By Luis Navarro, Staff Writer, Co-Host
Episode 3 captivated the hearts of audiences worldwide with Bill and Frank’s Story. It is undeniably one of the greatest TV episodes in recent memory, and worthy of contention for the highest honors. The Last of Us has proved that it is possible to make a video game adaptation worthy of its praises, one that surpasses even the game itself in some instances. Yet, it was inevitable that the show would falter at some point, which leads us to Episode 4 – A Return To The Familiar.
True to its name, episode 4 sees the return of Joel and Ellie to a prominent role in the story. Bypassing the city of Pittsburgh – the setting of this particular story in the video game – the two make their way through the state of Missouri and into Kansas City. As they traverse the city ruins, they’re ambushed by bandits and cornered into a building. The shootout ends with Ellie using the gun she took from Bill and Frank’s house to save Joel’s life.
The story then pivots to a new character named Kathleen, the leader of a local resistance group. Upon learning of the incident between Joel/Ellie and the bandits, she orders a manhunt for who she believes to be Henry and Sam. To remain hidden, Joel takes Ellie into a high-rise apartment where they intend to spend the night and wait out the manhunt. However, things take a different direction when they are awoken by Henry and Sam holding them at gunpoint.
Let’s face it – Episode 4 is the worst episode we’ve seen thus far. Now, that doesn’t mean that it is a bad episode. Episode 4 feels sub-par relative to the other three. But truth be told, this episode is still better than the average episode of TV out there right now. The issue is that it simply does not live up to the high standards the show has set for itself and shown that it can reach.
If you consider that this episode followed arguably the best episode of the show up to this point, it would have been a massive undertaking for episode 4 to reach such a high standard. As a result, Episode 4 bears the burden of this show’s success. Audiences have been spoiled by the extremely high quality of the first three episodes, and when the fourth episode wasn’t what they had come to expect, it’s understandable that some felt disappointed with the result.
Another point of contention is the episode’s runtime, clocking in at 45 minutes – the shortest episode thus far. The ending of episode 4 is abrupt and definitely meant to be a cliffhanger going into episode 5. Every episode had been a self-contained story resolved within the allocated time, and each ended with a transition into the next showing. This story-telling structure was the expectation going into episode 4. However, at the end of the episode, audiences all over were left asking themselves
Again, this is yet another instance where the success of previous episodes would weigh heavily on the perception of this episode. Audiences had grown accustomed to long episodes, with satisfying stories told from start to finish. When episode 4 deviated from what had become the norm, people were caught off-guard and began to question the show’s direction.
Unlike previous episodes, one has to consider episode 4 does not provide a complete story. None of the plotlines introduced in episode 4 will be resolved until episode 5 debuts and ties this story arc together. Thus, to remain as objective and fair as possible, episode 4 has to be looked at in a vacuum and be judged on its own.
Some things did remain constant in this episode. The production of the show remains impeccable. The sets are built with a high level of craftsmanship and are full of detail. The costumes used by all the actors and actresses are well-designed and practical. The script is pretty good, particularly the scenes between Joel and Ellie.
The main contribution of episode 4 towards the over-arching story is the development of Joel and Ellie’s relationship. We begin to see Joel’s perspective on Ellie change throughout the episode. Initially, his attitude towards her can be summed up as “Don’t talk to me, you’re cargo”. However, by the end of the episode, he begins to feel an increasing responsibility to protect and care for her, not because she’s his cargo, but because he genuinely cares for Ellie
On its own, episode 4 is good. Unfortunately, we all know that The Last of Us is capable of being more than just good. This show can be great, if not excellent. It is rare to have a show where an episode considered to be good is looked down upon or questioned by fans. This phenomenon only highlights the wonderful work Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin are doing with The Last of Us.
Episode 5 will determine if subverting the audience’s expectations was justified. Episode 4 will either be remembered as the initial episode of yet another great story, or the first episode that showed glaring cracks in the foundation of the show.