This Last of Us review contains spoilers.
The Last of Us Episode 6
Episode 6 of The Last of Us, titled “Kin,” feels like something of a breakthrough for the series. We watch Joel and Ellie finally speak openly about their feelings toward each other, which is a revelation, narratively. And this emotional swell in the story is brought to life by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, who turn in not just their best performances in the series thus far, but possibly the best performances of their respective careers.
The three-month time jump following the deaths of Henry and Sam finds Joel and Ellie in Wyoming, zeroing in on Tommy’s location by chatting (guns drawn, naturally) with an elderly couple who’ve been off the grid since before the world went to hell. The couple are downright adorable, and their little shared chuckles of amusement at Joel and Ellie’s high-strung energy make for a nice moment of levity following the visions of horror we were left with last episode.
In fact, “Kin” as a whole is a welcome change of pace coming off of the frantic two-part escape from Kansas City. It’s got little action to speak of, but the reveal of Jackson is monumental, Joel finding Tommy at long last feels like a huge sigh of relief (until it doesn’t), and we get some of the most powerful, revealing Joel and Ellie material we’ve seen yet.
We’ve been introduced to several rich, compelling characters at this point, and we’ve watched them all come into and out of Joel and Ellie’s orbit. But this is the first time we really get to focus on the central duo’s relationship and dive deep into what’s going on inside of their heads and how they feel about one another.
The backdrop for all of this is, of course, the commune in Jackson, Tommy’s adopted home where he plans to start a new life with his wife Maria and their unborn child. They offer Joel and Ellie one of their extra houses to stay in, Maria takes Ellie to the movies, the brothers share a couple of stiff drinks at the town bar. Idyllic almost isn’t strong enough a word for the Jackson commune, particularly when considering the misery of the gory dystopia beyond its sturdy walls. Aside from Bill and Frank’s setup in episode 3, this is the first glimpse we’ve gotten at a post-outbreak community where people can not just survive, but actually live their lives.
The first talk between Joel and Tommy is a contentious one. Tommy and Maria are having a child, and Joel, still haunted by the loss of Sarah all those years ago, can’t muster up anything but resentment and perhaps a tinge of jealousy when he hears the news. “Just because life stopped for you doesn’t mean it has to stop for me,” Tommy says, inches away from Joel’s face. Oof.
Their later meeting, in which Joel implores Tommy to take Ellie to the Fireflies in his stead, is even more emotional. Joel’s frailty both mentally and physically is a going concern throughout the episode, and Tommy, being the only person in the world Joel trusts enough to tell the whole truth, gets just that.
“I was so afraid. I’m not who I was. I’m weak,” Joel confesses, sobbing. “I’m failing in my sleep. It’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done is fail her. Again and again.” Is he talking about Ellie or Sarah? Or could it be the more unsettling possibility that he’s conflating them?
Pascal’s performance here is unbelievably great. After watching Joel be a grumpy, rock-solid ass-kicker for five episodes, we finally get to see him break down and let his deepest fears come to the surface. Our hearts break for him because we know he’s held it in for so long, and because his love for Ellie has grown so much that he doesn’t trust himself to keep her safe anymore. Pascal’s voice quivers, his body shakes, and in this moment, he proves once again that he’s one of the very best actors in the business.
And if all that isn’t enough, the infamous kids bedroom confrontation between Joel and Ellie is up next. It’s one of the most gut-wrenching scenes from the game, and they reenact it essentially line for line, because the original material is just that damn good. Ramsey and Pascal are on fire here, as their bond is momentarily shattered, making Joel’s ultimate decision to change his mind and continue on with Ellie on their journey that much more gratifying.
Joel and Ellie are in a great place now. They trust and care for one another, and they’ve told each other as much. They’re even having a laugh during target practice, which shows you how far they’ve come when you remember that, at one point, he couldn’t stand talking to her and refused to let her lay so much as a finger on a pistol.
But The Last of Us definitely won’t let us have nice things, so Joel gets stabbed real good protecting Ellie from a gang of punks at the abandoned university they thought was a Firefly base. What’s significant here is that Ellie, who’s depended on Joel for survival up to this point, is now put in the dreadful position of having to save Joel’s bleeding, unconscious ass while traveling through parts unknown. It’s a major turning point in the story, a killer cliffhanger, and a chilling way to cap off an episode that is neck-and-neck with “Long Long Time” for best of the season so far.