Infected: The Last of Us, Episode Two
Good afternoon! Well, we’re currently well behind the actual airing of the show, so if you aren’t prepared for spoilers for episode two of this show, you should probably stop reading now and go watch the episode. It’s a good ‘un.
I should also note that other than this intro, much of this article was written shortly after the second episode aired, largely because I don’t want future episodes to influence what I write about each episode. So even though I am actually caught up, it will read like I’m not. Alright! C’est parti!
[Read about episode one here.]
We open with another pre-credit scene, this time in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2003 — the year the pandemic broke out. There was mention of Jakarta in the first episode, with the news playing on the radio in the kitchen as Sarah makes a birthday breakfast for Joel. I like this interconnectedness. A mycologist has her lunch interrupted by the Indonesian military and she is brought to a lab to examine a specimen, which is revealed to be a sample taken from a human. What we learn is that this woman’s lunch was interrupted because the Indonesian military is hoping this mycology expert can help them create a vaccine or a medicine that can prevent such an infection becoming a pandemic.
Her response when asked is as chilling as last episode’s “We lose.”
I have spent my life studying these things. So please listen carefully. There is no medicine. There is no vaccine.
When asked what it is they should do, her answer is simply:
Bomb this city and everyone in it.
This whole pre-credit scene was a masterpiece, and so beautifully acted. An extremely well-earned shout out to Christine Hakim, who played the mycologist Dr. Ibu Ratna. The way her hand shook as she received details of the attack that led to the infection she just investigated was exceptional. Her quiet, distressed request to go spend her last moments with her family after advising the bombing of Indonesia’s capital was heartbreaking.
Of course, we know the bombing did not stop the spread of this mutated cordyceps fungus.
When the episode proper begins, we are back in the present, with Joel and Tess and Ellie. Joel, in particular, is mistrustful of the young girl they learned in their flight from the Boston QZ was infected… but immune. He doesn’t believe what he’s seeing. Tess is more amenable. It’s her that convinces Joel to continue to escort Ellie to the Firefly camp.
We also get very excellent Ellie moments — One where she jokes about being infected…
And the first of many instances where she requests (and is denied) a gun. While in the game, Ellie’s requests for a gun begin much later, it’s still a nice character inclusion, and I feel this moment in particular is extremely “Ellie.” I giggled at her response to the rather ardent and unanimous denial from both Joel and Tess.
The city in ruins is something to behold. I remember reading once that it wouldn’t take very long at all for our modern buildings to crumble and be overtaken almost entirely by nature; something like as soon as five years for it to resemble a forest, and twenty years or less before the buildings collapsed. What we see in the show (and game) is quite likely what would happen in this kind of scenario. We learn that the advice to bomb was not limited to Indonesia. Boston and the other large cities were also bombed. The shots of a civilization abandoned are extraordinarily beautiful, in their eerie way. The show does a fabulous job of recreating the visuals and atmosphere of the game.
We learn how Ellie got bitten, which is something we don’t discover until the DLC (downloadable content, for the non-gamers. It’s usually a smaller game that fills in story details in games like The Last of Us). But the gamers also know that Ellie lied about being alone when it happened. I don’t want to speak more on it, because it might spoil things for the non-gamers, but for those of us who have played the game or watched a Let’s Play, we get to know that Ellie doesn’t trust Tess and Joel at present, and isn’t telling them everything.
Gamers also get to smile at the descriptions of some of the kinds of infected we run into in the game (and hopefully in the show as well). There’s the giant kind that explode spores on you (bloaters), and the kind that see by making noise like bats (clickers). We get the indication and Joel and Tess think the first is not a thing, but they’ve definitely encountered clickers before. Their silence when Ellie mentions it speaks volumes.
I really enjoyed some of the movement through the ruined city, particularly the hotel. There is ruined hotel in game, though I don’t recall it being quite this flooded. It might have been… there were a few flooded buildings in the game. Like in the game, Ellie pretends to check in at the front desk, and viewers of the show and gamers both get the same charming interaction between our leads.
I feel like it happens much later in game, though. I might be wrong. It’s a nice scene to include because it does two things. First, it shows the gamers that they’re taking the game as source seriously, even in episode two (ask hard-core readers and players of The Witcher series how they’re feeling at the moment). Second, it reveals an important aspect of Ellie’s character that we learn later in the game. Ellie cannot swim.
It also does something more subtly. It shows us that there is still something of a father’s protectiveness in Joel. Those who’ve seen it will recognize it immediately.
The journey through the city is also a lot quieter in the show than in game. In the game there is a particularly frustrating section of an office building which is filled with runners and clickers that you have to merc (with some stealth if at all possible, or you quickly get overwhelmed). I do wish that viewers of the show could get a glimpse of what a fantastic killer Joel is this way, though I do understand that they’re cramming in a lot this episode, so I suppose action pieces like this must be sacrificed. Still, I think there is a little room for incredibly tense, stealth-driven moments in the series which we aren’t getting thus far.
