Each week, we’ll recap the biggest moments of HBO’s The Last of Us before placing bets on the odds of survival for our favorite characters – like the sick, twisted, soulless monsters we are.
The Last of Us follows up its slow-burn season premiere with a backpacking how-to through fungal-infected Boston that will absolutely not be making any travel bucket lists when the inevitable apocalypse strikes. In episode two’s “Infected,” Tess, Ellie, and Joel establish a tentative truce before they make their way to the Massachusetts State House where the Fireflies should be waiting to ferry “humanity’s cure” out West, but this is an HBO drama adapted from a best-selling video game that has made grown men cry so things just aren’t going to be that easy.
A couple of close calls, some, err … bonding time for Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal, and a heartbreaking sacrifice are the highlights of episode two as a shocking ending throws our Survival Odds watch into pure chaos. Let’s get into it.
Early Outbreak Bombshells
Something both the game and the series does incredibly well is its science. We can’t say for sure that the Cordyceps Brain Infection could ever really cause a massive pandemic that eradicates mankind, but the use of flashbacks so far goes a long way in convincing us that humanity is just one bad box of pancake mix away from total annihilation. “Infected” launches with a look at the situation in Jakarta, back when the Cordyceps strand had yet to really permeate on a global scale. A scientist is rudely kidnapped in the middle of her lunch break to weigh in on a sample of fungus taken from a human specimen, a factory worker who went berserk and started biting her fellow employees. She meticulously studies her corpse, slicing into fungi-invaded flesh and prying tentacles from the victim’s jaw before realizing what we all now know: this sh*t is gross as hell and it’s going to be the hottest extinction event on the planet pretty soon. There’s no cure, no vaccine, and after breaking that news to the uniformed simpleton responsible for cluing her into this devastating future, she calmly sets down her cup of tea, tells him to bomb the city (with everyone in it), and asks for someone to give her a damn ride home.
If she’s going to face the end of the world, she’s going to do it in her comfiest PJs with her housecat and a bottle of red by her side.
Flash-forward to the now, as a sleeping Ellie wakes to find both Tess and Joel creepily guarding her in an abandoned building outside the QZ. They’re still wary she might turn and trying to convince them that she’s the only person on this godforsaken rock that’s immune to the infection is becoming exhausting. Eventually, she has to clue them into Marlene’s plan – one Joel seems unimpressed with considering rumors of a “cure” have apparently been floating for some time without ever landing on solid ground. But Tess, as we’re quickly discovering is her way, sees through the bullsh*t.
It doesn’t matter if Ellie is humanity’s last hope or not, the Fireflies believe she is and they need what the group has promised. One kid for a car battery and ammo is a hell of a good trade in postapocalyptic times so the group soldiers on, taking the freeway into the city as Tess and Ellie bond over their shared recklessness and Joel grudgingly follows behind.
Pedro Pascal is in full “annoyed babysitter mode” and it’s a good look for him.
Boston, Who Hurt You?
We hope to God that Ben Affleck didn’t survive the fungal outbreak because he’d be weeping into his Dunkin Donuts coffee over the state of his hometown. Ellie though? She’s mesmerized by the big buildings – that are leaning precariously into one another and overgrown with weeds – the deserted streets – covered in fungal pathways that might awaken a horde at any moment – and pavement craters a mile wide – evidence that at one point, our government’s best idea for how to beat CBI was to just drop bombs in every major city across America and hope for the best.
There are two ways to the State House, the long way or the way where someone ends up dead. The trio’s not stupid enough to try that path first but the foreshadowing here is about as subtle as Colin Farrell’s attempt to flirt with Ana De Armas at this year’s Golden Globes. Choosing the long way means breaking into a once-upscale hotel to get a birds-eye-view of their trek before they get caught by a pack of Infected and it’s during this watery interlude we learn more about Ellie … and Joel, and Tess, but mainly Ellie. She’s a kid that’s grown up in the QZ, educated by FEDRA on life before and after the outbreak. She can’t swim, but she does know where Detroit is assholes. She’s got a wicked sense of humor that Joel quickly labels “weird” and a knack for pissing her babysitter off. The two try to bond while Tess looks for a way through the rubble but the conversation goes nowhere fast. Joel is grumpy and closed-off, still unsure if he’ll have to put a bullet in this girl’s head. Ellie is curious but guarded, she wants to know more about her current guardian – and life in general because she hasn’t done much living up until this point – but she knows that appearing too eager, too naïve is a vulnerability she can’t afford. She keeps things close to the chest but gets frustrated when Joel does the same and dammit if this prickly little pair doesn’t warm our hearts a bit. They’re both lost souls looking for some kind of meaning, some kind of purpose in life and they’ll probably find it in each other, but not before facing some monstrous setbacks.
