Episode Two of HBO’s The Last of Us gives us the beautiful sets and terse creature-feature action that the premiere hinted at, as well as broadening the characters and the state of the world.
This is a recap and review of episode two. Spoilers to follow!
The Last Of Us Episode 2 Review
The episode begins in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2003, at the very start of the outbreak. Ibu Ratna, a professor of mycology, is taken by soldiers and brought to a lab. There, she examines a corpse, discovering a bite on its ankle and a cordyceps substrate in its throat. When the fungus reaches for her, she backs away in horror.
The soldier later explains how the woman had been attacked at the factory where she worked, along with fourteen others who are now missing. Ratna, clearly terrified by the implications, tells the soldier their only recourse is to bomb the city and everyone in it.
The next scene finds Ellie waking up in an abandoned building while Joel and Tess sit guard. The juxtaposition of Ellie’s peaceful sleep – with monarch butterflies and lush green grass surrounding her – starkly contrasts with the older people sitting in the dark. It serves to mark Ellie as a beacon of hope. Unfortunately, Joel distrusts her, and Tess demands answers. And, even when she tells them the truth, Joel scoffs at her being a “miracle cure.”
Still, they move on, giving viewers beautiful shots of the post-apocalyptic city overtaken by plants. In reference to the pre-credit scene, they come across a crater, showing that Boston was also bombed to keep the infection at bay. Presumably, so were most cities in the world.
They make their way through a hotel with a water-filled lobby. The decadent building still has wine glasses still on tables, albeit covered in bright green mold. Ellie explains that she first got bitten when she had broken into an abandoned mall to see what it was like. She claimed no one was with her, but something tells me she might be lying.
When they reach the top level, the way is blocked, so Tess climbs through the wreckage to unlock the door, leaving Ellie and Joel to talk. Joel deflects hard questions, though he explains that Tess is from Detroit and that the infected can live 1-2 years, but some have been around since the start of the spread.
On the roof, Tess shows Ellie dozens of infected (colloquially called Cordyceps, a name taken from a real fungus, of which there are 600 species) lying on the ground. She explains how they are connected via a mycelium network that can stretch almost a mile underground.
They make their way to the Bostonian Museum, finding a beat-up and dead man in the lobby. They gingerly make their up the stairs which are littered with shrivelled Cordyceps remains. They make it to the top level only to be attacked by two more-evolved Cordyceps with deformed heads. In a scene almost as terse as the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park, Joel manages to shoot one while Tess buries a hatchet in another.
When they emerge into the sunlight, Tess reveals her ankle is twisted and that Ellie was bitten again. Still, they make their way to the statehouse, where they find only a bloody truck and a corpse. Inside, they find more corpses, evidence that one person had been infected, and it evolved into a blood bath.
Joel wants to go home, but Tess tells him to take Ellie to “Bill and Frank’s,” revealing she’s been bitten on the collarbone. A Cordyceps attacks, and when Joel shoots it, they notice the spores around the room begin to move. Joel insists they get moving, knowing the Cordyceps from the street are heading their way. Tess dumps barrels of gas and grenades on the floor as Joel drags Ellie away.
Her last stand prepared, Tess tries to flick her lighter to ignite the gas, but in classic movie form, it just won’t light!
Most of the infected ignore her, but one approaches and gives her a big, gross, fungal kiss before she manages to activate the lighter, resulting in an immense explosion.
The episode ends with Ellie watching the statehouse burn.
This episode was terse and atmospheric, taking a lot from the game but also adding some new components. We get a few moments of humour – mainly from Ellie’s quips. We also learn that Ellie is 14, and her reaction to a question about a theoretical boyfriend makes me believe the show will incorporate aspects of her story from the follow-up games Left Behind and Part II. While I was sad to see the badass Tess go, the core of the story is the father-daughter relationship, so I had been expecting Tess to die at some point in the earlier episodes.
It was also a great episode for information purposes about the Cordyceps – explaining the evolution of the network the creatures function within, as well as how the infection initially spread. One thing is for sure: whatever form of zombie apocalypse develops in our real-world timeline, I’ll definitely be wearing armor around my neck and forearms if I go wandering into the wasteland.
The next episode airs on January 29 on HBO and HBO Max.