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apocalyptic city
Concept art illustration of post-apocalyptic New York city
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The Last of Us, Episode 4

After a derailing of the narrative, the actual plot makes a comeback

After a tough episode three, The Last of Us decides to return to the plot, and we see the writing quality improve somewhat. We pick up with Joel and Ellie driving down the road, and to be candid, the scenes are interesting. There was, however, one giant plot hole during this sequence I couldn’t ignore. It’s a little thing, but as someone who grew up in Missouri, I found it hilarious. So, while they are driving along, they come across a herd of bison. The subtext behind the camera shot is painfully obvious, “Now that man is gone, the buffalo have returned. Nature is healing!” Of course, what the camera crew failed to notice, or at least, what they were hoping you wouldn’t spot, was that the bison were eating hay. It looked like a long trail of hay, which would have required a farmer to spread it. So much for nature reclaiming the earth.

They drive until they come across a pile-up blocking an overpass in Kansas City. This was something else I had a problem with. Why would anyone want to drive into a city in a post-apocalyptic world? Even assuming the city isn’t filled with raiders and all kinds of seedy individuals, presumably, all the dead people would still be there, and so would their cars. The first thing anyone should expect would be a traffic jam at some point. Why didn’t they drive around the city, if for no other reason than to keep away from FEDRA, who Joel and Ellie desperately want to avoid? The entire setup is silly, but then the bad decisions continue when Joel decides to cut through the city by taking an offramp and rejoining the interstate on the other side of the overpass. Clearly, this is a bad idea. Not only would there be even more traffic, but downtown is where all the bad guys are. This is an example of the writers making the character a temporary moron for the sake of pushing the plot. Joel of all people should know better than to travel into the depths of an unknown city. Driving around the skyscrapers was the obvious option, even if it would’ve taken more time.

Through the City and Into Chaos

They travel downtown and get lost. Apparently, both characters are incapable of reading a map, yet they are attempting to cross the entire country. They meander around downtown until they come across a guy who is limping around asking for help, but Joel’s brain returns for a second, and he instantly recognizes the man’s performance as a rouse. But then his brain goes on hiatus again, because rather than backing away, which would’ve been the safer thing to do, he floors the truck and drives past the man, which of course, prompts the men in waiting to spring their trap. They throw a cinderblock onto the windshield and Joel and Ellie crash into a building. It’s almost as if the bad guys were expecting him to go forward.

This entire situation only makes episode three even more infuriating, because now, not only did we have to put up with a random romance for forty minutes, but the truck those two dead men left for Joel and Ellie lasted less than twenty minutes. So, all those supplies and all that time wasted watching Bill and Frank live and die comes to nothing.

Joel and Ellie get into a shootout, survive the shootout, and scurry away. This leads us to the introduction of Kathleen. She is the leader of this band of men who tried to kill Ellie and Joel, and she is hunting for a man named Henry, who apparently sold out her brother to FEDRA, and as a result, FEDRA killed the man. There is an interesting moment during her introduction where she murders a doctor, despite the help he could provide for her people. The purpose of this event is to show the audience that she is consumed by revenge.

Kathleen learns of the shootout and concludes that Joel and Ellie are some kind of backup Henry must’ve radioed in to help him escape the city. Kathleen finds this unacceptable and orders her men to scour the area, looking for Henry, Ellie, and Joel.

While following Kathleen’s point of view we come across another poorly written scene. Kathleen is taken to a room by one of her men and shown a pit that begins to shift and move as they’re talking. I only bring this up because of what happens in the next episode. The bottom line is that there is a horde of zombies roaming about under the city, and there is a particularly large zombie called a Bloater moving with this horde. This Bloater makes an appearance in the next episode, but because the monster is not mentioned in episode four, it makes the creature’s arrival seem random. I had to watch the episode for a second time to connect the events, so the writers should’ve foreshadowed the Bloater during this scene, that way the final showdown at the end of episode five didn’t seem like such a deus ex machine.

Cat and Mouse in Kansas City

The rest of the episode is essentially a game of cat and mouse, and a chance for Joel and Ellie to bond a little. To the writers’ credit, these moments between the two characters begin to fix the over-the-top hostility they have had for each other up to this point. They do this in several ways. One is through a book of puns Ellie had found before meeting Joel. She begins to read these puns to Joel, and Joel finally gives in and laughs at one of them. It’s not a bad way to get the two to start really talking to each other, and some of the puns are a little funny.

The episode ends with Joel and Ellie finding a room in a high-rise apartment building, and Joel pours some broken glass in front of the door so he can hear anybody who tries to enter the room. However, this does not work because Joel turns over in his sleep.

(After the shootout, Ellie mentions that he is almost deaf in one of his ears.) When Joel wakes up, he sees a little boy pointing a gun at him, a finger over the child’s lips, telling him to be quiet. The story continues in the next review.     

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

The Last of Us, Episode 4