The Last of Us episode #6 subjects Joel’s paternal love of Ellie to a very important test. He fulfills his original reason for agreeing to escort her out of Boston’s QZ, requiring him to figure out how much she means more to him than a means to an end. The significance of their experiences in Wyoming, and a commercial suggesting that Joel won’t appear in #7, convinced me that #6 deserves its own article.
Airdate: February 19, 2023
Director: Jasmila Žbanić
Writer: Craig Mazin
I just know that when I wake up… I’ve lost somethin’. I’m failin’ in my sleep. That’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done is fail her again and again.
Joel and Ellie finally find Tommy, after his pregnant wife Maria (Rutina Wesley) leads the duo to their securely bustling commune in Jackson, Wyoming. Joel confides in Tommy the panic-inducing stress of protecting Ellie, while still haunted by his failure to protect Sarah. The brothers discuss having Tommy deliver Ellie to a Firefly base at the University of Eastern Colorado, only for her to insist that Joel deliver her instead.
By this point, the show invalidates or weakens most of the initial motivations for Joel and Ellie to journey together. On Ellie’s side, her inability to cure Sam results in her sharing skeptical viewers’ doubts in the effectiveness of a cordyceps vaccine. On Joel’s side, he and Ellie learn that Jackson’s “communists” cutting off radio communication didn’t actually mean that Tommy needed saving. When they see that the townspeople’s cooperation flourished Jackson into the safest and liveliest place they would visit after Outbreak, the show again demonstrates both the destruction of totalitarianism, and the importance of companionship. By weakening what once seemed like the main reasons for this journey this far ahead of the first season finale, Craig Mazin allows the viewers, and possibly also the travelers, ample time to dwell upon the actual importance of the trek.
Joel and Ellie visit Wyoming near Christmas, despite this episode airing several months before the holiday. Given the association of Christmas with family gatherings – reinforced when Joel and Tommy catch up with each other – the time period seems to result in some heartbreaking looks at potential alternate lives for Joel. Early on, he and Ellie receive directions from a happily married couple (Graham Greene and Elaine Miles) much older than Joel and Tess were before the latter’s self-sacrifice. In Jackson, Joel finds an unnamed woman and her daughter to bear some resemblance to how he would imagine an older Sarah and his un-conceived granddaughter. Fortunately, Joel ultimately makes steps towards developing a larger family when Ellie refuses to leave him behind in Jackson.
Even if potentially sounds selfish of Joel to consider separating from Ellie, Pedro Pascal and the creatives continue to portray him sympathetically. Joel’s first panic attack suggests the journey taking a toll on his physical health. However, as he suffers these attacks more frequently, they visually and audibly conceptualize the conceit of his heart breaking at the thought of failing to protect Tommy or Ellie. When Joel recounts his and Ellie’s struggles to Tommy, he brings up his feelings on the matters before the need to protect Ellie, but Pascal’s progressive and realistic whimpering when describing Joel’s shortcomings make it clear that Joel values her safety over his. Across Joel’s debates with both Tommy and Ellie over Joel’s worth as her guardian, Jasmila Žbanić’s direction and the potent performances from Pascal, Bella Ramsey, and Gabriel Luna add necessary intensity to a story that possibly lacked tension on paper – no enemies invade Jackson, and the majority of viewers likely don’t expect Ellie to finish her journey without Joel.
Even after Joel and Ellie leave Jackson, the episode takes about another eight minutes before delivering any action. Their ride to Colorado allows for some satisfying looks at the pair opening up further to each other, and to Joel lightening up with assurance of both Tommy’s safety, and of Ellie’s sense of security in Joel. On the downside, their tour of the University ends up feeling rushed, even counting their exploration before the fight. It at least achieves the necessary minimum of giving Joel and Ellie an idea for their next destination, and of increasing the stakes before the next stop. “Kin” captivatingly explores both the pain and catharsis that Joel experiences during his second chance at fatherhood.