By Sean Gallagher
At first glance, you may be forgiven for thinking not much happened in this week’s episode of The Last of Us. The second episode in HBO’s adaptation of the hit video game was low on dialogue and the plot advanced in minute ways. But that’s the surface level. Quite a bit actually happened in Infected, the show just isn’t beating you over the head with story beats.
We open up in 2003 in Jakarta, which we heard mentioned on the radio last week. Director Neil Druckmann, who co-created the game, and showrunner Craig Maxim seem quite passionate about giving a history of the infection in the show, something that was more or less absent from the games. The scenes in Jakarta document the early days of the infection, before the outbreak, and follow a local mycologist named Dr. Ratna who learns that the cordyceps fungus has made its way to humans and that the infection can be transmitted via a bite. Despite us knowing the global outcome, there’s a quiet tension in this scene as the doctor and the military learn the horror that awaits them. Dr. Ratna’s solution seems extreme, bomb the city and everyone in it, but we know that this scenario at this point in the timeline is probably the best bet. But we never learn if the military goes through with it, albeit too late, or if the call to bomb Jakatara is deemed too extreme for such a scenario. Either way, the infection spreads around the world.
In the present day, outside of the QZ, we catch up with Joel, Ellie and Tess. Ellie remarks that there are craters in the roads where the missiles hit, a tactic used to stop the spread of the infection but not killing all the infected. Other cities used similar tactics, but with less successful results than Boston-and if Boston is considered one of the winners, we can only imagine what the failures were like. The set design of The Last of Us is one of the highlights of the show, with dilapidated ruins of our world being reclaimed by nature. Vines and foliage are plentiful outside of the QZ, showing us that without human intervention (much like during the lockdown), mother nature tends to correct things rather quickly.
At this early point in The Last of Us show, Joel sees Ellie as cargo and considering she’s been bit, he also sees her as expendable as far as he cares. He’s much happier with the idea of smuggling her back into the QZ, despite the risk of her probably getting shot. But Tess is determined to get her to the Fireflies, as she’s more open-minded about Ellie’s immunity than Joel is. The duo learns from Ellie that the Fireflies want to take her somewhere west where they have a lab in hopes of making a cure based on her blood. Joel, ever the skeptic, thinks the whole thing is nonsense.
It’s a good thing then that The Last of Us gives Joel a reason to go on then though and that comes courtesy of a Clicker. The show never calls them by their name used in the video game, but these variants of the infected are just as terrifying here as they were in the game. Blind thanks to the fungus growing out of their eyes, the Clickers use a type of echo-location to hunt their prey. Our trio has to navigate an old museum in utter silence and the tension is palpable as the Clickers shamble around, looking for them with their anxiety-inducing clicks. It was a great sense full of tension and nail-biting suspense.
Unfortunately, Tess was bitten and the revelation comes as a genuine shock to Joel. But Tess makes a point to showcase how badly her bite has gotten in a few hours and then how perfectly fine Ellie is after three weeks. Tess is a believer and charges Joel with bringing Ellie to friends of theirs, Frank and Bill, who will bring Ellie to the Fireflies, as the team they were to meet at the State House were all dead. Despite coming off as tough over the course of the first episode, we see that Tess is actually far more hopeful than Joel and sees Ellie not as cargo, but as a manifestation of her hope, someone that could end all the suffering.
But a horde of infected get alerted to the trio’s presence in the State House and charge forward, leaving little time to get ahead. Tess opts for a last stand, urging Joel to get Ellie to safety for her as she rigs the building to blow. When the infected do arrive, a Runner takes note of Tess and passes the infection to her in a similar manner that we saw the old lady do in the premiere, via the tendrils in the mouth (a new addition to the game). The Runner puts the tendrils in Tess’ mouth, which creates this horrifying, but not graphic, kiss of death. In her final moment though, Tess finally gets her lighter to work and blows the building, taking out the horde and buying Joel and Ellie much-needed time to escape.
This episode had a bit more deviations than the first episode did relative to the game, but the changes either made sense or were just an interesting alternative. For instance, it’s not the infected that Tess has her last stand in the game with, it’s armed Fedra soldiers. I also don’t remember Ellie asking Joel where he’s from and Joel replying to various questions with “pass”, but it’s still a much-needed, yet brief, first solo interaction between the pair. Joel has barely given Ellie the time of day, but now it’ll be only the two for a while now and they’re going to have to start trusting and opening up to each other. So that quiet yet critical first direct communication scene was actually pretty important, despite being brief.
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