Monday, January 23, 2023

REVIEW: 'The Last of Us' - Joel and Tess Question What Makes Ellie Special in a World Far Removed From Hope in 'Infected'

HBO's The Last of Us - Episode 1.02 "Infected"

After escaping the QZ, Joel and Tess clash over Ellie's fate while navigating the ruins of a long-abandoned Boston.

"Infected" was written by Craig Mazin and directed by Neil Druckmann

Joel gave up hope a long time ago. He did so for a good reason too. It's not completely surprising given the post-apocalyptic landscape. This reality was affirmed in the premiere's opening sequence with an epidemiologist saying there was no cure for a fungi-based infection in 1968. That sentiment is reaffirmed with the flashback to Jakarta, Indonesia in 2003. The government knew a new type of infection had broken out. They thought their country's leading mycologist could provide them with a cure. The only answer Ibu Ratna could provide is to bomb the city completely. That's the only way to stop the infection from spreading. There are already too many people from the factory unaccounted for. She examined the initial victim. Afterwards, she was content with being surrounded by family in their final moments together. She had that certainty. She made peace with that. She knew what was potentially coming. Of course, it didn't stop the infection. Bombing cities only sporadically worked. Many governments tried. They couldn't prevent this outbreak. And now, the world has spent twenty years living with this threat. They scare the children who have grown up only knowing this world. They don't want them exploring beyond the protected walls of the quarantine zone. Ellie is amazed by the beauty of Boston. It looks remarkably different in the sunlight. She was warned about the dangers. She only immediately sees how empty it is. The monsters that lurk are no where to be found. However, the path she must take to the old state house with Joel and Tess is long and arduous. They explain to her how one misstep could send a swarm of the infected right to them. They could be overwhelmed and overpowered in an instant. That's a terrifying threat. Moreover, Joel and Tess are risking their lives for someone who has been infected. They want to know why Ellie is so special. They are only given the same story that has been the basis for hope for a long time. The resistance apparently has a facility out west with doctors working on a potential cure. Ellie is special because her DNA could provide the key component for ensuring people don't die from this infection. Joel has no reason to believe any of this. Tess convinces him to continue because it's still beneficial to their mission to acquire a battery. They don't have to believe in Ellie's importance. They are simply delivering her to people who do and have the resources to help them. They can leave Boston behind in search of something else. They have to be incredibly practical. Joel can't allow himself to envision anything beyond what's right in front of him. That's what has allowed him to survive for so long. Ellie disrupts that dynamic because she has a completely different perspective. She has seen her fair of horrors as well. But she's also fun and curious about the world. Those details are crucial for the audience to understand the full scope of what the road ahead means for all of them.

Tess served as a powerful mediator between Joel and Ellie. She could balance both of their perspectives. She respected Ellie as an adult. She had the same pragmatic sense of the world as Joel. However, she ultimately has to commit to this mission fully. There is no turning back for her. The smuggling routes aren't the same as they have always been. The infected are growing in number. A pathway that was once cut off may finally be open again. The group takes that risk. It only takes one clicker to spread the infection though. If Ellie is the only one injured in the conflict, that's a relief because the disease has no effect on her. It's annoying but she can suffer through it. That wasn't the extent of the damage. Instead, Tess is injured and destined to turn. After that, she must boldly continue on. She can't accept the lack of hope. There has to be some clue left behind to forge ahead with this possible salvation. She needs that to be true even though she can't see it through to its pivotal conclusion. The world has been overcome by the infected. The resistance fights back against both the disease and the occupying forces of government. Freedom is an extreme luxury. It offers no certainties. All it takes is one infection coming in. That leaves only Joel and Ellie. They have more potential allies in this world to help them along. But again, there is no certainty at a better outcome. Tess pleads with Joel to open himself up to the possibility of hope. Ellie's wound shows no sign of the infection spreading. She isn't in danger of becoming just like the creatures who attack them. The same isn't true for Tess. She doesn't have much time left. She makes an epic sacrifice to give Joel and Ellie the best possible chance to survive. They know a horde of the infected are coming. The spread of the disease is romantic to these creatures. It's their purpose above all else. For Tess, it's terrifying. All she can do is hope the lighter ignites and the building crumbles. She succeeds. Joel and Ellie quickly formed such a strong bond with her. For Joel, it's as much love as he could bear in this world. It's emotionally devastating when Tess makes these tragic intentions known. Again, he has accepted this as the inevitable outcome for most people. This is how relationships are destined to end now. It's all about surviving for as long as possible together. Ellie disrupts that notion. She isn't destined to die as a result of this infection. She challenges the basic notion of how the world now operates. And yet, she is still just an innocent kid forced to immediately accept Tess' profound sacrifice in the name of her survival. Ellie has to look back at the destruction. That explosion is done in the pursuit of hope and freedom. Tess embraced those concepts. She believed in Ellie. The possible cure is simply now traveling alone with a man who is still reluctant to embrace that anything can change.