Speaking of …
Mayhem in the Museum
The safe route to the State House has been overrun by Infected so Tess, Joel, and Ellie are forced to take a shortcut through the museum. It’s covered in dried-out fungal strands which leads the group to believe it’s safe. Naturally, assumptions can get you killed on this show, and even though the build-up to our first post-outbreak Infected run-in is fairly straightforward, it’s still terrifying. It’s still not clear how these beings work since their brains aren’t necessarily dead, just controlled by a fungus infection, but it seems like they hunt by sound, not sight. The group’s flashlights do nothing to alert the creatures, but one misstep, the crunch of a human hand being stepped on, has them losing their minds. While Tess and Joel fight off two Infected, Ellie scrambles to find a place to hide. Bullets fly, hatchets are wielded, and eventually, our smugglers are able to deliver fatal blows to the head, which may not be the only way to kill one of these things but it sure is the fastest and most effective method of zombie disposal.
Tess walks away with a bum ankle, Ellie with another bite, but the group makes it to the State House relatively unscathed. Or, so we thought.
Save Who You Can
Despite large armored trucks and a huge weapons cache, all of the Fireflies hold up within the building are dead, not from FEDRA or raiders but because one of their own became infected and mass panic ensued. Joel wants to turn back, go home to the QZ and let FEDRA decide what to do with Ellie. An increasingly irritated Tess is adamantly against that notion and Ellie soon figures out why. She’s been infected by one of the creatures they fought off at the museum. While her bite spreads rapidly, Ellie’s just leaks a bit of blood, a clear contrast that proves to Tess at least that Ellie is the real deal. She pleads with Joel to take her to someone named Frank, to ferry her to safety as penance for all their committed sins and it’s the kind of heartbreaking, self-sacrificing monologue that’s all the more tragic because we know it will be Anna Torv’s last on this show. We get that a zombie apocalypse needs stakes, but what a waste to only use Torv’s talents for two episodes.
Still, she makes an impression, on us and on Joel, who agrees to her dying wish, dragging Ellie kicking and screaming out the back while Tess douses the lobby in gasoline and grenades, setting a trap for the hordes of Infected who’ve been alerted to their whereabouts thanks to those dead Fireflies. The final shot of Tess silently struggling to get her lighter to work as mindless bodies flood through the building, with one targeting her by slowly reaching his tentacles inside her gaping mouth, is disturbing and devastating in equal measure. It’s a nasty way to go, but at least it’s one Tess got to choose, which is more than most survivors of this apocalypse will be able to say.
Joel (10 to 1)
We’d say anyone who hitches their wagon to a smart-mouthed teenager pegged as humanity’s only hope is bound for the grave but Joel is ruthless in his ability to cut personal ties, ignore emotional attachments, and save himself in precarious situations. Just lending a helping hand to Ellie in this episode gives him the heebie-jeebies and with Tess gone, he’s even less likely to stick his neck out for the girl. At this point, she’s not a stand-in for Sarah by any means. Sarah was sweet and caring whereas Ellie is fearless and bloodthirsty. She’s more like Joel than he’d probably like to admit, which serves as yet another reason why he needs to get rid of her, and fast.
Ellie (5 to 2 odds)
No, Ellie won’t die from infection, but damn if this girl isn’t trying to get herself killed in every other way imaginable. It’s one thing to go out into the post-apocalyptic world with no house training, it’s another thing to call attention to yourself by dinging hotel lobby bells and heavy-footing your way through fungus-infected museums and breathing like an asthmatic without her inhaler while hiding from creatures intent on killing you. Do better or get the hell away from Pedro Pascal because we refuse to watch him die on yet another HBO drama series.