Last week, we were left on the cliffhanger of knowing Ellie had tested positive for the virus/fungi. It’s clear the story is taking its cues from Children of Men and Lone Wolf and Cub, but that’s not a bad thing. After all, Pedro Pascal has had some success in the format. With the stakes high, The Last of Us must find a way to balance the darkness of the subject matter with action and hopefully comedy. Luckily, “Infected” makes it clear that’s exactly the plan.
Recap – “Infected”
“Episode 2” begins with the incident in Jakarta, Indonesia. The police and military enter a diner and take a woman away from her lunch. Her name is Ibu Ratna (Christine Hakim) a professor at the University of Indonesia. The military brings her to a lab, where she observes cordyceps, a fungus that can infect creatures but cannot survive within a human. When she tries to make this point, she’s brought to a body of a woman. The fungi grows in a bite on the corpse, as well as within her mouth. Ratna runs out of the room in fear.
Ratna is briefed on the incident. The woman was a worker in a flour and grain factory. When she became violent and started biting people, she was executed. Those she bit were required to be executed as well. With other workers missing, Ratna realizes the truth. She asks the military to bomb the city and everyone in it, because there is no cure or vaccine to prevent the spread. She asks to be driven home, where she can stay with her family.
Ellie (Bella Ramsey) wakes up in a grass patch. Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) hold her at gunpoint, asking her to explain. Ellie reveals to Joel and Tess that the Fireflies believe she could be the key to curing the infection. Despite his protesting, Joel agrees to keep moving Ellie so they can obtain the battery. The trio begins traversing the bombed-out city of Boston. Tess reveals the government tried to stop the spread by bombing their own cities. Unfortunately, it did not work in most cities.
As they walk, Ellie reveals how she got bit. One day, she went to the off-limits mall in the QZ, which was strictly forbidden. She thought she got away, but she got bit. Tess grills her more, finding out that she’s an orphan. Tess and Joel dispel rumors about the zombies, stalling on a question about the existence of “ones with split open heads that see in the dark.” Spooky foreshadowing.
In a hotel, Tess separates from Joel and Ellie to help them move along the path. Ellie begins pushing Joel’s buttons, asking how long the infected live (a month to twenty years) and if it’s easy to kill the infected. Before he answers, Tess opens the door and look out over a balcony. As they look down at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, hundreds of infected litter the street. As clouds shift, they stretch to reach the sunlight in coordinated motion. Tess lets Ellie know that the creatures seemingly function from a hive mind, connected by fungi from miles apart.
This means they cannot go “the long way,” so they approach The Bostonian Museum. There is fungi growing everywhere, but it appears to be dead. However, when they discover a corpse inside, Joel and Tess get spooked. They demand total silence from Ellie and make their way through the museum.
The trio is making decent progress until the ceiling collapses. A clicker makes its way into the room where the three of them stand. While they cannot see, they can hear everything. When Ellie sees its face, she gasps, and the creatures come after them. Tess and Ellie escape into another room while Joel fights off the creatures. However, in the fray, Ellie gets bit again. When Tess wraps her ankle, Joel continues to question if taking Ellie is a good idea. Tess snaps, asking Joel to see the positive in the situation for once.
They continue to walk through the streets of Boston towards the Golden Dome of the Massachusettes State House. When they reach a convoy, they find the bodies of Fireflies. It appears that one of them got bit, causing panic to spread through the group, and they all killed each other. When Tess realizes there’s no map or way out, she reveals that she’s been bit. She begs Joel to take Ellie to Frank (Murray Bartlett) and Bill (Nick Offerman).
When one of the Infected gets up, Joel shoots them. However, the other infected are alerted. Tess pours gasoline on the ground while Ellie and Joel escape out the back. When the Infected come through the door, she blows up the first floor of the State House. Joel walks into the woods as Ellie takes in Tess’ sacrifice.
Much of this episode serves as The Last of Us exposition and explainer. This version of Boston clearly differs from ours, but we still need details about the creatures in question. Those uninitiated to the universe will greatly appreciate the breakdowns as Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann build out the world. Druckmann also handles directing duties on the episode, helping shoulder some of the burden that might have fallen on other directors over the season. It’s a nice gesture while also allowing Druckmann to lay the groundwork for future episodes. Some of the exposition, like the fibers traveling and alerting other Infect, immediately pays off. Others, like the night vision Infected, seem to be on the horizon.
The creature recreations in live-action are quite impressive. The clickers are absolutely disgusting, but the makeup/special effects are quite incredible. They could be comical, but instead, they are purely terrifying. These creatures were iconic from The Last of Us game, and seeing them in real-life sent a chill down my spine.
Torv showcases her dramatic talent, absolutely slaying her final scene. The Mindhunter actress would have been a lovely addition in the long term, but as soon as she bought into Ellie’s future, that was never in the cards. Her optimism and hope, despite the lack of a future, shows the power that Ellie brings to those who wish to believe. Tess’ sacrifice makes that clear to Joel, who will only continue to shoulder the burden of protecting Ellie.
On a side note, this episode is unexpectedly funny. The choice to set up a literal piano in the lobby of the flooded hotel was genius. Actually funny to hear the “Dum Dum Dum” music as ducks jumped on the keys or when Ellie saw the skeleton. Nice nod to old-timey horror while giving us a reasonable reason to include the musical elements. Ellie gets plenty of one-liners, and she lightens the mood considerably.
We know that Joel has a new heading, which should introduce two of my favorite actors into the fold. Murray Bartlett made a new name for himself with The White Lotus last year. Meanwhile, Nick Offerman has long thrived as a comedic and dramatic actor. It will be exciting to see the two of them on screen, but it may be a few episodes before we get there. However, that promise is worth the journey.