This Last of Us review contains spoilers.
The Last of Us Episode 2
In what will come as no surprise to fans already familiar with The Last of Us games, episode 2 of the dystopian adventure’s HBO incarnation proves it has zero intentions of fucking around. With just about an episode and a half, the terrific Anna Torv leaves an indelible impression as Joel’s no-nonsense ride-or-die Tess before literally exiting the series with a bang, setting the tone for what’s sure to be a heart-wrenching rest of the season.
Losing such a wonderful character so early in the show is tough, but the painful moment gives the story the sense of gravity and urgency that it needs. The early death happens in the game as well, but the way the show gave us a few moments with Tess separate from Joel and Ellie in the first episode makes losing her all the more painful.
But before we get to Tess’ epic death and what led up to it, the show flashes back, this time to September 2003, Jakarta, Indonesia. We follow mycologist Ibu Ratna, as she’s informed by the Indonesian government that a mutated strain of cordyceps now has the ability to take control of human hosts and that the number of infected is spreading quickly. The look on her face when she advises the military to bomb the city and everyone in it to prevent the pandemic is chilling to say the least. While this prologue is less compelling than anything we saw in episode 1, it does at least provide background as to how the pandemic started and underlines the sheer enormity of the cordyceps outbreak, which will likely pay dividends in the backs of our minds as the series progresses.
Jumping forward in time to rejoin Ellie, Joel, and Tess as they continue their trek out of Boston’s QZ feels like a breath of fresh air. Ramsay, Pascal, and Torv are a delight to watch. They don’t just move the plot along with their dialogue—they act with intention, and you can sense the emotional underpinnings in every uncomfortable pause and concerned glance. Joel hasn’t felt happiness or hope in a long time. This isn’t explicitly explained, but you can see in Pascal’s performance that Joel never fully recovered from losing Sarah. His relationship with Tess is clearly a deep (and somewhat dark) one, but the memory and fallout of losing his daughter has reduced him to being a perpetually sad bastard.
Ellie just might be the hope he’s been deprived of for so long, but he’s clearly too terrified to connect with her considering the emotional scars losing Sarah left. He’s standoff-ish during their sit-down chat in the hallway of the abandoned hotel, but you can see his walls start to break down as he spends more time with her.
The episode all delivers a moment fans have been eagerly awaiting: the introduction of clickers in the abandoned museum (whose exterior, halfway swallowed by overgrowths of flora and fungi, looks spectacular, by the way). The clickers look appropriately mortifying, and somehow sound even scarier than they look. They translate perfectly to TV, and in fact, the entire museum clicker melee is masterfully choreographed. It’s taken straight from the game, and even features a shot of Joel and Ellie crouched together behind cover as a clicker lurks around the corner, evoking all the feels for fans accustomed to that iconic visual of the duo in action.
Typically, when a game adaptation makes a direct reference to the game it’s based on, it’s cringe-y and distracting as all hell. But in this show, absolutely none of the nods to the game seem out of place, no matter how directly ripped from the game they are. It also seems to work seamlessly from one medium to the other, another example being the switch to first-person perspective inside Joel’s truck in the first episode. This is more a testament to just how cinematically strong the game was when it launched almost 10 years ago on the PS3.
And like the game, the episode can’t help but take a dark and sad turn by the end. We come to find out later that Tess has been infected by one of the clickers, but they’re so close to completing their mission that she keeps Joel and Ellie in the dark so as not to deter them. She knows Ellie is worth fighting for, and with her heroic last act, she passes on that message to Joel.
The sophistication of Torv’s performance is worth shouting out specifically. The mix of determination and sorrow on Torv’s face as Tess carries out her final smuggling mission is heartbreaking, and her exchanges with Pascal are beautifully complex and downright tragic at times.
The suspense of watching Tess scrambling to spark her lighter amid the horde of infected and the messy cocktail of gasoline and grenades she concocted is overwhelming. We know she’s already a goner, especially when she falls victim to what has got to be one of the grossest kisses in TV history. But we want her to go out with dignity, on her terms. She begged Joel to get Ellie to the Fireflies to “set things right for all the shit they did.” This is her last chance to do something good in the world, and when she finally gets that lighter to spark, she knows she did good. And when Joel sees the giant fireball from afar, he knows, too.