Review: The Last of Us Episode 2: Infected

Preamble

In stark contrast to last week, there’s almost a sense of relief to this preamble. No longer is there a protracted clearing of the throat or long-winded history that has to sound interesting (in so many words). Instead, it feels as casual as drifting onto the bottom of the escalator. The destination is clear, and now I can enjoy my journey to the top. Bad analogies aside, have you seen this week’s episode of The Last of Us? Let me know in the comments below.

Review

Much like the pilot episode, the second episode of The Last of Us represents a fascinating case of adaptation. But it also plays like a clear thesis statement for the show as a whole, namely the blurred line between fidelity to the visuals of the acclaimed video game and documentary realism (via the filmmaking).

Similarly to the first episode, Infected has a cold open. This time, it depicts a female mycologist investigating the outbreak of a fungal virus among a group of factory workers. She concludes that there’s no discernable cure or vaccine that can be manufactured, so, therefore, a scoured earth approach is required (via bombing major cities to stop the virus from spreading). Meanwhile, in the present day, Joel and Tess continue to transport young Ellie as they venture into a seemingly abandoned post-pandemic Boston.

From the opening that’s hauntingly real in its sobering implications to the use of shaky cam esque camera moves, Infection establishes a grandiose documentary style that gives us a credible and immersive view of a post-virus America. This is combined with a subtle change in perspective when engaging with imagery that harkens back to the game. A great example is a moment early on that starts as a medium shot of Ellie looking up at these fixed tall buildings. Then the perspective turns to a low-angle shot as the camera almost breathlessly captures Ellie’s awe-induced reaction to the majestic display.

The game’s creator (Neil Druckmann) makes his directorial debut, and moments such as the above represent a firm understanding of the subtle changes the medium of television can make in the adaptation process.

Much less clear is a change that happens near the end of the episode. The moment has a frightened Tess being kissed by an infected creature. At first blush, the moment is seemingly created as a sense of tension as the character is trying to ignite a light. However, on further inspection, it appears to be a grotesque instance of violation. It plays like an odd reference to a line that Tess says to Ellie earlier whereby even though she’s immune, she can still be ripped apart and that’s what she requires protecting from. Along with discussions about the infected still seemingly having some if a little semblance of their original thought process. The moment could be played as an odd moment of the creature reaching out to reassure an afraid Tess. However, you slice it, it’s quite a record-scratch moment.

Anna Torv provides the episode’s best performance in a fiercely commanding turn as a figure who feels like she has to atone for the choices she and Joel have made. Pedro Pascal’s silent moments, whether its his hand shaking or his various gestures to Ellie (in an abandoned museum), kept me riveted. In fact, they remind me of just how much of a godsend he is in the part. And Belle Ramsey continues to impress me in a performance that walks a tightrope of childlike and curious.

Finally, the episode gives a lot more space for Gustavo Santaolalla’s score. The composer who also scored the video games turns in a suitably disturbing discordant score along with a few gentle grace notes of peace and happiness. Much like the adaptation process itself, I’m impressed with the splitting of the difference between faithfulness and something unique.

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About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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