The Last Of Us episode 2 review: Even better than the first
Please be aware of spoilers in this The Last of Us Episode 2 review.
Following a stellar premiere to the series, The Last of Us’ second episode is much more intimate, just as in the chapters of its video game counterpart - as Joel and Tess journey to get Ellie out of what remains of Boston. Nevertheless, the strengths of the adaptation showcased in Episode 1 are just as apparent in its second outing.
Gripping fungus science
Seemingly now a trend at the start of every episode, Episode 2 treats us to another of The Last of Us series’ most fascinating additions: a prelude covering before or the day of the outbreak.
This time focusing on an expert of the cordyceps fungus and seeing its evolved effect on humans, we get an expansion on an element that’s engrossing in different ways depending on whether you’re a Last of Us veteran or a newcomer.
Whereas the latter becomes intrigued with the aptly explained biology behind the apocalypse and the tension building along with it, those who’ve played the games get more insight into the deviation from the infected’s spores to tendrils. Giving extra context as to what happens in the Episode ahead, it’s equally engrossing the more we learn.
Whilst some players of the games might have appreciated the history of the outbreak carrying an air of mystery by not going into as much detail - the look into the lore’s history is an example of a change to a franchise that fits the medium it’s being adapted to, and one where everybody wins (except, of course, humanity).
More Bella, more chemistry
Now having more time with Ellie after only a short amount in the series debut, we get ample opportunity to enjoy Bella Ramsay’s distinctive take on the role. That’s of course along with the signature snappy back and forth between her and Pedro Pascal’s now-iconic Joel Miller - secured by having show co-creator and writer/the game’s co-director and its developer Naughty Dog’s co-president, Neil Druckmann, in the director’s chair for the episode.
Another enjoyable but this time subtle difference that we get to notice more of is the dial on Ellie’s sassy attitude being turned up a couple of notches earlier than in the game. Via additional clashes with Joel’s scepticism of her cordyceps immunity and Tess’ short fuse, the dynamic between the three gives way to some first-rate deadpan humour without going overboard and feeling inorganic.
A good-looking apocalypse
At one point in the Episode, Tess mentions how the city looks different in the daylight to Ellie’s astonishment, as if we were about to mirror that reaction. That’s because at the same scale as Episode 1’s jaw-dropping plane crash, The Last of Us’ budget has clearly been put to work in the right direction again by immaculately re-capturing the game’s portrayed scale and long-term impact of the city’s destruction and decay.
From bomb craters and half-fallen buildings to overgrown foliage enveloping the ruins and abandoned cars, the show is increasingly acquainting us with an urban world ravaged and forgotten by the apocalypse and time respectively. For newcomers, it’s visually captivating. For players-turned-viewers, it’s enthralling to see Naughty Dog’s meticulously crafted world adapted in such detail.
The horror just clicked
Whilst deviations from the game in translation to TV have still been welcome, The Last of Us show has so far known when to stick to what came before - if it better serves the adaptation in playing to the strengths of the genre in a particular scene.
Although poignantly retreading some of the game’s equivalent quieter moments, like Joel and Ellie looking ahead towards the Old State House, it’s in delving into horror where The Last of Us episode 2 shines.
In a particular enclosed building that players will be very familiar with, we see the live-action debut of the game’s signature monster: the Clickers. A demonstration of the series adaptation’s masterful make-up and effects department at work, the blind-yet-ferocious infected is just as, if not more, haunting to look at than how we’ve seen them before - right down to the eerie croaky cries on the hunt for its victims.
By honing in on what makes a Clicker so terrifying to come across, the stage is quickly set for not only a peak into another layer of what makes this world so frightening, but also a tension-rich horror show elevated by skilful close-up and sparingly used shaky-cam cinematography - conveying the chaos and panic of such an encounter.
Changes fitting the episode’s biggest scene
Different directions from the source material in The Last of Us can be from big to small, but all so far have had a well-reasoned or dramatically effective purpose. In Episode two’s examples, they can be as minuscule as being able to better communicate the stakes at play. Still, none undercut the impact of the scenes from the game that inspired its creation.
In this case, Anna Torv’s Tess was a standout of the episode in her own right. With a just as gritty, no-nonsense demeanour and a grey sense of right and wrong underneath as we’ve seen Tess portrayed before, Torv seamlessly carries the dramatic and emotional weight of the character’s heaviest scene on her shoulders.
What’s more, utilising the slight story changes to their fullest, Episode 2’s biggest scene ends up leaving an impact that’s even bigger than its game counterpart - topped with supplemental overtones of fear and tragedy.
Is The Last of Us episode 2 good?
A follow-up chapter that loses no steam in its smaller scale to the premiere, The Last of Us Episode 2 ends up being even better than the first - courtesy of the established dynamic between Joel, Ellie, and Tess along with both the quiet and horror-fuelled moments that follow.
Changes from the source material stand out more in Episode 2, but it's clear that these narrative adjustments only improve the adaptation in translation to a live-action series, all the while still maintaining the game’s key story beats and what made them so beloved.