‘The Last of Us’ Episode 4 Resets the Entire Plot

the last of us episode 4 recap
‘The Last of Us’ Episode 4 Resets the PlotHBO

The following story contains spoilers for The Last of Us Season 1 Episode 4.

They can't all be epics. After The Last of Us swerved into a largely stand-alone story (bookended with some Joel and Ellie framing) to conclude the first phase of the show's story for Episode 3, Episode 4, titled "Please Hold My Hand" tosses some more irons onto the fire. Here, we find our heroes continuing to move west, searching both for Joel's brother Tommy and a place where Ellie's apparent immunity to the Cordyceps infection can be studied by experts. But, coming as no surprise to anyone who's ever taken in any piece of fiction before, none of that is going to be easy.

Episode 4 keeps things fairly straightforward, as Ellie and Joel take advantage of the supplies that Bill and Frank left them after their joint suicide, including a truck (that Joel needs to frequently refuel), a bunch of old coffee (which does not exactly inspire Ellie into becoming a caffeine-head), and Frank's secretly-hidden gun that Ellie secretly found.

"Please Hold My Hand" doesn't open with a devastating cold open like Episodes 1 or 2 did, and it doesn't have any of the cinematic flourishes that Episode 3 did; it just continues to push the story forward, mixing backstory and character development through dialogue with the plot inching forward as far as the protagonist's travel pace allows.

It won't go down as anyone's favorite episode of the show, but it continues to show that co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann have a firm grip and a strong focus on the story they want to be telling.

Worth noting: for the first time in The Last of Us, this episode takes place entirely in the present. Everything discussed below is part of the show's 2023 time period.

On The Road Again

the last of us episode 4 recap

Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) pick up after the Linda Ronstadt fest of Episode 3, now shifting gears to the Hank Williams tape in the car; while Joel is old (we're reminded this episode that he's 56, an age that Pascal does not quite pass as, but that's OK), Mr. Williams is even before his time.

The traveling segment of the show—both in the car and once they take a break for the day to set up camp—includes a lot of character building and expositional monologues. Ellie asks Joel why he and Tommy aren't together, and Joel shares that Tommy has always, essentially, wanted to be a hero. He signed up for Desert Storm right out of high school, but that didn't fill his void. When the 2003 outbreak hit, he eventually found his way into the Fireflies with Marlene, a cause that he eventually also left. There were some good times—Joel reveals that at one point, he and Tommy found Tess, and they were a good group. Or, at least, as good as things could be. They got by. But good things, in this world, don't last.

It's clear from this interaction that Joel has adapted a deeply cynical worldview. Ellie asks why he continues on if there's no hope for society, and he tells her: family makes it worth it. But he also draws a line—Ellie is cargo, and Tess was family. Joel's walls remain up, but we see them slowly breaking down int his episode.

The main avenue for that is through the repeated interactions between Ellie and Joel around a book of puns that she found called "No Pun Intended, Volume Too." While Joel at first isn't playing alone, Ellie keeps at it. When they eventually set up camp, she asks him another ("Why did the scarecrow get an award?), and he picks up on it. "Because he was outstanding in his field he answers," before rolling over. "You dick!" Ellie says aloud, as Joel cracks the slightest of smiles, one he desperately wants to reveal. This isn't the most eventful episode in terms of plot, but Pascal is especially fantastic in these small character-building moments.

There are a couple more fun moments in this segment too. Ellie clearly knows what things are, but doesn't seem to know about them in practice. One in particular? When she seemingly encounters coffee for the first time, pulling back in disgust at the sight of Bill's hot brown liquid being brewed in a pot. She's heard of Starbucks, and asks Joel if that is what they were selling like hot cakes. "It smells like burnt shit," she says.

And while it's fun to see Joel and Ellie bantering back and forth, and can be funny to hear her curse like a sailor just about every episode, it's also a good bit of character building to reinforce that she's still just a kid. When Joel tells Ellie (in a very psuedo-fatherly kind of way) that she got up early and maybe should get some more sleep while he's driving, she responds as most young teenagers would: "I'm not even tired!" This makes the hard cut to her passed out in the passenger seat an especially funny sight gag.

Kansas City, More Like Ambush City

the last of us episode 4 recap

Ellie wakes up as Joel finds a crammed tunnel on the road. He tells her they're in Kansas City, and he cooks up an idea to get around the logjam. As he drives through the suspiciously empty local streets, a guy runs into the street crying for help. Ellie seems eager to assist, but Joel knows better, veering off the road, as traps ruin his truck's tires and coming under gunfire from people in the streets.

