The Last of Us has returned this week with an incredible first episode that builds off of last week’s stunning premiere. The aptly titled episode Infected is enthralling, picking up right where viewers left off with Joel, Ellie, and Tess, in their trek to the capitol building. While episode 1 of the series heavily focused on life before the outbreak and the events leading up to it, Infected feels much more concise and action-packed. While there are still quiet moments, it feels like the series’ first two episodes are trying to convey a message that co-creators Mazin and Druckmann understand the need for good pacing. The more intensely paced second episode similarly has a flashback cold open, albeit one that’s a lot scarier.
While the first episode had the talk show that discussed the implications of a cordyceps outbreak, the second episode shows those deadly fears come to life. Watching a foreign country uncover the beginnings of the infection and an autopsy of one of the first infected, The Last of Us takes a dark turn. Mazin continues to shine in his depiction of the bureaucratic aspects of such an outbreak ravaging the world, and the bleak and suicidal outlook of medical professionals makes it all so much more chilling.
As the flashback ends, the permanent damage of patient zero transitions into the possible hope of the future. In 2023, when Ellie’s infection was exposed, Joel and Tess are at a crossroads. The implications of immunity are immense, and the two find it too good to be true. Their initial apprehension shows the darker nature of the two characters, and Anna Torv particularly stands out in this second episode. Her interactions with Joel and Ellie show why she’s in charge of her and Joel’s smuggling operation, which leads to them finishing the job. Infected is all about developing some level of trust, making the interactions between the trio endearing. Moments like Ellie pretending to turn put on display humor similar to the games.
One of the most anticipated moments of The Last of Us also comes with the second episode. If the episode title wasn’t enough indication, Infected is the live-action debut of one of the most popular zombie types in a video game. There was some apprehension from people (like myself) if clickers would be done justice in the series. Thankfully, a mixture of prosthetics and CGI makes the first clicker terrifying. Everything clicks (pun very much intended) with this first scene featuring the creatures, and it is just as tense as if you were playing the game. Pascal and Ramsey excellently portray fear and silence, almost like a scene from A Quiet Place.
Of course, the action absent in the first episode shines in Infected. Since The Last of Us is based on a video game, some zombie killing is expected. The second episode delivers in spades, with subtle choreography that makes Joel and Tess’s struggle with clickers and runners feel visceral and intense. The horror aspect of the series gets more of a spotlight in this episode, and the drastic change in scenery from a quarantine zone to the wilderness helps add to that.
Just like the game, episode 2 expertly shows the consequences of stepping out into the world of the infected. Consequences are a real thing in the series so far, and no character feels safe. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of The Last of Us, expect emotional gut punches. Hell, even if you are a fan of the game and already know what happens, you can still expect some twist on familiar and tragic story beats. Pascal and Torv bounce off each other wonderfully, and the quieter moments following the chaos show what made The Last of Us resonate with fans ten years ago. Infected is an incredible episode, making the series 2 for 2 in high-quality storytelling. After the emotional highs and lows and a drastic change to Joel’s mission, episode 3 is sure to take the explosive energy from this episode and run with it. – Ernesto Valenzuela