This TV show version of The Last of Us continues to feel like an insane luxury. We can see this take place in the form of time – time to show off the world, develop relationships, take risks, and leave things unsaid. We’re not just taken from point A to point B in this story, but we’re led there by trust, both from the creators to the audience and from the audience to the creators. We’re in this together, and it comes as a refreshing change of pace from the panicked need to tell your story as quickly as possible because you never know when you’ll get canceled. Episode two of The Last of Us doesn’t rush, isn’t frantic, but rather takes its time, and I honestly didn’t even feel it. The stakes continuously get higher, the jokes get crispier, and the looming threat of infection finally comes face to face with our group of heroes.
Spoilers for “Infected.”
My new favorite thing about The Last of Us lore is getting a banger teaser opening where scientists explain just how dangerous and final the fungal infection is. If you’re paying attention (or if you’ve played the games), you will probably catch on quickly to the groundwork Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann are laying down regarding Ellie’s condition and the ending of the season/first game. But more so than anything, I love that they’re using this throughline of professionals in their fields telling governments what to do to save the human race, and just like in real life, these scientists aren’t being heard. At some point in the episode, we get a callback to the bombings that Dr. Ratna (Christine Hakim) suggested to the Indonesian authorities. Still, just like Dr. Neuman (John Hannah) in episode one and how world leaders handled Covid – scientists are dismissed, and we all know how that turns out.
The episode then continues the morning after Ellie (Bella Ramsey), Tess (Anna Torv), and Joel (Pedro Pascal) have left the quarantine zone. Tess and Joel are decidedly on edge since they’ve just learned that Ellie is actually infected and, in their eyes, could turn at any moment, making their mission even more of a suicide mission. Ellie reveals to them that she’s been infected for a while, and they’re moving her now because the Fireflies have established a secret camp with doctors working on a vaccine. Joel is even more skeptical of Ellie now, but Tess urges him to carry on; this time, a cure is tangible and real. But most importantly, now that they know what they actually have, they can use Ellie to bargain for more supplies.
I actually really enjoy how the episode showcases game mechanics as part of its world-building. Roads blocked off, environmental storytelling, characters having to interact with the environment around them to find a way to complete a task and move the story forward. It took me right back to watching hours of cutscenes for the game and watching the story unfold as a spectator, seeing how each character’s skills are highlighted and used to overcome obstacles.
I also admire the dedication to using the environment as part of the story. Oftentimes you’ll see beautiful shows where the world around them is grandiose and expansive, but it doesn’t feel lived in. The Last of Us truly said, “if we’re going to spend millions constructing elaborate sets, we are going to make sure that everything that can be touched, manipulated, interacted with will be”. But what absolutely made me lose it was the attention to detail with cordyceps and how thoroughly they explained how the fungus works. There’s a scene where we see hundreds of infected writhing and moving around as one collective organism – fucking terrifying.
Another amazing standout was Ellie and Joel’s relationship starting to thaw. Bella Ramsey continues to prove that they are the perfect pick for Ellie. Their dry humor and impeccable comedic timing are presented throughout the episode as the perfect setup for a contrasting jumpscare after she accidentally steps on the wrong thing or fear settles in once the severity of the situation is revealed. Pedro Pascal has me feral. There’s not much else than that. The nuance in which he’s portraying Joel allows us to connect to his broken heart immediately, and while I obviously wish that therapy were a luxury in a post-apocalyptic world, having Joel go through hell only to continue going through it until he actively does something to change it is the perfect Greek tragedy.
The group quickly realizes that they can’t go through the direct route because there’s a swarm of infected blocking their path, so they take a detour through the museum, which appears to be empty of cordyceps, the fungi mycelium dry. But as they make their way through the museum, it quickly becomes apparent that two clickers are left inside. These mutated hosts rely on sound to make their way around, using echolocation clicking noises. A very intense fight ensued, and to be honest, I was terrified. I was fully aware of what was about to happen, and the fight scene was so interesting that I almost forgot all about it. They eventually manage to kill both of them, not before Ellie gets bitten and Tess twists her ankle. But they’re through, and that’s all that matters.
With their final destination within reach, things start to go south quickly. They make it to the rendezvous with the Fireflies at the old Massachusetts State House but find the team they were supposed to meet up with, all dead. Tess searches for clues to figure out their next move, but Joel is already over it. He proposes they return home, the job finished, but Tess is persistent, her desperation giving her away. Realization dawns on Joel without Tess confirming it, but she does, revealing a fresh bite from one of the clickers on her neck. Tess pleads with Joel to take Ellie, showing him how the fresh bite on her arm has already healed compared to the one on her neck.
This fucking scene was so incredibly heartbreaking. Even though I knew it was coming, I would be sad again. Still, Anna Torv put her entire emotional spectrum into this role, and by leaving so much unsaid, she showed us that as much as Joel pretends not to care, he does so profoundly that it’s easier to pretend not to care at all. Their relationship cuts so deep, but it’s only because of how Joel feels about Tess that he accepts to take Ellie where she needs to go.
And in easily one of the most disturbing episode endings, bad bitch Tess Servopoulos sacrifices herself to allow Joel and Ellie to escape from an oncoming horde of cordyceps, becoming the second person Joel loved to die in the show.