March 23, 2023

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.

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