Caution before reading: you are heading into spoiler territory
In case you didn’t get the sense of the devastation that the world within The Last of Us has withstood, “Infected” gives enters another flashback to hammer the point that all hope was gone. Starting in 2003 in Indonesia, soldiers desperately seek the guidance of a professor of Mycology, Ibu Ratna (Christine Hakim). Much like the talk show segment at the beginning of the premiere episode, the point of “no cure, no vaccine” is made abundantly clear – but now in a more modern setting. It feels macabre when a leading doctor figures that the only reprieve to the fungal outbreak is to bomb the whole city.
As much as this show began focusing on getting the audience somewhat familiar with the state of things past and present – “Infected” focuses on Joel, Tess, and Ellie’s journey to the Firefly base. Joel and Tess are (justifiably) uneasy about Ellie considering the bite on her arm. They are (at least at first) wholly divorced from Ellie being something other than collateral for the battery they need. Joel, even more so. We find out that infected people can walk around for weeks, even months – but it’s only a matter of time until they turn. When that happens, they almost act like a hive mind. The fungus under the ground
Even though their situation is inherently dangerous, Ellie meets it with sarcasm and wit. When they discuss the first time she got bit, it’s almost as if she wants to highlight breaking into the old mall and is flippant about the bite itself. Notably, she’s hesitant about asking if anybody else was with her at the time. In an episode where the audience gets to see the hazardous terrain Boston has become, Ellie is a spark of light. However, much of that is uncovered when she witnesses the infected up close. To think that you could turn into something like that and have the weight of humanity hanging on you at 14 is a lot.
Ellie hasn’t turned by then, so we’re all clear, right? Well, Joel and Tess have a difference of opinion about that. Joel has been through a lot, losing his daughter, and the pandemic has heartened him at his core. But as much as Tess proclaims that she and Joel aren’t good people, they wouldn’t have decided to continue the journey after Ellie tells them her purpose.
We find out later on why Tess is so adamant about that happening. Tess and Joel have both done some bad things, and this might be the way to atone for them. As far as seeing the Infected for the first time, this episode gets it right. Most of this encounter being shrouded in darkness while only seeing the faces of the infected briefly only ups the anxiousness and urgency. The spore infections were removed, but including how fungus works and thinking about how abundant it is adds a challenging obstacle.
Joel and Ellie have a bit of alone time to talk, and there was one question that stuck out to me – “is it hard killing the infected knowing they were people once?” One of the tidbits about this infection is that the brain is still intact. It’s just that the fungus controls the body. At least, at first. The longer you go, the more forgone you are from being human. But indeed, Joel still feels something. We will see that process go on now that Joel and Ellie only have each other.
Unfortunately, Tess was bitten and made the ultimate sacrifice. Yes, Joel has lost somebody else and has to trust in the resolve of a teenager to get to the only family he has. It’s a lot to ask somebody, but they have no choice. Although we will continue following these characters, the show doesn’t necessarily have to go that way. There is much to learn about Ellie’s past, the fireflies, and even how the government came into power. That’s the beauty of having this show and not being confined to the game. You can give more context while keeping the soul of why The Last of Us is so great together.