This episode results in Joel arriving at the town of Jackson, which is one of the few new settlements to have been created in the post-apocalypse world. They’ve managed to keep themselves safe by putting out the bodies of any Infected or raiders who attempt to prey on their settlement. This has led them to having a reputation as monsters. It is exactly the opposite because they seem to be one of the few communities that lack a bunch of fascist overlords or systemic oppression.
Joel is overjoyed to find his brother, Tommy, but the feeling is not entirely reciprocated. Tommy deliberately cut off Joel in hopes of making a fresh start. This is fine, Joel himself would agree he’s a bad person, but the lack of explaining it resulted in him trekking across the entire North American continent in hopes of finding him. Indeed, one could very well argue that Tess’ death is a direct result of Tommy’s insensitivity to leaving his brother a message that he would no longer be available to speak.
Jackson is well-realized and shows what humanity’s failures have been in the wake of the apocalypse. Instead of going to ruined cities to try to maintain what has been lost, humanity should have stuck to wide-open spaces and self-sufficient communities. A joke is made that they’re communists in Jackson (which annoys Tommy even if it’s hippie-style anarchism instead or Leninist-Stalinist) while they’re still trading ration cards at the QZs. We also get a cute bit of foreshadowing about Ellie’s future girlfriend.
The three month time skip has managed to change much of Ellie and Joel’s relationship, though. It is clear that he is in denial more than anything else about having become her substitute father (and vice versa with Ellie becoming his daughter). The thought terrifies Joel and he doesn’t believe he can protect Ellie effectively due to how much damage his body has accumulated over the years. Not only is he deaf in one ear but also suffering from badly healed injuries that make him less agile as well as tough.
This is just an excuse because Joel just wants to avoid the emotional pain and struggles that come with being a father again. I actually am kind of disappointed with this handling of the equivalent scene in the game. Pedro Pascal really downplays what a complete scumbag Joel can be as the “I sure as hell ain’t your father” scene was one of the most powerful scenes in the game. Here, it’s more obvious that he’s just trying to protect Ellie and himself.
I feel like it’s probably wrong of me to keep wanting them to keep Joel’s angry unapproachable side front and cente but I feel that’s a major part of what makes the story work. Pedro Pascal’s warmth and fatherly attitude is just a bit too much at this point in the story. It requires Herculean efforts for Ellie to overcome his barriers and we’re a little early for that. It’s not a big complaint but it is something that bothered me.
The ending of the episode sets up the most memorable arc of the story, though. Joel is severely injured during one of his encounters with bandits (more realistically a shiv versus a piece of rebar impaling him) and Ellie is forced to go from the protected to the protector. Once more, they dramatically scale down the action of the episode and I think that’s fine but is a bit disappointing. At the very least having Ellie and Joel sneak around killing people would have been a great scene to watch.