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The Last of Us Please Hold to My Hand

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The Last of Us Drifts Off Course with “Please Hold to My Hand”

The Last of Us heads to Kansas City, in a conflicting hour of great character work and simplistic plotting.

The Last of Us, Season One, Episode 4:
“Please Hold to My Hand” Review

Over the closing credits of “Please Hold to My Hand,” The Last of Us’ wandering the fourth hour plays Lotte Kestner’s cover of New Order’s “True Faith” – a song that, though explicitly about lost childhood and the indulgences of fame, is a song about the danger of getting lost in the darkness. In New Order’s version, that metaphor is often around drug use; translated into TLoU‘s macabre world of nihilistic determinism, the song’s lyrics clearly speak to the three characters central to the episode’s narrative: Joel, Ellie, and the new addition to the fray, Kansas City’s Kathleen.

It begins with a remarkably strong set of scenes tracing Joel and Ellie’s path to Kansas City (replacing Pittsburgh from The Last of Us Part I), their growing familiarity with each other giving voice to the hundreds of miles they’ve driven since we last saw them. Though some of the devices are rather simplistic – Ellie’s book of puns for humor – they’re quite effective channeled through the performances of Pascal and Ramsay, as she slowly begins to encroach on the many defenses Joel’s built up between his heart and mind.

The Last of Us Please Hold to My Hand
Image: HBO

The scenes are quiet and beautifully paced to let Gustavo Santaolalla and David Fleming’s score effectively build tone, as Joel ponders off in the distance and Ellie tries to fight off sleep in the passenger seat. It’s peaceful – and when it ends, is appropriately greeted by the sound of deafening rifle fire when Joel and Ellie are ambushed on a seemingly deserted city street (Joel did say two episodes back that traveling through cities was a terrible idea, but I’m not going to nitpick). The roar of their guns is audible and kicks up the episode’s tension instantly; you can almost feel Joel’s heart racing as he tells Ellie she won’t get shot trying to run and hide – that ability to shift gears is palpable and sends a shockwave through the episode.

From there, we shift gears a bit to introduce Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey, hot off her amazing work in Yellowjackets); who, unfortunately, is too vague and meek to really leave an impact as a character in her introduction. It’s not great that the first decision we see her make is to kill one of the most valuable people in her own clan (you can’t kill the doctors; how many times do we have to revisit this?) – but the real issue is that the subtlety of performance doesn’t translate to creating a real sense of danger, especially as she confuses Joel and Ellie’s actions with other people (I’m sure we’ll talk a lot more about Henry in next week’s episode!). One thing is clear (and it is not how she assembled so much power): she’s driven by the death of her brother – beyond that, she’s a bit of an amorphous presence that exists only to break up Joel/Ellie scenes than set a new standard for danger or conflict for our protagonists to endure (who seems more dangerous: the woman who shoots doctors after a second thought, or that massive bulge underground she clearly states Is Not Going To Be A Problem In Next Week’s Episode).

With that emphasis and larger sense of danger lacking, “Please Hold to My Hand” has to lean into that growing sense of dread that our newfound friends will not be ok. In an inverse from Kathleen’s presence, everything becomes explicit text, from the glass Joel breaks up on the floor before they sleep to the reveal that this isn’t Ellie’s first time being violent. Your mileage with these scenes will vary; while I really enjoy Joel’s line about shooting Bryan being something she “shouldn’t have had to do” (showing a sense of responsibility and empathy Joel will never express with his actions), I could do without Ellie looking at Joel and asking him if “he’s killed any innocent people” – these moments are all over the spectrum in their effectiveness, but thankfully are tied up with the aforementioned dreary cover of an 80’s pop song.

The Last of Us Please Hold to My Hand
Image: HBO

Subtlety was never The Last of Us‘ strongest tool as a narrative – which, given Druckmann’s close involvement with the series, makes the rather blunt approach somewhat expected. There are much cleaner integrations of these ideas, like when Joel teaches Ellie how to hold a gun so it can’t get ripped from her hands (I’m not saying anything!), but there’s still the Sticky Gay Porn Magazine problem (and the actual magazine; still can’t believe they kept that)The Last of Us may struggle with, as it continues to adhere so closely to its source material.

Those deviations – Frank and Kathleen – have been important: but as I talked about last week, show a bit of the limitation of its creators in how they apply morality and emotion to their story. They are consistent and good at training their viewer – I think we all knew when Joel laughed and Ellie mentioned his hearing that things were going to shit quickly – but that adherence is not really couched in anything beyond “everything fucking sucks, always”, which makes some of the push-and-pull between good and evil forces in its narrative feel artificial.

Though certainly a step down from “Long, Long Time”, “Please Hold to My Hand” utilizes its emotional palette to great effect early on, which helps smooth over the much-bumpier second half of the episode. Given where it ends up, it is also clear this episode is the first half of a complete thought; with Ellie and Joel trapped in Kansas City with two guns pointed at them, a maniacal leader looking for vengeance, and the Thing Pulsating Underground We Can Totally Just Casually Brush Off, “Please Hold to My Hand” is an hour of television with its eyes deadlocked on the future – but, for the most part, still channels its thematic material effectively in the present.

Written By

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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