By Ben Konuch
“Now you know where they are, now they come. You’re not immune from being ripped apart, do you understand?”
The following review will contain spoilers for the first two episodes of “The Last of Us”
Episode two of “The Last of Us” opens with a surprising flashback scene, but one that sets the stage of the entire episode with dread and foreboding. A woman in Jakarta is apprehended at a restaurant and is quickly revealed to be a local expert in mycology who is asked to study one of the first apprehended carriers of cordyceps infection. What starts as incredulous disbelief that cordyceps can take root in humans transforms into a numbing horror at the realization that the fungus has evolved to survive in human hosts, which in turn becomes all-out dread when she learns fourteen more employees are missing from the place of infection. When a military officer asks her what they can do, how they can stop this, the doctor delivers a spine-chilling plea: start bombing. Bomb the whole city, eradicate every single life within its limits or the cordyceps will evolve and spread to cover the whole earth in its tendrils.
And that’s exactly what we see twenty years later.
The rest of the episode follows Joel, Tess and Ellie as they set off through the bombed and broken remains of Boston to reach the courthouse where the Fireflies are waiting to take Ellie further out west. But “The Last of Us” takes very deliberate care to show that while the building may only be a few miles away, this is no easy trek and even a day spent outside the safety of the QZ could mean death and disaster. The whole episode is underlaid with tension and unease, in part aided by how the opening scene establishes the air of dread around what the infected can do, but also in the ways Joel and Tess react to this environment. Pascal and Torv play the age and experience of these survivors excellently, trading concerned glances or exhibiting little moments of hesitation at sounds and sights Ellie doesn’t even notice – because they know what hides behind them.
This episode also gives very needed moments to flesh out these characters and their dynamics, including the small ways that Tess and Joel start to differ. Neither of them believes that Ellie is immune at first, but the way Joel reacts and processes the idea of her potential immunity is radically different from how Tess reacts. Joel refuses to hope, but Tess is slowly thawed by the idea that maybe, just maybe, there’s finally a spark of light at the end of their dark tunnel. As the episode progresses and tragedy strikes Tess, that spark of hope blazes into a fire of desperation. She sees the truth about Ellie and has to hold onto the potential that after all this, after all the horrible things she and Joel have done, it can’t be for nothing. Ellie has to be her hope.
Ellie as a character is also much more defined in this episode and I have to applaud Bella Ramsey’s performance. It’s hard to depict a character who is simultaneously annoying and endearing, but Ramsey has struck that balance for her Ellie. This is a girl who is frustratingly snarky, headstrong and immature, but also has a depth of seriousness, earnestness and strength. Seeing the ways she connects with Tess and starts to lay the seeds of connection with Joel has me eager to see where their journey goes next.
This episode also gives audiences its first proper tussle with the infected and unveils the first glimpse of the terrifying Clickers, infected who have mutated to become stronger and have had fungal growths replace eyesight with echolocation. The moment Joel and Tess realize they might be facing Clickers as they pass through a museum was honestly one of the tensest scenes in the series, with Pascal’s mannerisms and demeanor instantly switching from cautious confidence to genuine terror.
The best part about this whole confrontation is that for all the fear Joel and Tess show, for how difficult it is to get out of the museum and for how this moment costs Tess her life, there are only two Clickers present. All it takes is two of them to cause drastic life-or-death stakes, and Joel and Ellie have to pass through an entire country filled with them. Not only is this scene an example of great tension and good action, but it serves as a proper demonstration of the seriousness of Joel and Ellie’s journey as well as the gravity of Tess’s final request to Joel
“The Last of Us” has a ridiculously high production budget, and that is abundantly clear in episode two. The remnants of Boston are beautifully, hauntingly desolate, with the signs of destruction and death in every direction, but the eerie beauty of nature recovering what had been claimed by mankind. Moss covers fallen skyscrapers, trees grow out of charred bomb craters in roads and ponds filled with wildlife now exist in abandoned, flooded hotel lobbies. It’s a mixture of horror and serenity that the game was so uniquely known for, and that same lonely, captivating beauty gives the series an instantly recognizable aesthetic.
There have been tweaks from the game’s narrative and details, such as the details of how Tess sacrifices herself or the lower frequency of infected, but most changes I can get behind. The only details holding me back right now are the removal of spores and the introduction of a hive-mind element for the infected, as well as how Pascal’s take on Joel remains quieter and more numb to reality than his videogame counterpart. That being said these are conscious storytelling changes and they work well for the medium of “The Last of Us” as television. Even though I may need some time to get used to them, that doesn’t mean that I think they’re bad decisions.
I give “The Last of Us” episode two a 9/10
“The Last of Us” is now streaming on HBO Max
Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.
Images courtesy of HBO Max