The second episode of The last of us it was about beginnings: the beginning of the viral outbreak that would basically end the world, and the beginning of Joel and Ellie’s story as the couple, along with Tess, ventured into the open world of Boston. Directed by The last of us game master and co-showrunner of the series Neil Druckmann, was a subtly video game influenced episode which also added to franchise mythology in some terrifying and fascinating ways.
Before we could continue with Joel, Ellie, and Tess, things flashed back to 2003. September 24, 2003 to be precise, just two days before Joel lost his daughter in Austin, Texas. About 10,000 miles away, we’re in Jakarta, Indonesia, which, if you remember, Joel heard mentioned briefly on the radio. in the previous episode. An older woman is having lunch when two soldiers enter the restaurant. They all get scared and shut up and ask him to leave.
This is Ibu Ratna (Christine Hakim), a professor of mycology at the University of Indonesia. Mycology is the study of fungi, so it makes sense that Dr. Ratna is confused about what the military would want from her. They stop at a hospital, enter a secure back section, and Dr. Ratna is asked to look at a slide. She identifies it as Ophiocordyceps, which Wikipedia describes it as “zombie ant fungus”, but is confused about its origin. The main man (Yayu AW Unru) tells him that it is from a human, but Dr. Ratna says that is impossible. Ophiocordyceps cannot survive in a human. (Remember the TV show from the previous episode?)
She puts on a protective suit and goes into a room with a dead woman on a slab. This woman has been bitten on her leg and when the Ratna cuts it, it doesn’t bleed. Instead, tiny plant-like tentacles live below the surface. She puts forceps into the corpse’s mouth and pulls out living, moving, tentacles, and runs out horrified.
Shocked by her discovery, the military man explains where it came from. Thirty hours ago, this woman attacked several people at a nearby flour and grain plant. When the police arrived, they killed her, and a few hours later, all the people she attacked had to be killed. Dr. Ratna asks the next logical question—“Who bit her?”— and they don’t know. She’s also told 14 other workers from the factory are missing. At this information, she begins to shake. The man tells her they brought her here to help them stop the spread of this disease. That they need a cure. She calmly explains that there is no cure and suggests the best way to spot it is to bomb the entire city and kill everyone.
Again—this is TWO DAYS before Joel has to deal with the infected in Austin on his birthday, September 26. So the doctor’s extreme reaction was warranted. The world is doomed. Also, it’s worth noting none of this is in the game. It’s just a terrifying glimpse at where the end of the world started, newly created for this show.
In 2023, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) are watching Ellie (Bella Ramsey) sleep. Remember, the previous episode ended with them finding out that she’d been infected. When she wakes up completely fine, Joel is ready to either bring her back to the Quarantine Zone or kill her. Tess, however, isn’t so sure, so she puts it all out there. She tells Ellie that she and Joel are not good people, that they’re helping her for selfish reasons, and if she doesn’t explain why she’s so important to Marlene and the Fireflies they’ll kill her. So Ellie, even though she was told not to tell anyone, tells Tess and Joel the truth. She was bitten a long time ago and she might be the key to a cure.
Joel says he’s heard that a million times, doesn’t believe it, and wants to bring her back, but Tess reminds him it doesn’t matter if it’s true, only that the Fireflies believe it and give them the truck in exchange. So they hit the road which, at first, Ellie is confused about. She was led to believe that outside of the QZ, there were infected running around everywhere. All kinds of weird variants of the infected. But that’s not the case. Overall, what she’s seeing is relatively quiet. That gives everyone a chance to talk.
Tess asks Ellie how she was bitten and Ellie says she snuck into a nearby shopping mall that was boarded up because she wanted to see what was inside. By herself. Tess is impressed but Last of Us gamers (and people who studied the trailers) I know this is not entirely accurate. Ellie also reveals that she is an orphan and no one will come looking for her. Soon after, the trio find themselves inside a flooded hotel lobby where Ellie reveals that she can’t swim. Not that it matters, the water is shallow, but her lack of experience is starting to show.
