‘The Last of Us’ Episode 4 Recap: Fear and Loathing in Kansas City
After taking a big (and quite beautiful) departure from the video game last week, Episode 4 of HBO’s The Last of Us falls seamlessly back into the source material’s storyline. At the same time, we also meet the show’s first original character. Now, if you are worried about this change possibly being even more dramatic than last week’s, I wouldn’t fret. I have a feeling most people are going to enjoy this addition, mainly because the character is played by the incredible Melanie Lynskey.
Let’s jump in.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Last of Us.)
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Cool hand Ellie. During a not-so-average gas station fill up stop, Joel (Pedro Pascal) is siphoning gas out of old abandoned cars to fill up Bill’s truck, while Ellie (Bella Ramsey) practices her aiming face with the gun she sneakily took from Bill’s house. This is not going to be your average road trip. The best part of the gas station stop, though, is when Ellie pulls out her book of puns and starts reading off several truly awful puns to Joel. And, yes, before you ask, this scene is taken straight from the video game; it’s one of the best parts. It really lightens the mood, between shooting hordes of Infected.
However, it’s when the duo set off from the gas station, listening to “Alone and Forsaken” by Hank Williams, that one of the game’s funniest moments is perfectly recreated. Besides a gun, Ellie took something else from Bill’s house: one of his porno magazines. Ellie thoroughly enjoys torturing Joel with some jokes about it, while he uncomfortably sits up in the front, trying to figure out how to explain what she’s seeing to her. The best part, though, is when Ellie throws the magazine out the window and yells, “Bye, bye, dude.” An instantly iconic line from the game that is no less iconic in the show. Brava, Bella Ramsey. You nailed it.
The further Ellie and Joel travel westward, the greater their connection grows. Whether it is bonding over their shared fondness for Chef Boyardee or their excellent knowledge of puns, we start to see the wall that Joel put up is crumbling ever so slightly. Sadly, this episode can’t just be all puns and jokes. For every moment of calm, 10 moments of chaos lie ahead.
That chaos comes when the two make it to Kansas City. (In the game, this episode’s events took place in Pittsburgh—but Kansas City makes more sense in the series since it's closer to Wyoming, to which the pair is traveling.) The minute you see that seemingly injured man in Ellie and Joel’s path, you know trouble has arrived. The man is a decoy, and his hunter friends quickly ambush Bill’s truck, sending it, along with Ellie and Joel, careening into a nearby abandoned store. As Ellie hides, at Joel’s insistence, Joel quickly dispenses of all the people that have attacked them. But there’s one left, and he takes Joel by surprise.
Just when you think he is going to choke the life out of Joel, Ellie comes up behind the man and shoots him in the back with the very gun she took from Bill’s. Without saying a word, it’s clear that Joel is both grateful Ellie saved his life and devastated that she had to take a life in order to do so. (This moment also happens in the game, but at a different time. For the full breakdown on that, head to our running list of Easter eggs.)
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Now, it’s time to meet Melanie Lynskey’s character! I had been waiting for this moment since I saw her show up in the teaser trailer, and she does not disappoint (but when does she ever?). We first meet Lynskey’s Kathleen as she is interrogating a man inside of an old FEDRA prison, to find out the whereabouts of a man named Henry. Kathleen is the leader of the rebel group that has now taken over Kansas City from FEDRA. Why, exactly, she is looking for Henry will not be revealed just yet, but it is obvious from her ruthlessness that she is hellbent on revenge.
However, when her right-hand man Perry (Jeffrey Pierce, who voiced Joel’s brother Tommy in the video game) shows her the carnage from Joel and Ellie’s arrival in the city, Kathleen has two new people to track down. She sets her people out on a mission to find and kill those responsible for the deaths, right after killing the man she just was interrogating. She is not to be messed with.
As Kathleen’s army searches the city, Joel and Ellie find a safe spot to hide in an abandoned and boarded-up bar. It’s here that Joel and Ellie finally clear the air about Ellie shooting Joel’s attacker. Joel feels guilty that Ellie now knows what it is like to take a life, but Ellie soon informs him, with tears in her eyes, that it’s not the first time she’s had to hurt someone. It’s a beautiful moment that is perfectly acted by Pascal and Ramsey. In the game, Joel and Ellie bond through their banter, as you search for supplies and go from location to location; in the show, however, they bond through moments like these. It’s a lovely departure from the game, and one that makes the relationship between the two even stronger.
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At the end of the conversation, Ellie gets her wish to have a gun of her own. Joel not only allows her to keep the gun she took from Bill’s, but he even shows her how to shoot it. (This is quite similar to a well-known and beloved moment in the game.) It’s these father-daughter bonding moments we live for. When the trucks finally stop rolling through and the voices of the people start to vanish, Joel and Ellie make their way out to a new, safer hiding place.
Kathleen and Perry, meanwhile, have discovered where Henry has been hiding out this whole time—she is not pleased to discover it was right under her nose. Just when Kathleen thought her day couldn't get any worse, Perry shows her the growing (and moving) sink hole in the town. You can probably guess what lurks under there.
Joel and Ellie have finally found a semi-safe place to spend the night—at the top of a very tall building, which will be a helpful lookout in the morning. As they walk the 45 flights of stairs to the top (yes, 45), Joel tells Ellie a bit about his seedy past, including that he used to be a person that would ambush travelers, just like how he and Ellie were ambushed.
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They make it up 33 flights, which is honestly very impressive, before finding a place to crash for the night. Despite Joel’s best efforts to set traps for people sneaking up on them while they sleep, he awakens to find a gun to both his and Ellie’s head.
Who are these people? What does this mean? Will Joel and Ellie survive this encounter? Well, if you played the video games, you might have an inkling as to who these mystery people are. But all the other questions are going to have to wait until next week. See ya then!
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