Jan 23, 2023 7:05 am
Jan 23, 2023 3:00 am
This review contains full spoilers for episode two of The Last of Us, now available to view on HBO Max. To stay spoiler-free, check out our The Last of Us Season 1 Review.
Episode 2 of The Last of Us greets us with yet another cold open that further displays Neil Druckmann’s desire to expand this world beyond that of his original game. Although not essential to Joel and Ellie’s journey, it offers compelling information that acts as an explainer of how the fungus works for newcomers, as well as fascinating new context for those familiar. Thrown into 2003 Jakarta, we bear witness to the very start of the pandemic that will soon sweep the globe in a chilling sequence that sees all hope drained from Professor Ratna thanks to a fantastically nuanced performance. A scene filled with quiet dread, it ends with the loudest of suggestions – the bombing of an entire city. It’s deeply effective and an ominous foreshadowing of the show’s hopeless present day as we’re transported back to a bombed-out Boston.
Bella Ramsey continues to be excellent as Ellie, granting humorous relief in a world that offers very little. She’s dependent but resourceful and, crucially, willing to learn as the true horrors of the wider world steadily become revealed to her. In these early stages, there aren’t many signs of a relationship building with Joel, who still very much sees her transportation as a means to an end to get to his brother Tommy in Wyoming. If anything, it’s Tess who takes more of a front seat in caring for Ellie and teaching her about the world outside the QZ walls. Anna Torv is terrific throughout, displaying warmth beneath a scarred, steely surface. She and Pedro Pascal do a great job of creating a tangible history between the two in a relatively short amount of screen time. Both display those tough exteriors but are also able to show trust and fondness for one another.
The Last of Us HBO Series Character Guide
Set design continues to be one of the show’s high points with nature’s reclamation of every building, car, and dining table in full motion. There’s a reminder that these once-bustling cities don’t belong to humanity anymore at every turn as fungal strands twist through the streets like the electricity that used to power them. No image is as stark as the mass gathering of an infected colony seen from above, however, accompanied by Tess’ chilling explanation of how they can operate as one organism. A group of that size is a terrifying prospect, but sometimes just a single, different type of infected can instill much stronger fear.
We’re introduced to our first Clicker, the echo-locating breed of infected, whose chattering voice is the last heard by most who meet it – like the Predator’s croaking battle cry mixed with a ghoulish shriek. They’re a horror to look at as well, with their deformed fungal heads contrasting against what remains of their (mostly) human body. There’s no irony lost that our first real meeting with one of them takes place in a museum – leading them to not only take over humanity’s present-day but also a place designed to preserve our past. The Clickers stalk the museum floor like the velociraptors of Jurassic Park’s kitchen, launching with a similar suddenness when alerted. Close-ups mirror a young Joe Mazzello in a great example of slowly bubbling tension brought to a sharp, explosive boil by the cracking of glass on a floor soon to be covered in chunks of bloodied chanterelle.
It’s an action scene that fits the aesthetic of its world perfectly: ugly, inelegant, and brutal.
It’s an action scene that fits the aesthetic of its world perfectly: ugly, inelegant, and brutal. Sound is also used brilliantly throughout the episode. Distant screams, anything resembling a clicking noise, and even a frog hopping on a piano key possessed the ability to put me on edge. The score is used sparingly throughout but to great effect, reduced mainly to pulses and drones in high-tension moments, but excels as guitar plucks from the game come in to soundtrack its devastating closing moments.
It’s an ending that gives Tess one of the more memorable screen departures in recent memory. We may not have known her for that long, but her presence will undoubtedly be missed – not only by us but by Joel, who is clearly distraught at her sacrifice in a scene brilliantly played out by both Torv and Pascal. Even if it doesn’t quite pack the same gut punch as it did in the game seeing as we’ve spent far less time with this version of her, it’s undoubtedly more horrific. The frankly disgusting kiss of death pretty much validates Druckmann and Craig Mazin’s creative decision to opt for tendrils over spores as the way the fungus spreads. Their slow, creeping nature resembles Xenomorph mouths by way of Cronenberg and is the very definition of horror. It’s shocking, brutal, and yet another reminder that this world is ready to take anyone at any moment.