TV Review: HBO’s The Last of Us Episode 2, ‘Infected’

The second episode of The Last of Us, “Infected”, aired Sunday, January 22nd and brought approximately 53 minutes of tension. What will happen to Joel, Tess, and Ellie as they embark on the task given to them by Marlene? In what ways did the show deviate from the video game? Let’s dive right in!

Author’s Note: **Full spoilers** ahead.

Also, check back for an updated link to a podcast review of The Last of Us, Episode 2!

Synopsis

Episode two opens with another flashback . This time, we are transported back 20 years ago right before the world succumbed to the pandemic on September 24th, 2003 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Indonesian officers look for a woman, who was enjoying her lunch alone.

You can sense the tension as she rides in the officers’ car. He apologizes for cutting her lunch short, and she nervously asks if she committed a crime. No doubt if you were picked up by the police, you typically were in trouble. However, in this case, the officer said she hadn’t committed any crime, and they were tasked to find Ibu Ratna (Christine Hakim), Professor of Mycology of the University of Indonesia.

They arrive at a facility where they ask her to identify a specimen. Ibu Ratna concludes that it is ophiocordyceps but questions why it was prepared in a solution that is generally used for human tissue. She dons a hazmat suit and inspects the human patient where the cordyceps sample was taken. She slices open a human bite on the cadaver’s lower left leg and discovers significant fungal growth. Then, like in any true horror genre, she inspects the mouth.

Now, I will say I fully expected the cadaver to come to life, bite her, and that initiates the beginning of the end. HBO takes a different path. Ibu successfully samples the inner tissue and pulls out live (and moving) fungi.

The final scene before the flashback ends pans to Ibu cradling the tea the officers gives her. They’ve learned there are still missing employees from the flour and grain factory where the incident took place 30 hours prior. The officer asked for a cure or vaccine. Ibu sets her tea down and replies that there is none, and the only way to contain the spread of infection is…bombing Jakarta.

With a little more history of the cordyceps infection, we now find Ellie, waking up to Joel and Tess’ watchful eye. Neither adult is convinced that Ellie isn’t infected. Ellie crumbles and admits that Marlene believes she would be the key to a cure. The trio continue to go at each other’s throats; however, everyone still decides to move forward with delivering Ellie to the Fireflies.

Credit: HBO
Ellie making light of a serious situation…
Credit: HBO

They traverse across the ghost land that was once known as Boston. As they debate the long or short path, Ellie admits the outside what nothing like she was told. It seemed…too empty. She also admits that she received her bite when she ventured into a forbidden area in the QZ. When Tess asks who went with her, Ellie claims she went alone.

Joel, Ellie, and Tess arrive near Faneuil Hall. A web of writhing bodies spill out from a building. We learn that the fungi have a “hive mind”–their fibers reach for miles underground like a complex network, and if disturbed in one area, the entire organism awakens and becomes aware. They backpedal to avoid the living fungal network and chance their luck at the museum.

The museum is formidable; however, Joel presses forward after noticing that the fungal spread had dried out. Their reassurance for safety also dries out when Ellie discovers a freshly deceased body. Fear spreads in Joel and Tess’ eyes, and Joel instructed that they must remain silent. Not quiet. Silent.

Credit: HBO

For those familiar with the video game, we know what comes next. When they reach the next floor, part of the building collapses and alarms a pair of Clickers. Clickers are a version of the infected where the fungi advanced so much that it has grown out of the head. The Clicker cannot see, and they rely on echolocation from their clicking noises. Ellie cannot contain her panic, and the Clickers attack.

After a brief struggle, Joel is able to shoot the Clickers and take them down. Ellie receives a small bite, and all they can do is move forward.

Credit: HBO

Joel, Tess, and Ellie arrive at a gruesome scene at the Capitol building. The Fireflies lay dead inside after what appears to be a struggle against infected members. Tess panics, and Joel wants to throw in the towel and return to the QZ. Tess confesses that luck has run out for her–she’s infected. Before Joel could digest the news, he shoots a reanimated corpse. And remember that living network of fungi? Yup. They woke up and are on their way.

