My final point in last episode’s review:
If they do not play Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” when they roll into Kansas City, the production team will have forsaken me.
The team over at HBO and PlayStation did not forsake me, but they sure have forsaken key character traits in Joel. insert that one meme here
Jokes aside, I continue to be surprised at the changes (and often enhancements) to the source material. I am struggling to approach my reviews without the filter of the game. Now, this doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of the show: I think my familiarity enhances what I get out of each episode, but I do feel like my reviews have settled into comparison and analysis.
Episode 4 was supposed to be a pop off episode. The events line up with Pittsburgh (swapped for the further westward Kansas City), which is the true introduction of the human enemies dubbed Hunters. Knowing this gave the first half of the episode tension for me. I wonder how this felt to the audience that hasn’t played the game. I would think tension is perhaps only conveyed when Joel stays up all night and takes the rifle out of the truck to investigate a blockade. Joel knows the real threat is out there—just like players—while Ellie hasn’t seen that side of humanity—just like folks new to the series.
The ambush in Kansas City is properly and horrifically adapted to television. Only a handful of men go after the truck. The gunfire is oppressive; not in its rapidity, but its power. Joel urges Ellie to hide in a hole in the wall, while he gets to work murdering the Hunters. Joel’s deafness in one ear proves to nearly be his downfall as the final assailant begins to choke Joel out.
We then get the payoff of Ellie’s gun that has been building all season long. Her unsteadiness doesn’t lead her to actually killing the man, but instead paralyzing him with a shot to the spine. It’s slower and more brutal than a headshot.
This scene was just sickening. The Hunter begs to make peace and eventually starts crying out for his mother. It’s a look at the violence and its immediate aftermath that Naughty Dog would go on to explore more fully in Part II, but seeing a real-life actor go through this range was gut wrenching. Joel sends Ellie off and finished the job, off-screen, letting our imagination run.
Before I go on to the rest of the episode and the cast of characters we meet, I think now is a good time to talk about those forsaken traits in Joel.
Joel is not quick to anger in HBO’s rendition. He doesn’t get mad at Ellie for having and using the gun. There’s no “it was you or him” justification from Ellie. We know Pedro Pascal’s version is capable of anger since he beat a FEDRA soldier to death, but that was triggered by PTSD. This new Joel is instead racked with guilt and fear. His failures to save Sarah and Tess hang heavy on his mind and heart. Despite this, we see his inclination is to protect and preserve Ellie’s innocence.
From last week’s attempt to avoid the mass grave to forcing her to leave the room while he finishes off the Hunter, Joel fights to shield Ellie from the horror of humanity. It’s why he doesn’t want her to have a gun. It’s a paternal and protector instinct. He can bear the brunt of reality, if it keeps his people safe.
This makes me wonder what Joel’s anger will feel like when it does come. There’s a quietness and efficiency to this version. I’m awaiting these changes and to see the fruit of these little seeds being planted now.
So let’s go back to the plot and talk about said Hunters. These folks are hunting Sam and Henry for some unknown reason. Spurred by their lead Kathleen, she seems to be on quite the mission for revenge against those two.
This feels like a mini Part II story about the cost of revenge. I don’t suspect it is going to play out well for Kathleen and her crew. And frankly, I think this fleshing out weakens the Hunters. There is something fundamentally scary about people methodically killing outsiders in hopes they have decent shoes or a slice of jerky. The nonchalant nature surrounding murder makes them scarier in the game.
This attempt at providing context and building some form of sympathy that’s origin is shrouded falls flat for me. Kathleen is in charge, but why the obsessive hunt? Clearly revenge, but we have no connection to her or her people. Our allegiance has been established with Joel and Ellie. Without the opportunity to spend time in Kansas City with Kathleen and the residents of the QZ, the audience is getting the final pages of the Cliff Notes for her character. It robs the group of its imposing presence and fear.
The gap from the source material continue to widen, and for the first time, I think they’ve taken a step back. The changes to Joel are fascinating and (obviously) have time to breath. I think the stumble is with the occupants of Kansas City. With one more week, I don’t suspect we will come to care or fear them much at all. And that’s a shame.
I was tempted for my review to just be “They played Alone & Forsaken, so this is episode was perfect,” but that seemed too obvious.
Also, I am sorry for posting this one a bit late. I tried to get it up before Friday’s pushed up premiere of episode five, but just didn’t have the time. Now that this is done though, I can push on to write my review for that episode. Until that review is published though, here are some observations I made in episode four,
- Jeffrey Pierce appears! What a great role for him as a cameo. That beard is dope.
- While plenty of lines have been plucked straight from the game’s script, I was bummed to not hear Pedro’s rendition of “Oh, he ain’t even hurt” as the confront the ambush. That delivery in the game is from a place of frustration, adrenaline, and preparation of the clear fight ahead. In the show, we don’t get this line at all or that energy rolling into the alleyway attack. More signs of a slow to anger Joel.
- Joel and Ellie crash into a laundry mat instead of a bodega. The fight was far less “in your face.” More cover and popping off shots, until the last man standing choke out.
- That fungal crater hidden in a building is giving me major Rat King vibes and I am hear for it.
- Joel’s fractured, bruised knuckles are the new broken watch. I love the shots that linger on them, reminding us all of the first episode.