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Hope and doubt collide in an eventful episode 6 of The Last of Us

Will someone please get this girl an electric heater?
Enlarge / Will someone please get this girl an electric heater?

New episodes of The Last of Us are premiering on HBO every Sunday night, and Ars’ Kyle Orland (who has played the games) and Andrew Cunningham (who hasn’t) will be talking about them here right after the episodes air. While these recaps don’t delve into every single plot point of the episodes, there are obviously heavy spoilers contained within, so go watch the episode first if you want to go in fresh.

Kyle: Besides the obvious “move the plot forward” bits reuniting of Joel and his brother Tommy, I was surprised at how deep this episode went on the mental and physical anguish of an aging, obviously traumatized Joel. This kind of thing is hinted at in the games, especially the sequel, but it’s more of a vague undercurrent beneath Joel’s general image as “Unflappable Survivor Badass.”

Andrew: The three-month time jump following last week’s emotional wringer is enough time for Joel and Ellie to have made it from Missouri to southern Wyoming. Their dynamic doesn’t seem to have changed much, but we do see Joel struggling with something that looks an awful lot like panic attacks. And then Joel finds his brother, who it turns out doesn’t need so much saving after all.

The Jackson commune where they end up might be the only place outside of flashbacks that we’ve seen that feels genuinely safe, maybe even genuinely comfortable. There’s no FEDRA, no vigilantes waving don’t-tread-on-me flags, no sign of infected. They aren’t doomsday preppers trying to go it alone. They have Christmas lights! They have movie nights.

Something about that setting plus seeing his brother again—it’s easy to revert to a previous version of yourself when you see a close friend or family member you haven’t seen in a while—totally shatters Joel’s defenses, and all the emotional subtext of his relationship with Ellie just comes tumbling out.

She's obviously very worried about COVID
Enlarge / She’s obviously very worried about COVID

Kyle: Kind of a tangent, but this episode, and episode 3 before it, really hammer home how crucial consistent electricity is to a modern peacful society. Just having the ability to give the people some running water, heat, and movies to keep the kids busy seems to be the main difference between fascist dystopia and Jackson’s idealized commune.

Andrew: There’s some real truth to that. I was living in New Jersey (and my now-wife was out of town) when Hurricane Sandy hit, and our apartment complex took the better part of a week to get power restored. I was living a nomadic existence for a few days, bouncing between places with electricity while I waited for ours to come back. New Jersey still has these gigantic malls that are dying out most other places in the country, and you could go to one and see people gathered around those outlets they embed in the floors, all waiting for their phones to charge.

Having electricity and alcohol really seems to have taken the edge off for the people in this episode; if it weren’t for the barricades (and the handwritten labels on all the whiskey bottles at the bar, a nice touch), Jackson could almost be a normal town.

How about this for a slogan: Jackson, city of brotherly love. Is that taken?
Enlarge / How about this for a slogan: Jackson, city of brotherly love. Is that taken?
Kyle: I found myself wondering if Jackson’s example could be replicated in other far flung communities in this world. Being in the middle of nowhere and unknown to short-wave radios seems pretty key to keeping them safe from Infected and raiders. Being a relatively small community also probably helps—harder to get up to no good if the entire town knows you by sight.

All that said, feels like a couple dozen guys from Kansas City with heavy artillery could overtake this idyllic hamlet and ruin it incredibly quickly.

Andrew: We’re just going to quietly hope that no one does that!

It also doesn’t hurt that Jackson has a consistent source of hydroelectric power, something that just won’t be possible in a lot of other places.

Kyle: Yeah, if this outbreak had just happened 20 years later there would be tons of solar panels around to repurpose!

Andrew: Giant wind farms to tap into! Not to get political but I think renewable energy might be good?

Kyle: We need the Green New Deal to protect us from the zombie apocalypse!

Andrew: “I can’t believe these commies want to take away our right to get infected by the deadly mushroom virus” says Tucker Carlson.

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