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The Hollywood Insider Review The Last of Us Episode 2 Infected

The second episode of HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ takes an even deeper, clinical dive into the show’s ultimate antagonist, the Cordyceps virus. In this week’s cold open, we witness the first moment in which an informed scientist gets an up-close look at an infected specimen, and thus, glimpses the impending doom of humanity. When the professor of Mycology Dr. Ibu Ratna (Christine Hakim) performs an autopsy on what is assumed to be patient zero – a woman who contracted the virus from a local grain factory, (an environment referred to as “a perfect substrate” for Cordyceps) – Ratna alone, grasps the rapidly approaching ramifications that will come to pass as a result of this fungal monstrosity somehow makes the jump to a human host. 

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The tone of this opening sequence is pitched so well, achieving an unbroken, almost unbearable sense of realism established by the grounded dialogue, controlled direction, and especially, the naturalism of the performances. It is the exact kind of sobering, dramatic exposition that the audience needs in order to comprehend the invulnerable, alien quality of this show’s signature monster. When a Jakarta military officer desperately inquires about the next move towards containment of the virus, Dr. Ratna resolutely responds, “Bomb. Start Bombing. Bomb this city… And everyone in it”. This closing note sends shivers up the viewer’s spine, just as the first notes of Gustavo Santaolalla’s eerie and beautiful Charango-plucked theme plays over the opening credits.

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‘The Last of Us’ – Iterating on Excellence

It goes without saying that HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ inherited a tremendous amount of visionary source material in terms of design, narrative drive, and world-building. This luxury could also be seen as a double-edged sword, with fans of the original game having such a deep familiarity with every beat of the story that is ostensibly being re-told to them. Luckily, this show has quickly established that it will not be relying on the built-in nostalgic predictability that comes with this kind of adaptation and instead will be attempting to iterate upon all of the strongest creative decisions that were made in the original telling of the story. For example, the unquestionable standout moment from this episode comes when one character endures a particularly disgusting oral exchange with a rabid, fungi-faced infected. This incredibly memorable visual innovation is entirely unique to the production of this show. Even the environmental storytelling that the game pulled off so effortlessly is manifested in the first two episodes’ set creation. The interior of the abandoned, flooded hotel that Joel, Ellie, and Tess sludge through, as well as the makeshift bridge that the trio have to tightrope-walk between, are both direct recreations of environments from the game, and both provide the same character development through environmental interaction that they did in the game, but to an even greater degree. 

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As the characters traverse through these abandoned urban spaces, the viewer gets the distinct impression that nature has dug its roots back in and permanently reclaimed them in humanity’s absence. The striking mixture of verdant overgrowth and overwhelming industrial decay is even more astonishing to behold in live-action. The real show stopper in terms of virtuoso production design, is inside the Boston Museum of History. Every last inch of floor and wall space is consumed by the unchecked, metastasizing overgrowth of the Cordyceps fungi. All manner of stomach-churning spores, fungal-clusters, and distorted human remains envelop the rotting carcass of the former museum. In terms of practical creature design, and the sheer level of craftsmanship that is on display, this sequence could go toe-to-toe with any visual accomplishment ever achieved in television history. Everyone familiar with the TLOU took a collective inhalation of nervous breath, when Joel first hears the utterly unmistakable “Click-Click” sound of the severely infected specimens known as “Clickers”. The staggeringly textured, gorgeous and grotesque rendering of the Clickers visual design, coupled with the inspired choice to bring back the original voice actors who developed the distinctive spine-tingling tone of the Clicker’s guttural vocalizations, immediately elevates these iconic creatures into the all-time pantheon of unforgettable monster designs on screen. 

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Lone Wolf and Cub

The beating heart of ‘The Last of Us’ has always been the core relationship between reluctant father-figure Joel, and his acerbic surrogate daughter Ellie. At this point in their story, the two can hardly stand to be in the same room as one another, and not just because Joel remains skeptical of Ellie’s “supposedly” benign case of the Cordyceps virus. Joel has become a hardened and morally ambiguous survivalist in the ensuing years of apocalyptic chaos that followed his daughter’s tragic death. Ellie is impatient, headstrong, and too-smart to be fooled by Joel or Tess’ tight-lipped front of opaque informational misdirection. Both characters find one another at a time in which neither one of them are at all interested in helping the other one out. Ellie simply wants to be released from Joel and Tess’ overbearing vice-grip of control, and Joel has only agreed to escort Ellie for his and Tess’ personal benefit. It’s only after the tragic conclusion of this episode, that the two become inextricably linked through a shared trauma, and an unshakable obligation to the dying wishes of a friend. 

The original ‘The Last of Us’ used the classic conventions of environmental interaction used in most third-person adventure games (pushing objects through tight spaces, boosting up a mission companion over a wall, etc) to slow its story down, and provide the necessary air-space for Joel and Ellie to get to know each other. Given that this version of the story is being told in a medium that requires constant narrative progression, the show is finding new ways to depict the same kind of reluctant, but growing friendship between its two leads. In one very video game-esque storytelling moment in which Tess needs to crawl through a wall of collapsed debris and open a door for Joel and Ellie to pass through, the show allows for this sensation of “down time” to occur, giving Pascal and Ramsey a chance to verbally spar, and (albeit hesitantly) emotionally connect with one another. Ramsey in particular, absolutely shines as Ellie. She somehow makes memorable lines taken directly from the game e.g. “Jury’s still out. But man you can’t deny that view”, feel completely original to her interpretation of the character. If anyone wasn’t emotionally invested in this archetypal “Lone Wolf and Cub” relationship after the show’s first episode, they will be after tuning in this week.

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It’s Alive

This episode, cognizantly titled ‘Infected’ introduced a new disturbing wrinkle to ‘The Last of Us’ canon, which explains how the infected are all neurologically linked together, forming a single, sentient, monolithic organism. The infected are all connected via an underground network of intricately branching tendrils that the Cordyceps virus uses to communicate across vast distances. Like all of the horrors that TLOU puts on display, this one is made all the more unsettling by its detailed basis in actual science. The tangibility of the viral threat in ‘The Last of Us’ is as discernible and relatable as the characters whose lives have been ravaged by it. That, among other things, is what makes this story and this show such a compelling thing to experience. 

Creators: Neil Druckmann, Craig Mazin.

Cast: Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey, Gabriel Luna, Merle Dandridge, Jeffery Pierce, Anna Torv, Murray Bartlett, Nick Offerman, Christine Hakim.

By Dillon Goss-Carpenter

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