The sixth episode of The Last of Us, titled "Kin," feels like a watershed moment for the series. We see Joel and Ellie finally speak honestly about their affections for each other, which is a narrative discovery. And this emotional surge in the tale is brought to life by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, who deliver not only their best performances in the series thus far, but possibly their best performances of their careers. Following the murders of Henry and Sam, Joel and Ellie travel to Wyoming, where they track down Tommy by speaking (weapons drawn, of course) with an old couple who've been off the grid since before the world went to hell. The duo is very cute, and their tiny shared chuckles of pleasure at Joel and Ellie's high-strung energy provide a welcome moment of levity after the visions of terror we were left with in the previous episode.
In fact, after the frenzied two-part escape from Kansas City, "Kin" as a whole is a pleasant change of pace. The disclosure of Jackson is monumental, Joel finally finding Tommy feels like a tremendous sigh of relief (until it doesn't), and we get some of the most powerful, revealing Joel and Ellie material we've seen yet.
At this point, we've been exposed to a number of interesting, compelling individuals, and we've seen them all come and go from Joel and Ellie's circle. Yet, this is the first time we get to focus on the key couple's relationship and delve deep into what's going on inside their thoughts and how they feel about one another.
The setting for all of this is, of course, Tommy's adopted home of Jackson, where he intends to create a new life with his wife Maria and their pregnant child. They offer Joel and Ellie one of their spare rooms to stay in; Maria takes Ellie to the movies; and the brothers share a few stiff drinks at the town bar. Idyllic isn't a strong enough word to describe the Jackson commune, especially given the misery of the horrific dystopia beyond its fortified walls. Apart from Bill and Frank's introduction in episode 3, this is the first look at a post-outbreak community where individuals can not only survive but also live their lives.
The initial conversation between Joel and Tommy is heated. Tommy and Maria are expecting a child, and Joel, still tormented by Sarah's death all those years ago, can only feel bitterness and perhaps a tint of jealously when he learns the news. "Just because life has come to a halt for you doesn't mean it has to come to a halt for me," Tommy adds, inches away from Joel's face. Oof.
Their subsequent meeting is even more dramatic, as Joel begs Tommy to take Ellie to the Fireflies in his place. Throughout the episode, Joel's weakness, both emotionally and physically, is a constant concern, and Tommy, as the only person in the world Joel trusts enough to reveal the complete truth, gets just that.
"I was terrified. "I'm not who I used to be," Joel admits, crying. "I'm failing in my sleep," I say. All I've ever done is let her down. over and over." Is he referring to Ellie or Sarah? Or, perhaps, he's conflating them, which is more unsettling.
Pascal's performance in this scene is incredible. After five episodes of Joel being a grouchy, rock-solid ass-kicker, we finally get to witness him break down and allow his greatest anxieties rise to the surface. Our hearts bleed for him because we know he's been holding it in for so long, and his love for Ellie has grown so strong that he no longer trusts himself to keep her safe. Pascal's voice quivers, his body shakes, and he once again demonstrates why he's one of the best performers in the game.
And if that isn't enough, the famed kids' bedroom brawl between Joel and Ellie follows. It's one of the game's most heartbreaking situations, and they reproduce it almost word for word because the original material is just that excellent. Ramsey and Pascal are on fire here, as their link is temporarily damaged, making Joel's decision to change his mind and accompany Ellie on their quest all the more satisfying.
Joel and Ellie are in a good place right now. They have told each other that they trust and care for one other. They're even laughing during target practise, which shows how far they've gone when you consider that he couldn't stand talking to her and wouldn't let her even touch a handgun.
Yet The Last of Us isn't about to let us have nice things, so Joel is brutally stabbed while defending Ellie from a gang of punks at an abandoned university that they mistook for a Firefly base. What's noteworthy here is that Ellie, who has relied on Joel for survival up to this point, is suddenly forced to save Joel's bleeding, comatose ass while travelling through uncharted territory. It's a big turning point in the tale, a terrifying cliffhanger, and a chilling way to end an episode that's tied with "Long, Long Time" for best of the season thus far.
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