey (Don’t Look Up, Heavenly Creatures), it becomes immediately apparent that her mission of vengeance has twisted her into someone who has the command of an army and abuses the privilege thanks to her overwhelming paranoia. Assassinating her family doctor for being a possible FEDRA sympathiser and utterly obsessed about blaming everything on someone named Henry, it doesn’t even occur to her that the chaos Joel and Ellie’s arrival causes is completely unrelated. It’s this single-mindedness that makes Kathleen something of a legitimately intimidating threat – not because she’s inherently evil herself (although she’s definately on that road), but she’s completely blinded to other issues that put her people in mortal danger. Expect that rippling floor to reap bitter, bloody fruit in the next episode or so.
The whole episode seems to also be hinting at how such behavior is ultimately dehumanizing with both Kathleen, Joel and Ellie all having moments where they wrestle with taking a life. But while Ellie realises how monumental it is after countless instances of her playing with a firearm and Joel finishes of a wounded raider because he absolutely has to (after revealing that he’s responsible for some dark deeds when the infection first took hold), Kathleen uses murder to establish how right she is in her delusions.
An impossibly solid episode that impressively doesn’t feel the pressure for the need to
be superlative in the wake of a previous installment, Please Hold My Hand sets the stage for future events that’ll no doubt prove to be ruthlessly devastating. But it’s world building and its moving of events is invaluable to providing vital stepping stones that’ll no doubt prove to be… infectious.