Tess knocks down chemical barrels and grenades. She begs Joel to bring Ellie to a Bill and Frank. Save who you can save. Before long, the wave of the infected break into the building while Joel and Ellie slip out. One infected spots Tess as she frantically tries to ignite her lighter. He leans in close, and tendrils of cordyceps extend into her mouth. The infection takes hold…but not before she ignites the lighter and drops it.

Analysis

Action picks up in the second episode of The Last of Us. I am intrigued that it opens with another flashback, which was absent from the video game. The scenes in Jakarta continue to set an sense of tension and dread. With the exception of when Ibu pulls the ophiocordyceps from the cadaver’s throat, everyone and everything was calm. Quiet. There’s something insidious about horror that can inflect fear without screaming, explosions, and other loud, flashy beats.

It was ultimately Ibu Ratna’s terse response that bombing was the only way to contain a fungal outbreak that shook me to the core. However, I will comment that I found it strange that she didn’t consider escaping with her family since she had not yet been infected.

This flashback provides the real, gritty behind-the-scenes information before the outbreak consumed the planet. It was cleverly done as Jakarta was mentioned in episode one right before Joel and Sarah knew what was about to happen. It also helps fill in our knowledge gaps throughout this episode, such as when Ellie pointed out where a bomb had hit Boston.

The visual effects of the Boston ruins were spectacular. The lighting and camera angles were impactful to show to scope of devastation and Mother Nature’s control over the once bustling concrete jungle. Vines poke in and out of collapsed buildings, and ducks and frogs make their home in a flooded hotel.

From there, a bulk of the episode surrounds getting to know the characters. Ellie is still sassy as ever; however, we are reminded that she is still a kid (14 years old) when she pretends to check into a hotel. Also, as much as she has a foul mouth, Ellie is still terrified when she first encounters a Clicker. She loses her cool, which alarms the Clicker into attacking. These subtle acting moments fully flesh out Ellie.

Speaking of characters, Joel is still as guarded as ever. He refuses to believe in a cure, and really could care less about fulfilling his promise to Marlene of delivering Ellie to the Fireflies at the state Capitol. He does tell Ellie that he is from Texas, but he wasn’t keen on sharing more personal information.

Up till now, Tess has behaved more like the level-headed business person. She trained her eyes on the prize–a car battery so that they may look for Joel’s brother, Tommy. After the incident at the museum, Tess behaves irritably; however, we quickly discover at the end it was due to her infection.

The last item I wanted to bring up was the closing scene. In the video game, the cordyceps spreads via a bite or exposure to its spores. In the show thus far, it has purely been through bites (contact via bodily fluid). It is hard to tell if the infected that spotted Tess knew she was infected as well, but I am making the educated guess that perhaps he did because he did not aggressively tear her apart like with other poor victims (although there can be an argument that it is because she didn’t run nor scream). In almost like a sick kiss, the infected transfers the cordyceps from his mouth…into hers. I’m honestly note sure how I felt about that. The writer and director intentionally chose this instead of a typical bite. I can only conclude that it solidifies the point that the fungi’s goal–always–is to spread. This is different than traditional zombies that are viewed as eating their victims.

Verdict

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was a solid second episode, mixed with story-telling and action. There were more liberties taken that deviated from the video game, mostly to keep pacing appropriate. I doubt we will see Boston again in episode three as Ellie and Joel move on.

I appreciated the visual effects of Boston and the Clickers and hated to see the end of Tess. Ellie’s character is rounding out more, and I look forward to see what’s next. I personally hold some reservation on the fungal “network” and that deadly “kiss”. I will be keeping an eye to see how consistently HBO will refer to this plot point, if at all.

What did you think of the episode? Please share your thoughts with us on our Boss Rush Facebook Group or our Boss Rush Discord.

Want a recap of episode one? Check out the article OR watch the YouTube video:


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Featured Image Source: HBO

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