[Editor’s Note: By the very nature of a “recap”, there will most certainly be spoilers in these weekly pieces, we didn’t think to mention that with last week’s premiere, but we will keep a “SPOILER WARNING” label at the top of these weekly recaps moving forward. Thank you and sorry if we spoiled anything last week!]
After starting off with a bang on last week’s premiere episode, my hype level for The Last of Us on HBO was increasing by the day. The seven-day wait for the next installment of Joel and Ellie’s journey was excruciating yet exhilarating. However, that small lingering doubt always snuck in here and there. Would TLOU suffer a “sophomore slump” of a follow-up episode to the practically flawless premiere? I am happy to report that, while the pacing was dialed back a notch, The Last of Us Episode 2, titled Infected, is a worthy follow-up that ended on such a poignant note that my expectations have now increased.
The episode starts off with another cold open, following the magnificent 60’s talk show open of the premiere with a grim turn by John Hannah. This time we are whisked to Jakarta, Indonesia in 2003 when the virus first spread, coinciding with the Joel/Sarah/Tommy timeline of episode 1. A professor of mycology (Christine Hakim) gets called in to examine an individual who seems to be displaying fungal infection symptoms. After hearing the grim outlook of where this patient came from, and how there may be more unaccounted for infected out in the wild, she suggests that they bomb the entire city as no vaccine or medicine can be developed to fight the fungus that is present. This scene, as in the premiere, does an amazing job of depicting a foreboding outlook on what the world is on the verge of. Christine Hakim brings such sadness and true fear in her few minutes as Professor Ibu Ratna, delivering a few final lines that almost brought me to tears.
We cut back to 2023, where Joel and Tess are observing Ellie waking up from her sleep and having what seem to be a million questions and fears about her. After seeing she tested positive but having no telltale signs of the virus, they are curious and fearful of what this all means. After some light interrogation, Tess and Joel decide to press on and deliver her to the Fireflies at City Hall. I did appreciate the slight game nod of Joel moving the tipped over metal file cabinet away from their exit, which you did numerous times throughout the game.
After trying to navigate through a hotel to get to City Hall quickly, they discover that it’s blocked by unforeseen circumstances. After some discussion, they decide to make their way through a museum that will get them their fast but was crawling with infected the last time they were there. This is also where we get added lore that wasn’t present in the game. We learn that the infected are connected to other infected via the tendrils that emit from their body when they interact with the fungus trails that are above and below ground. It does give the infected a more ferocious presence and a constant threat of bringing down massive amounts of running madmen on a whim, which wasn’t necessarily present in the video game lore. I thoroughly enjoyed this new layer of detail to how the infected truly work.
Upon entering the museum and seeing the mangled corpse that was not killed by the infected, they learn that the clickers are present in this building, a blind and frightening infected creature, one that constantly emits horrible clicking sounds and ticks as well as hunting its prey purely on sound – they have no vision. After an unfortunate gasp from Ellie as one clicker turned the corner faster than she expected, the two clickers present in the building begin their assault. The following action sequence is, for my money, the best in the show so far. Harrowing, shot in close-ups and tight quarters, it always felt like any one of them could die at any moment (thought highly unlikely). The design of the clickers is also a marvel of physical, in-camera makeup and art design. They look identical to their game counterparts and concept art, but with some added layers of detail and coloring (one clicker exhibited a more reddish hue with burgundy tones, while the other was more closely color coordinated with the game, a burnt orange hue).
As the three finally arrive at City Hall, they see all Fireflies have been killed by one infected, which Joel finally finishes off with a single shot when it begins to move and squeal on the floor. Unfortunately, this is not done before the tendrils from its hand connect to the ground and warn hundreds of infected across the city to close in on his coordinates. We finally arrive to another gut punch from the games, the moment that Tess finally reveals she was bitten in museum attack, and that she will be done for in a mere few minutes. Here on out, we get Anna Torv knocking this motherfucker out of the park as she knows this is her big moment, her time to shine with her acting prowess, and she doesn’t waste a single second. Fully committing to the belief that this girl Ellie can maybe bring some modicum of redemption to all the awful things they have done over the years, Tess commands Joel to leave with Ellie and meet up with Bill and Frank, their contraband dealers, while she kills the incoming infected with a combination of gasoline and grenades left behind by the dead Fireflies. As they escape, Tess witnesses the onslaught of infected enter. One catches her eye and slowly moves toward her. Tess seems stricken with fear, knowing she must get her lighter lit to blow them up but also fearing the death that is coming. I think the tendril kiss between the infected individual and Tess might be seen as weird and disjointed in this sequence, I found it to be an effective and suspenseful ending to Tess’s journey. I can also see people being pissed-off that they switched out the FEDRA soldiers barging in at City Hall and killing Tess with just another infected attack, but I think overall it did an admirable job to shake things up but retain the emotional core of the scene. After a thunderous explosion leave Joel and Ellie distraught and sadden. Joel, in clear anger and sadness, starts to walk off, while Ellie turns away from the museum, clearly in tears, as their journey has taken their first victim.
Infected is a great follow-up to the emotional gut punch that was episode 1, delivering the requisite drama, action set pieces and gross effects we come to expect from The Last of Us property. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are so in tune with their characters that I might have a real problem deciding who is better in the roles, them two or their video game counterparts. In the end, however, this episode was owned by Anna Torv. If you played the games, you knew it was coming, and you knew how dramatically brilliant it was in the game. The live action version doesn’t disappoint. And Joel and Ellie’s journey continues, and it’s not really going to get anymore cheery along the bloodstained way.