It’s also revealed that the fungus works a little differently in the show than it does in the game. In the game, there are sections filled with spores, which will infect you if you don’t have any respiratory equipment (which is to say, a gas mask) handy. I can understand why they did away with it for the show, (though spores are precisely the way the cordyceps fungus finds new hosts in our actual reality). It does beggar belief that spores would remain localized in the real world, and that passing through and getting spores all over one’s clothes, hair and skin would spell instant infection once anyone was past the area and removed their gas mask. Any spore being dislodged by a person’s movement or the wind would mean instant death.
I suppose a work-around would be to make the spores killed instantly by sunlight, but that gets a little complicated.
In the show, the spore mechanic appears to have been replaced by something much more familiar to folks with a passing knowledge of mushrooms. The cordyceps, like their more forest-floor-dwelling relatives, creates a vast network underground. This means, if you happen to step on a patch of infected ground, every cordyceps-infected critter on that particular network knows your precise location. This is arguably scarier. Spore clouds are easy to spot and avoid/mitigate. A patch of ground with some mycelia, though? Not so easy to spot. Having a single step call a swarm of zombies to you? That is genuinely scary.
Then comes the museum. Every gamer watching knows what this means. The main action piece of this scene works almost identically to the game, except that this is the show audience’s first encounter with clickers.
I love how the clickers look, move and sound in the show. It’s a near perfect replica of the clickers from the game. The fight in the museum does an excellent job of recreating the terror in the game, though there are fewer infected. I recall a number of runners in addition to the clickers in the game.
The outcome of that fight is roughly the same, with a key difference — Ellie gets bitten a second time. With spores not being a mechanic in the show, and Joel witnessing Ellie breathe those suckers in without being adversely affected at all, there needed to be something to make Joel finally believe that she is, in fact, immune. That second bite is that for the show.
The scene immediately following the fight in the museum, with Joel and Ellie looking out over the city as the sun sets is verbatim from the game, including a detail I was hoping we would see — Joel looks down at his broken watch, the watch that was a gift from Sarah at the beginning of it all, the night before the world went to hell.
The final scene in the show plays out nearly the same in game as it does in the show. Tess’ frantic search for a radio or a map are the same. The reveal of the bite plays the same.
What changes is that it’s not Fedra who shows up at the building that should have been the Firefly rendezvous. It’s infected, called there by that underground network of mycelia explained earlier in the episode, that Tess makes her extraordinarily courageous last stand against. In the game, she engages in a short-lived shootout with Fedra to buy time for Joel and Ellie’s escape. We see her body from the next floor up as attempt a sneaky escape in the game (involving more sneaky kick-arsery from Joel that we haven’t yet seen in the show). In the show, she blows the place up after a particularly disturbing scene involving a fungal kiss.
Look, I’m not going to explain that at all. You’ll have to watch the show.
This is one of the rare instances — perhaps the only one — where the game feels more emotionally impactful than the show. Joel’s shock at the bite feels more immediate and true in the game. It becomes immediately obvious that he deeply cares for Tess, despite the impression of a vast emotional distance. He doesn’t think rationally. He tries to say he can fight Fedra with Tess. Tess has to physically snap Joel out of it before he starts thinking properly again.
That’s not quite the case in the show.
This isn’t to say that it was poorly written or acted at all. That’s not the case. It’s just that I felt more impacted by the scene in the game than the show, and it might be a result of nothing more than the kind of character intimacy that is more easily achieved with video games, in which the player is an active participant, than it is in television shows, in which the viewer is a passive observer.
Despite the final scene, this was still an exceptional episode of The Last of Us. It hit all the right story beats to keep me, the one who adored the video game so very much, engaged and very pleased. The changes made sense, for the most part, and all still included the best bits of the game to this point.
I understand episode three is a huge departure, but I trust this series now. I cannot wait to unpack that one. So, until next time… Enjoy!
Articles in this series:
When You’re Lost in the Darkness: The Last of Us, Episode One
Infected: The Last of Us, Episode Two
Long, Long Time: The Last of Us, Episode Three
When S.M. Carrière isn’t brutally killing your favourite characters, she spends her time teaching martial arts, live streaming video games, occasionally teaching at the University of Ottawa, and cuddling her cat. In other words, she spends her time teaching others to kill, streaming her digital kills, teaching about historical death, and cuddling a furry murderer. Her latest novels are Skylark, Daughters of Britain, and Human.
I will confess my doubts about a series based on a game, but I had faith in Craig Mazin after his excellent work on Chernobyl, and I think it is justified. There are some moments, like the downtown Boston landscape with its leaning towers or the big action sequence in Kansas City (yet to be reviewed!), that really remind me of gaming experiences. But that does not hurt the impact of the story nor distract from the character interaction at the heart of the series. OK, maybe Joel’s “killer” ability does show up a bit unexpectedly, as we did not see it on his character sheet sooner. Wisely, the show does not dwell on the game mechanics.
You’re going to love episode 3. It’s one of the best.
The only negative things I’ve heard about it are from people I cannot take seriously in any arena. I’m very much looking forward to it!