Joel and Ellie get out of the car and take cover, and Joel gives Ellie very specific instruction: go climb through the wall into another room where you can stay until this ends. "Look at me," he tells her intensely, looking right into her eyes. "They're not going to hit you."

Ellie successfully makes it into the other room, as Joel handles one of the guys shooting at him, and the other guy enters the room. Joel is about to be overpowered, strangled to death, by this guy, until Ellie—holding Frank's gun that she took from the drawer in Bill's house—shoots him and takes him out.

Joel gets out from underneath him quickly and the incapacitated man begins to beg for his life. His name is Brian, they can trade, his mom lives nearby, he can't feel his legs. Joel tells Ellie to go back to the other room; we don't know what, exactly, he does to Brian in this moment, but Brian's wailing stops. While Ellie may be getting to Joel a little bit, he still has little sympathy for anyone who was trying to end his life only a few minutes ago.

Joel and Ellie continue through the city in the aftermath of what's just happened; Joel feels genuinely bad that Ellie had to save him, and ultimately remembers that passing through the city at the logjam of cars was his choice. "You shouldn't have had to," he tells her repeatedly. She tells him that it wasn't her first time. We're meant to think back to her encounter with the infected in the basement of the Cumberland Farms last episode, but she doesn't want to talk about it—suggesting that there's another story we haven't been told just yet.

Joel and Ellie grow closer throughout the episode, as he begins to realize that while he's been trying to insulate her from this world—from the violence, from doing what he's had to do—it may not be possible. He feels guilty, but a shift in his thinking is clear; he's going to help her. This begins as he finally teaches her to properly hold a gun. Their relationship continues to grow in the halls as they look for a place to sleep for the night. (Ellie, along the way, asks questions like "Did you kill innocent people," which he cannot answer in good consciousness)Once they set their sleeping bags (Ellie remarked earlier in the episode that hers smells nice; Joel says that must have been Frank's), Joel sets some nails on the floor to crunch if anyone approaches them in the middle of the night.

They banter back and forth just a bit more before bed, first talking, again, about the necessity of killing people that this new world has given them. Ellie asks Joel one more question: "Did you know diarrhea is hereditary?" Joel is confused. "Because it runs in your jeans." He can't resist, and just cracks up—and allows Ellie to hear that he's cackling too. He says it's so stupid, but finally these two are getting somewhere.

They fall asleep, but before long, Joel is awakened by Ellie. A man and a boy are holding a gun to her head. Who are these people? Well, another subplot gives us an idea.

A Random New Subplot

the last of us episode 4 recap

After Joel's struggle with Brian, the episode shifts perspective again, bringing us into a holding cell (inside a storage unit) where Kathleen (played by the wonderful Yellowjackets lead Melanie Lynskey) is torturing a doctor. Clearly something terrible has happened to Kathleen, and she's looking for a group of people, including a guy named Henry. This doctor claims whatever he did—some kind of informing to FEDRA—is something he had to do, as he was held at gunpoint.

Kathleen takes her own gun out, and tells the doctor that two can play at that game. He isn't fazed by her posturing, telling her that he delivered her. "I'm your doctor," he repeats, gun to his head. She walks out.

We then see her outside, where a group of people have gathered around the bodies of Brian and the other guy Joel killed. Kathleen asks if they're dead; she wonders if even a doctor could save them. When she's told no, she demands a manhunt for whoever did this, and to find Henry and the others she was seeking. She returns straight back to the storage unit, and shoots and kills the doctor.

This storyline is a bit confusing. We know we're now in Kansas City, but what's not clear is who these people are and why we should care about whatever their story is. Kathleen and Perry (some sort of armed rebel leader) are searching for Henry and someone named Sam, and find in an attic a bunch of open canned food and some superhero drawings; it's clear that she's searching for a man and a child, but we don't know her relation, or why, exactly, she's looking for them. We'll find out more next week, but it's Henry and Sam who Joel and Ellie so pleasantly encounter at the end of the episode.

Along the way they find a room with a big crater in the center that seems to be pulsating. Is this a bunch of infected literally bursting through the ground? Or something worse, that we haven't seen yet? They don't want to tell anyone, but we'll find out soon enough.

The Last of Us has pit humanity vs the infected as its core conflict to this point, but there's only so far that a villain without any real agency can take you. It's interesting to add a character making choices we're meant to disapprove of, but it feels just sort of dropped in at this point. We'll have to continue watching to see where this story is headed—and how it can continue to build up the Joel and Ellie who we're only now really starting to get to know.

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