Monday, February 6, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Last of Us' - A Roadblock Pushes Joel and Ellie Into a Trap Meant for Someone Else in 'Please Hold to My Hand'

HBO's The Last of Us - Episode 1.04 "Please Hold to My Hand"

After abandoning their truck in Kansas City, Joel and Ellie attempt to escape without drawing the attention of a vindictive rebel leader.

"Please Hold to My Hand" was written by Craig Mazin and directed by Jeremy Webb

Joel and Ellie never stay in one location long. Every episode has featured them somewhere new. That's understandable considering they are on a journey across the country. Joel was heading to Wyoming to find Tommy long before he agreed to take care of Ellie. He did so as a promise to Tess. Right now, he is only motivated by family. Tess was close enough to earn that designation. Ellie hasn't so far. She is on the path though. Joel and Ellie are the central characters. As such, the audience needs to have a firm understanding of them as individuals and as a pairing. It's meaningful when so much of an episode follows them specifically. They don't suddenly arrive in their final destination ready to face whatever awaits them. Instead, it's arduous traveling the country at this point. Joel has to stop every hour or so to siphon gas. They face roadblocks. They don't fear the infected in remote areas. However, people still lurk everywhere and are dangerous. While sleeping in the woods, Ellie needs to know they are safe to do so. At times, she is a plucky kid who gets a kick out of her book of puns. She delights in telling these bad jokes to her reluctant guardian. They provide comfort as well. It's a way to break up the mundane nature of this adventure. In contrast, Joel has experienced a lot in this world. He was tortured long before the apocalypse began. Since then, he's tried his best to protect the people he cares about. He doesn't have a solid track record. Even when he does prevail, it's only a matter of time before the inevitable occurs. That's life. It has meaning because people know it ends at some point. That's a bleak outlook but it's the truth. It eases the suffering of some. Joel is a survivor. He continues to forge ahead. He believes his brother needs saving. That's what motivates him. He also has to believe Tommy can help direct Ellie to where she needs to go. That's far off in the future though. Right now, the highway is blocked in Kansas City. Joel and Ellie have to journey through downtown to get past it. It's confusing and dangerous. They know this is the precise area where FEDRA set up shop and where the infected may still linger. And yes, they do eventually run into an ambush. It was a trap designed for someone else entirely. They lose all the valuable resources they took from Bill. Moreover, Ellie uses her newly acquired gun to kill a man who has Joel pinned. This isn't the first time she has killed in order to survive as she notes to Joel. She doesn't want to share that particular story yet. It saddens Joel to see Ellie having to face these lethal consequences at such a young age. It doesn't get better with time either. It's simply a matter of survival. That's what it was in this moment.

This conflict is fueled by a massive misunderstanding. The local group of survivors is led by Kathleen. She isn't associated with FEDRA. In fact, she seeks revenge against the people she blames for her brother's death. She holds Henry squarely responsible. She views the latest attack on her people as yet another setup from her sworn enemy. This is the precise tactic he would employ to defeat her. She is obsessed with this specific mission. She knows how her enemy thinks. She will risk everything in order to get justice. That means even risking an attack from the infected to keep everyone focused on the task at hand. She sees the rubble beneath a building that currently keeps the creatures at bay. They are powerful enough to move those stones. It's only a matter of time before they break through. Kathleen can't face that right now. It's a problem for another day. It's better to seal the building off. No one can overlook the threat from these creatures. And yet, the show has pointedly placed humanity at the center of numerous dangers. People scare Joel more than the infected do. That's an opinion informed by history. People are so often motivated by their own selfish desires. The infected are connected to one another. They present an immediate threat. They only have a simple motivation though. They seek to spread the infection. It must consume as much of the world as possible. Joel can handle that directly. With humans, he has to compromise himself in order to justify every action taken. He stabs an injured man to death. He finishes the job for Ellie so she doesn't carry that burden exclusively. He wants to view her as a child who needs protection. And yet, she has already seen so many horrors in this world. She can handle a gun. Joel is lucky she had that weapon. She needs to use it responsibly. Joel trusts her with that now. It's still a dangerous plight for them. They seek higher ground to get a better lay of the land. It's arduous for Joel to make it up 33 flights of stairs. At that point, it's simply a matter of finding a place to rest for the night. The danger that lurks around them takes a momentary pause as Joel and Ellie bond. It's quite miraculous to see that breakthrough in his steely demeanor. He cracks up over a joke about diarrhea. That's a phenomenal moment that immediately conveys the bond these two have quickly developed. Ellie is forcing Joel to reckon with his humanity and recognize that he hasn't lost everything despite all that he has endured. He still has something to lose. He has a reason to remain hopeful too. Of course, this tenderness is immediately cut by the two waking up to Henry and his companion Sam holding them at gunpoint. And so, they haven't escaped this danger quite yet. They have the skills to do so even though this episode is largely setting up whatever conflict will come to fruition in the next one.