The Last of Us 1×02 “Infected” sees our little trio shatter while Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey continue to prove that they understood the assignment when it comes to Joel and Ellie. For those who’ve played/watched the game, you knew that this was inevitable. But like the premiere episode, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. It does. A lot. Because these infected humans have ravaged the world and continue to do so every day. So I do understand Tess and Joel and how it’s hard to find hope in all of this shit. But I’m here to watch how it changes for Tess (even if short-lived) and how it changes Joel.
Like “When You’re Lost in the Dark,” this episode of The Last of Us is a love letter to the OG game. From the stunning shots to the mannerisms, and promises made, this is what The Last of Us is all about. And it feels like an honor to watch something so beloved come to life by creators who understand the story and are here to share instead of reinventing it aka what other game-to-screen adaptations have done time and time again. Because of this, The Last of Us continues to succeed and tell an important story about chosen family and finding hope again in the darkest of places.
Why Joel and Ellie Bump Heads So Much
For Joel, Ellie has no future. So what’s the point of connecting with her or getting to know her? That’s why there’s such a disconnect between Joel and Ellie in “Infected.” In his mind, he also can’t afford it. He remembers what it was to lose Sarah. And that little flashback in 1×01 when he lost it against that guard is proof that he’s still not over it. He never will be. So he keeps Ellie away and doesn’t give in to her jokes or questions. Instead, he pushes back, not knowing that just makes Ellie want to prove herself worthy of Joel more than ever.
Ellie has never really had people looking out for her. Sure, the QZ kept her “safe” and she has teachers in her “shitty” school. But that’s it. No one has ever gone to the lengths to keep her safe in the way that Joel and Tess have. Tess, which we’ll have a whole section about at the end, is easy to click with. It’s Joel that’s the problem. Joel pushes her away at every turn, sasses her, but then protects her. It’d be confusing for anyone. Now imagine experiencing something like that when you’re 14 years old? Of course, you’re going to push back and show that person that you are worthy.
The Last of Us 1×02 acts as one of the essential building blocks of the relationship between Joel and Ellie. Because this is when they, despite all the back and forth between them, start to get to know each other. Joel gets to see that Ellie is an absolute fighter but also just a scared kid who has never experienced these kinds of horrors before. And Ellie gets to see that Joel will protect her at all costs. Ultimately, “Infected” feels like the foundation of these two told in a way that doesn’t feel forced and builds their connection, slowly but surely, just as the game did when we first got to know Ellie and Joel.
Tess Always Had Hope in Her Heart
Thanks to Anna Torv, Tess getting infected and her subsequent death hurt even more than it did in the game. No shade to Annie Wersching and the amazing work she did in the game, but Torv brought something new to the role. Something that gave me a new perspective as to the kind of woman that Tess is and was. Because Tess, like Joel, has lost herself at the end of the world. All she’s been doing is putting one foot in front of the other while knowing that Joel had her back no matter what. But she hasn’t hoped for anything better than this. She’s settled for this being her life and doing terrible things as a means of surviving.
Then Ellie came along. Now, I’m not saying that all of a sudden Tess was overcome with a motherly instinct to care for Ellie. That’s not it at all. Simply put, Ellie is the next generation. And because Tess sees the grit and survival instinct in Ellie that Tess has within herself, she bonds with the young woman by showing her how to not die. And you can see it in Torv’s eyes. The spark of hope that maybe if something happens to her as Tess, Ellie (who is immune) will carry on and show the strength and resilience of the human race long after she’s gone. Because of this, she transformed Tess, in my eyes at least, into a woman who still held hope, even if she buried it all the way down and silenced it.
When Tess gets bitten, The Last of Us does an amazing show of solidifying what is going to come next. Yes, time is fleeting because the infected are coming. But the show uses the time left to cement the kind of woman Tess is, how there is a wealth of years of built trust between her and Joel, and that she is a fighter no matter what. In turn, I felt sadness for Tess in the same way that I felt for Sarah in “When You’re Lost in the Darkness.” There was so much that Sarah could’ve done if she survived and the same holds true for Tess. But unlike Sarah, who was young and hadn’t experienced life in the way Tess had, Tess died with hope flourishing in her heart that Joel and Ellie would make this right. For her and for everyone that comes after.
Ellie’s Connection with Tess
Seeing Ellie and Tess interact with each other under the masterful hands of Ramsey and Torv was amazing to watch in “Infected.” Because if you’ve played the game or watched a playthrough, you know these characters. You also know that the time they spend together isn’t long. But even then, it mattered then and it matters now. Personally, I think that these versions of Ellie and Tess could’ve been sisters. They could’ve conquered this world together with Tess showing Ellie how to survive and keep moving one foot in front of the other. But it wasn’t meant to be and that hurts.
Either way, it was nice to see Ellie light up at receiving compliments from Tess for her bravery. Maybe Ellie reminded Tess of herself before the world went to shit. And you absolutely know that Ellie’s chest filled with pride that this badass woman who had survived inside and outside of the QZ thought of her as brave. Both actors did such a great job portraying two sides of the same coin that I couldn’t help but wonder how The Last of Us would be different if Joel was bit and Tess was the one on the journey to self-discovery and opening her heart up to love once more. Because as much as I love single dad journeys on my screen, I’d love to see more women conquer the apocalypse or the galaxy while connecting with a child that isn’t theirs by blood.
Someone write that, please. Or give recommendations for such stories.
When Tess is bitten and she asks Joel to take Ellie, Ellie fights back because she’s just formed a bond with someone who saw her for everything that she was and still accepted her. Yes, Tess was there for a job and they didn’t spend as much time together as we wanted. But the point stands that a bond was formed and Ellie wasn’t going to let Tess go without a fight. It makes it all the sadder when you realize that Tess and Joel had known each other for years and he was able to leave her there faster than Ellie was. And it’s because Ellie still has her heart open, despite the pain and loss that she’s experienced. Joel is closed off to all of that. But either way, Tess knew that he would get the job done. Because somewhere deep inside, he’s still the man that loved Sarah and that cared for Tess for years.
Tess banked on hope that Ellie and Joel would make it out of this. Together. And she was right.
The Last of Us airs new episodes Sundays on HBO.