The Last of Us Episode 5 Review: Escape From Kansas City
Another dramatic episode of HBO's The Last of Us leads to some shocking twists.
This Last of Us review contains spoilers.
The Last of Us Episode 5
“The answer is easy: I am the bad guy, because I did a bad guy thing.”
This assertion from Henry (Lamar Johnson) to Joel is the most thought-provoking moment in “Endure and Survive,” episode 5 of The Last of Us, and perhaps even the entire series to this point. It’s a reference to Henry giving up Kathleen’s slain brother Michael, the beloved leader of their Kansas City resistance group, to FEDRA in exchange for treatment for his kid brother Sam’s (Keivonn Woodard) leukemia.
But Henry’s comment represents so much more than that. It’s an acknowledgment that, for some people, it’s worth committing evil unto others—and in certain cases, all others—if it’s done in the name of someone you love. If you watch Joel’s face during Henry’s confession, you can see the words resonating with him and deepening his obsession with keeping Ellie safe. Fans of the game will also recognize this exchange as a deft bit of foreshadowing for things to come…
Unfortunately, poignant moments like this were few and far between throughout the rest of the episode. The two-part story of “Please Hold to My Hand” and “Endure and Survive” is a nice piece of genre television that contains some gripping moments of action and a hauntingly violent conclusion that no one will soon forget. But several elements of Joel and Ellie’s stop in Kansas City simply don’t develop and blossom as well as Tess, Bill, and Frank’s stories did.
What we learn about the history between Kathleen, Michael, Henry, and Sam works in terms of fleshing out all of the characters’ motivations, and we understand why things have escalated to the point they have. But the characters ultimately don’t develop seemingly at all, and their stories don’t really go anywhere interesting.
The interactions between Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) and her right-hand man Perry hint at a deep connection between them. When he tells her to run to safety during the episode’s bloody climax as he prepares to take on a bloater head-on, the way she looks at him shows that they clearly love each other. Lynskey and Jeffrey Pierce do a fantastic job of conveying Perry’s devotion to Kathleen despite the fact that she’s a vengeful monster. But it feels like the most compelling things that happened between them happened prior to what we see on the show. When we meet them, they’re hunting down Henry together. They find him together, and then they pay with their lives together. They’re fully enmeshed, but we never see that bond tested or put in any real jeopardy.
This is very likely a side effect of trying to cram so much story into just nine episodes of television — every one or two installment, The Last of Us jumps to a new place with a completely different cast of characters. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to develop many of them (Frank and Bill being the big exception, of course).
Henry and Sam’s tragic ending plays out almost exactly as it does in the game, the major difference being the added context of the insurrection and the conflict with Kathleen. Does the added backstory add to the drama of their deaths? Actually, no, not really. The scene from the game is every bit as soul-crushing as the show’s version, so it calls into question whether all of the drama involving Kathleen and her cohorts served this moment whatsoever.
That said, the added backstory doesn’t harm the scene, either. Watching the brothers die the way that they do is just plain awful, and Bella Ramsey’s whimper in reaction to Henry taking his own life is utterly heartbreaking.
Narratively, this episode was a bit of a mixed bag. But the sniper showdown and subsequent carnage that ensues is so tremendously entertaining that it’s easy to forgive the script’s minor shortcomings. Joel sneaking up to the sniper’s nest is a fun nod to one of the game’s most memorable sections, but when Kathleen’s militia shows up to wreck shop, things get downright epic.
Ellie, Henry, and Sam running for their lives as one of Kathleen’s trucks barrels towards them, tossing cars left and right, is a spectacular visual. And Joel covering their asses from the nest not only adds to the tension, but further establishes that Joel is desperate to keep Ellie safe thanks to some brilliant physical acting from Pascal.
The crashed truck getting devoured by a sinkhole in the background just before Kathleen can pull the trigger on Henry was executed perfectly. It’s a great shot, and the emergence of the underground infected horde is scary as hell, an impressive feat in 2023, after more than a decade of zombie content on our screens. The sequence leads to some intense, gruesome deaths, including Perry getting beheaded by a bloater (a late-stage type of infected that looks unbelievably cool on the show), and Kathleen getting beaten to a pulp by a little gymnast kid infected. The Last of Us is so much more than a creature feature. But man, these mangled monstrosities sure are fun to watch.
One storytelling wrinkle that raises the stakes for the show moving forward is Ellie attempting to cure Sam by rubbing her blood on his infected wound. “My blood is medicine,” she writes to him on his doodle pad before promising to stay up with him until morning. After his untimely death, she places his doodle pad on his grave, bearing her final message to him: “I’m sorry.”
She’s devastated that she couldn’t help her new friend. As she stomps Westward, away from Henry and Sam’s graves, she sternly beckons to Joel. “Let’s go,” she orders, marking a significant shift in their dynamic. It’s evident that she’s taking her mission to share her immunity with others very, very seriously now. And it’s just as evident that Joel now cares more about Ellie than the mission.