‘The Last of Us’ Episode 6 Review: ‘Who’ Reveals New World – Spoilers

The HBO show is coming to yet another new destination, one that offers a much different kind of future with a clear view.

(Editor’s note: Included in the following review spoilers for “The Last of Us” Season 1, Episode 6, “Kin.”

Time is often lost in the apocalyptic soup. Either you lose track of the cultural and rhythmic markers of the days, weeks, and months, or you begin to follow new ways to fit the changing world. Part of the appeal of “The Last of Us” is that it can lend the story the endless scroll of a never-ending journey and rest stops along the way. The broad mountains of Wyoming may stretch beyond the horizon, but it’s Christmas in an oasis.

As this inaugural season hits its two-thirds mark, “Who” offers a glimpse into a possible future without state police or weaponization due to scarce resources. Until now, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) had to choose between safety and human interaction. For a precious portion of this hour — directed by Jasmila Žbanić and written by series co-creator Craig Mazin — they get both.

These come after completing one of the big objectives of the season. Surviving a tense cordyceps-sniffing dog and a band of horsemen eager to destroy lost travelers, Joel and Ellie make their way to Jackson, a tiny retreat in the Wyoming wilderness, where the long-estranged siblings are finally reunited. The moment Joel and Tommy meet is characteristically understated, not a complete counterbalance to the death and grief that lies ahead. It’s about two brothers who have a lot to say to each other and enjoy a moment of happiness (and to some extent confusion) before filling in the gaps later.

“The Last of Us” has had a restless season so far, bouncing from place to place. It could be argued that this was the closest thing the show has had to getting in the way of not being able to shop at any one place before things inevitably come crashing down. Either the truck breaks down, or the sinkhole opens, or old friends die. That unfamiliarity forces “The Last of Us” to feel the same restlessness that kept Joel alive, a resistance to staying in one place for too long. So far, the decision to move forward has been easy.

The Last of Us Episode 6 Tommy Joel

“The Last of Us”

Liane Hentscher/HBO

Jackson represents a kind of cruel double-edged sword for Joel and Ellie. It’s the closest thing these two have had to something stable in their entire time together. This is the most viable point for the two of them to make a bet and really get some rest. But their journey together is meant to help find a cure and give many people a glimpse into the lives Jackson’s people are already living. Joel and Ellie’s momentary happiness comes at the expense of a possible theoretical happiness that could exist for so many others.

This fits well with a lot of what Ben Travers wrote about in his review of last week’s episode. “The Last of Us” is built on a foundation of priorities and sacrifices that affect everyone differently. These value judgments extend not only to why people are willing to kill in the present, but also to what from the past they are willing to let go. Who are the people trying to keep it alive against the new future, and who are the people so haunted that they try to suppress all mention of it? For 20 years, Joel tried to escape the day of plagues. Tommy and his wife Maria (Rutina Wesley) make it so they don’t forget.

I’ll leave it to more learned scholars of collective action to talk about Jackson’s construction and what it says about the show’s general attitude about how and when certain kinds of societies are possible. The show really gives Jackson his own unquantifiable currency. This is the look on children’s faces as they watch a Spielberg classic in a makeshift theater. (Glad those kids never get to see a “West Side Story” remake.) Trust in rotating leadership is what puts the needs of the community before the personal. And that’s the hope itself, the idea that a global blip doesn’t have to mean a series of new daily lows.

Jackson’s matter-of-fact presentation is where “Kin” benefits most from Žbanić’s sure hand. He is initially surprised when the door opens and Joel is at least a little glad to have his comfort back. But this is not the euphoria of Frank and Bill’s strawberries. If anything, Joel’s skeptical nature prevents him from truly being at peace. The show’s ability to build entire locations and inhabit them is well established at this point. Žbanić’s eyes define Jackson not as a utopia, but as a community of survivors. His previous film “Quo Vadis, Aida?” – which details the 1995 Srebenica massacre – is firmly rooted in the moments before, during and after the horrific violence. By the end of the film, the past, present, and future overlap, especially as the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina struggle with exactly how to move forward and how much to keep this tragedy in the present.

The Last of Us Episode 6 Maria

“The Last of Us”

Liane Hentscher/HBO

There is an unspoken argument in “Who” that Jackson can only truly serve his people if the people have a mutual understanding of the past. They honor him with living memories and promise that the people still alive will do good (not to mention Maria and Tommy’s child yet to come). Maria paints a portrait of Jackson as a community that thrives because everyone understands what it can do. They know how many people they can accommodate. They know what they can handle, even in the sweltering Rocky Mountain winter. Whether it’s the purity he’s gained from his travels or the people with a keen sense of self, Joel senses his own limitations and offers Tommy as Ellie’s travel partner for the final stretch. Pascal plays this decision to leave room for Ellie to interpret it as giving up or accepting Jackson’s comfort.

The moment the two reconnect in the barn, especially the time when Ellie moments without hesitation puts the gear on Joel, is a reminder that the show has one constant, even if the set is constantly changing. Without it, the only danger they find at the abandoned campus in Eastern Colorado is a spooky, haunted research lab and some guys lurking around outside. The idea that Joel is vulnerable after all (few people walk away unscathed from a baseball bat-dagger fight) is as much about the possibility of losing the partnership as it is about losing Joel. There is a shared expertise and a shared purpose that will die with Joel when he bleeds out in the snow on I-25.

Until the answer comes next week, it’s just another front page. This time it’s an alternative version of the Depeche Mode song that closed the premiere. If this is the other “Never Let Me Down Again” real book series, the biggest question is what really ended up on that Bighorns campus, even if Joel manages to move on.

grade: A-

“The Last of Us” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO and can be streamed on HBO Max.

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