The Last of Us Episode 2, titled “Infected”, is a great example of worldbuilding – and building tension. It picks up in the aftermath of “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” as Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) continues to escort Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the wreckage of Boston with his partner Tess (Anna Torv). It’s not an easy trip: Ellie has been infected by the Cordyceps virus, and Joel is fearful that she’ll turn on them. To make matters worse, there are new forms of infected lurking in the dark.
What I love about The Last of Us so far is that it takes time to showcase the events that led to the world’s downfall. This is especially true of The Last of Us Episode 2 as it once again opens on a 2003-era scene, this time set in Jakarta. This scene helps showcase just how far-reaching and horrifying the effects of the Cordyceps are.
When a scientist is asked about possible courses of action, she offers a simple one: “Bomb the city.” That single sentence is just as chilling as any Cordyceps-infected being because it reveals that even with such extreme measures, mankind wasn’t prepared for the virus. Compared to most post-apocalyptic media, which mostly focuses on the aftereffects of a collapsed society or confines the action to the United States, The Last of Us is slowly building out its world – which helps separate it from the game it’s based on but also adds even more layers to said game.
When it comes to the present-day sequences, Pascal and Ramsey continue to captivate me with their performances. Pascal, in particular, says so much with so little. His hands shake as he picks up a gun, and his eyes have years’ worth of pain pulsing behind them. Not many people can give off a whole history with just their body movement alone, but Pascal is definitely up to the challenge. Alternatively, Ramsey offers some levity throughout the episode. Even if it’s the end of the world, Ellie is a teenage girl, and she seems more than done with Joel’s surly attitude. But the episode’s MVP is Torv as Tess. In comparison to Pascal’s brooding near silence, Torv is more open and determined in her character’s mission. This builds up to the episode’s final scene, which will shatter many hearts but also packs a wealth of emotion into so many minutes.
Showrunners Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin switch duties for this episode, with Druckmann directing and Mazin writing. Mazin’s script has the pacing down to a T; entire scenes are dedicated to showcasing the ruins of Boston and just what happens when the Cordyceps take hold of a victim. And for a first-time director, Druckmann surprisingly knows how to stage tension. A moment where Joel, Ellie, and Tess have to navigate the ruins of a museum and avoid the infected had me on the edge of my seat. I didn’t know what was around the corner or what was going to happen next. And that’s how I like my horror.
And finally, the infected themselves will sear themselves into your deepest nightmares. In keeping with the fungi theme, some of the infected have heads that are more or less giant mushrooms. And their limbs twist and jerk with horrifying speed; these are the type of undead that you can’t outrun. And a large part of that is due to the use of practical effects, which are simply outstanding. The Cordyceps looks like it’s actually growing out of people’s heads, which is equal parts impressive and frightening.
But what makes the “mushroom heads” scary is their ability to sense sounds. Whether it’s something as loud as a gunshot or even the crackling of dried fungi, any sound will instantly draw them into the orbit of their victims. This means Joel, Ellie, and Tess have to walk in absolute silence. Druckmann truly shines as a director with these scenes; his camera follows the protagonists as they move through the shadows, and pulls in on their terror-stricken faces as the mushroom heads twitch and jerk ever so close to them. At times the only sound in the room is that of panicked breath.
The Last of Us Episode 2 never lets up for a minute, building up tension and showcasing the horror of a post-Cordyceps world. This series is building on everything that made the video games great while also finding ways to push the story in new directions. If you ask me, that’s what any good adaptation should do.
The Last of Us is available now on HBO Max with new episodes premiering every Sunday.
The Last of Us Episode 2
- Rating - 8.5/108.5/10
The Last of Us Episode 2 never lets up for a minute, building up tension and showcasing the horror of a post-Cordyceps world. This series is building on everything that made the video games great, while also finding ways to push the story in new directions.
Born and raised in Texas, Collier “CJ” Jennings was introduced to geekdom at an early age by his father, who showed him Ultraman and Star Trek: The Next Generation. On his thirteenth birthday, he received a copy of Giant Size X-Men #1 and dove head first into the realm of pop culture, never looking back. His hobbies include: writing screenplays and essays, watching movies and television, card games/RPG’s, and cooking. He currently resides in Seattle.