The Last of Us relies too heavily on the source material in a mid-season episode that's got just enough shock and substance to maintain quality.
If you think Joel and Ellie will catch a break in The Last of Us, I have some bad news. After the cliffhanger ending of episode 4, The Last of Us TV series episode 5 goes from rough to worse, as Kathleen launches a tirade to find her invaders and escapees.
Sam and Henry are the gun-toting brothers who corner Joel and Ellie, themselves trying to get out of Kansas City. They’re trying to get away from FEDRA and Kathleen, understanding that neither regime is going to fix the severe supply shortages happening in major cities.
They plan to head towards the Fireflies, conveniently where Joel’s taking Ellie too, so they form an uneasy alliance. Joel really isn’t sure, the drama series capturing the exact timbre of his uneasiness from the horror game.
Ellie and Sam hit it off, hanging out together like kids. They laugh and share jokes, in a way this Cordyceps-ravaged world rarely allows. The Last of Us episode 5 is a reinforcement of the shattered innocence from the initial outbreak.
Once you lose a sense of security, especially as drastically as when the infected began taking over, getting it back becomes extremely difficult. You’re always preparing for the downturn, the collapse that leaves you alone, hurt, and fending for your life again.
Joel carries an acute feeling of this, having made it through two decades of the new world so far after losing Sarah. When he sees Ellie enjoying herself, all he’s wondering is what’s going to ruin her smile and remind her not to get too comfy.
He’s proven right in harrowing fashion. But before that, He agrees to Henry’s plan to get out through underground tunnels that are infected free. While poking through the underpass, they find what used to be a hideout for other survivors, where they decide to stop for a moment to regroup.
The PS5 game had this section full of zombies; this version is more haunting. These people were safe, but stuck. Why did they leave? Probably because these walls drove them to it. There’s only so long you can last in isolation before you take your chances. Even Bill and Frank had a connection to Boston.
The Last of Us is full of this literal interpretation of the title, but the HBO adaptation finds more room for quieter realisations of the motif. Naughty Dog’s game relies on the violence of the infected, but the show has more shadows to it, more moments where you can only ponder what really went on.
Craig Mazin’s script for the episode is contemplative, but only just. Joel is restless, and he’s right to be, because Kathleen’s on their tail. Jeremy Webb directs this episode, like the last, and he handles most of it well. The blocking and pace are traded between Ellie and Sam, and Joel and Henry, to contrast their perspectives.
It’s an episode predicated on parental anxiety, held by Kathleen too. She had a brother who recently passed, and her grief now fuels her need for control. She tells Perry, her main enforcer, about playful memories. Perhaps the truest thing The Last of Us has to offer is that we’re always trying to navigate each other’s hurt.
Like episode 4, Melanie Lynskey’s performance is staggering. There’s a level of sociopathy to Kathleen, but it’s from a place of such deep sadness. Not to mention worry, since the very bedrock of the city is being dug out by mindless infected, and Lynskey brings the same energy to her portrayal. A house of cards that’s teetering, but will not fold.
Her grip is tenuous, and that makes her unpredictable. The rest of The Last of Us characters are held down by one of her snipers in the suburbs, allowing her to catch up to them. A jeep gets driven into a nearby house, ominously sinking down. Uh oh, you know what’s coming.
Infected start pouring out, followed by a massive Bloater. Bedlam ensues. Ellie is chased into a car by a small child who snakes around, somehow making the creepy child trope even creepier. Joel manages to guide Sam, Henry, and Ellie to an escape route using a sniper position.
Sam and Henry almost get stuck under a car, but manage to get away. On their way out. They confront Kathleen, who’s attacked by the young infected. Her ending is fitting, but there’s a missed opportunity to go deeper on what she was capable of.
As a new addition to The Last of Us cast, it also seems like she was written out relatively quickly so she wouldn’t impact the remainder of the season. Sure, it’s good to see parts of the original game kept verbatim, but the TV show has beeen strongest when expanding outward, like with Kathleen. The status quo can be a hindrance, too.
In any case, she’s gone, and zombies pour out towards the city. Kansas City is gone, then. Joel, Ellie, Sam, and Henry hold up in a motel somewhere far enough away. They settle down for the night, when Sam reveals something horrifying: he got bitten. Ellie, ever the naïve optimist, reveals that she’s immune, and her blood provides a cure.
She cuts her hand and smears it over his wound, but it’s no use. The next day she wakes up to him mindless, and they wrestle into Joel and Henry’s room. Henry kills his brother, before killing himself, because what else is there for him to live for?
Taking the “endure and survive” mantra to heart, Joel and Ellie makes graves from their lost companions, and return to the open road. Trust nobody, don’t get close, don’t let your feelings get in the way of what needs to be done. Even trying to adhere to all of this, Joel has wound up taking Ellie on this voyage.
You can try and protect yourself as much as you want, but life often has other ideas. Painful as this might be, it’s better than keeping yourself locked in, staring at the same ceiling all the time, wondering what the sky might look like.