This entire section of the episode reflected the feeling of The last of us game incredibly close. Slow walk through huge abandoned cities. The threat of death around every corner. Exploring different paths to find new passages. And crucial information is constantly distributed. Tess leaves to find a way around a dead end at the hotel and Ellie chats with Joel. She finds out that he is from Texas and that Tess is from Detroit, but Joel doesn’t want to say anything more about it. He tells her that the lifespan of someone who has been infected can vary from a few months to over 20 years and counting, and that he has killed many of them. She begins to ask about the uninfected soldier she killed the night before when, luckily for Joel, Tess returns.
She reveals that the path they were on has been blocked by a mountain of apparently dead Infected. However, when the sun moves over them, they also move and here The last of us show adds to its mythology. Tess explains to Ellie that the fungus that infects everyone also runs underground and connects them all. So if she does something in one place, she will be reported as being infected in other places and her location will be revealed. The idea that it is not only this virus that has infected the world, but that it is also in constant communication with itself is just another level of creepy.
Because of all the infected in their path, Joel and Tess decided to go another way, one they were afraid to go before: through the Boston Museum (not a real place, result). Covered in sinister-looking mushrooms and vines, it’s pretty obvious why they didn’t want to go this way. It has to be full of infected. However, Joel notices that all the vines appear dead, and perhaps all the infected inside are dead as well.
At first, it seems that way, but when Ellie bumps into a guy who was murdered much more recently, Joel says they all need to keep quiet. They slowly make their way up the stairs of the museum, which are covered in lots and lots of bodies. At the top, they enter an exhibit of ancient weapons, but the walls behind them collapse making a very loud noise. That’s when they hear it. The clicks. First from one side, then from the other, and creepy infected with huge cauliflower/coral shaped heads enter the room. Joel points out to Ellie that these creatures can’t see, but they can hear, so shut up. But when one appears, Ellie gasps and all hell breaks loose.
Even though they’re only fighting two Clickers, it’s an incredible task, making for a fun and satisfying action sequence, exactly what audiences are surely craving from this show. After barely killing both creatures, they all come out and Ellie reveals that she has been bitten or scratched. “If it were to happen to one of us…”, she teases herself, because she’s apparently immune. Joel is still unsure of Ellie’s status, but Tess stops him and makes him appreciate the fact that she actually survived.
They head to their final destination, the gold-domed Massachusetts State House (an actual place, probably best known in pop culture for appearing on The dead people). The problem is that there is no one. There were supposed to be fireflies there to get Ellie off their hands, but when Joel, Ellie, and Tess walk in, there’s no one. Nobody alive, at least. Apparently, someone got infected, covered it up, and spread to everyone, killing them. Joel is ready to back off, but something’s gotten into Tess. She doesn’t want to go back. She wants to stay and take Ellie to where she needs to be. And in that rage-filled desperation, Ellie realizes. Tess has been infected. She shows her wound to Joel to confirm.
However, because Tess was bitten around the same time as Ellie, she asks to see Ellie’s wound. Ellie’s wound, unlike Tess’s, is actually getting better and that’s when both Tess and Joel know that Ellie is real. She really is immune and she really could be the person who can save the world. Tess begs and pleads with Joel to take Ellie to “Bill and Frank’s house” where she will be safe. He doesn’t want to, but she says that she has never asked him for anything, which suggests some deeper problems in the relationship. As this tense and emotional conversation takes place, one of the dead fireflies begins to come back to life and Joel shoots it. However, in doing so, the spores coming from her hand begin to grow on the ground, and they wake up infected all over the city.
Joel peeks through the door. Tess asks how many are coming to which he replies “Everyone”. Tess starts dumping gasoline and pulling out grenades, and she promises to make sure they don’t get chased. “Joel, save whoever you can,” she pleads, and he grabs Ellie and runs off. The swarm enters and, at the last possible second, Tess is able to turn on her lighter and blow them all away. From outside, Joel and Ellie duck as the building explodes. Now, it’s just the two of them.
As I said at the beginning, the second episode of The last of us it was all about beginnings. We saw the beginning of the outbreak. We saw the beginning of Joel and Ellie’s friendship. And, with Tess’s sacrifice and death, it’s now the true beginning of the show, as Joel and Ellie are now on their own, hoping to find a place to learn of this girl’s miracle.
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