The following is a recap and review of the third episode of HBO’s The Last of Us. Expect story spoilers.
In the third episode of the first season of the HBO adaptation of the masterful video game franchise known as The Last of Us — titled Long Long Time — Joel (played by Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (played by Bella Ramsey) make their way toward the home of two of Joel and Tess’ allies. As they make their way and Joel tells Ellie about the pre-and post-outbreak world, we get to know Bill (played by Nick Offerman) and Frank (played by Murray Bartlett) in an expanded flashback that takes us all the way to ‘the present day.’ Long Long Time was directed by Peter Hoar (Daredevil; It’s A Sin) and written by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl).
Unlike the first two episodes, “Long Long Time” doesn’t have a scene prior to the title sequence. There is no cold open to give us a new perspective on the outbreak (which the first two episodes did). Instead, what we get here is a character-focused episode that focuses on two side characters for most of the episode, but which is also bookended by scenes with Joel and Ellie. Let’s talk about the show’s main characters first. We open with Joel finding a few stones to stack on top of each other as he looks rather morose or sorrowful. He’s clearly thinking of Tess, who he feels that he failed to keep safe, just like how he feels that he failed with his daughter. Joel is a wounded man in more ways than one, and we find him as he is trying to make some kind of symbolic headstone for Tess, I suppose (please note, Annie Wersching, who voiced Tess in the original video game, passed away on the day the episode was broadcast in the U.S.. Please consider taking a look at her family’s gofundme-page).
In the next scenes, Joel and Ellie clumsily talk around both apologies and blame. Neither of them appears to be fully ready to talk about their role in her demise. Joel would rather bottle things up, and Ellie quite clearly feels guilty when she talks about not needing to apologize. They basically, in not so many words, agree to try to move on without properly talking through it, before they later explicitly agree not to mention her again, as it is one of Joel’s demands going forward if they are to journey together.
For an episode that deviates so much from the video game’s established subplot surrounding the character of Bill (more on that deviation later), I was pleasantly surprised that we really got to see Joel and Ellie search around for notes and supplies, and then loot some places. For those of you that haven’t played the games, that is such a huge part of the actual games — bonding, sharing stories, learning about those that were lost, and picking up things that can help you move forward to the next significant chunk of the game. Here we see Joel being pragmatic about which guns to wear and which to stash in the floorboards of an abandoned store. Meanwhile, Ellie found toilet paper and tampons, Ellie got to imagine playing Mortal Kombat (in the video game it is a fictional one-on-one fighter game called The Turning with a character known as Angel Knives), and both of them got to suit into two of their most iconic video game looks later in the episode (those shirts!).
Ellie also got to exercise her urge to use force against the infected. In what is a rather sadistic scene, Ellie cuts open a trapped infected. Does she want to see if it feels pain? Is it all about trying to see how it feels? Is it revenge? It isn’t made explicit what exactly is the purpose of this action, but it means enough to her that she would keep it from Joel. This scene also pairs really well with the scene in episode one, where we saw Ellie look intriguingly at Joel as he pummelled the FEDRA soldier who aimed a weapon at them. After their little looting adventure, Joel tells Ellie about the unspeakable and horrific crimes that the ‘government’ did to its own civilians just to make sure that quarantine zones weren’t crowded. The episode quite clearly wants to set up how both FEDRA and the ‘raiders’ are capable of inflicting pain and, as is implied here, they are even willing to execute their own.
This is when the episode truly begins. We flashback to September 30th, 2003, at which point the people whose skeletons Ellie and Joel are watching were forcibly removed from their small town. Unbeknownst to the FEDRA soldiers, a doomsday prepper — or survivalist — with a ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag is hiding in a bunker inside of his family home. This is Bill, played by Nick Offerman (a perfect choice for the role, as he is a believable prepper thanks to his days in Parks and Recreation, but also because he can bring that bottled-up vulnerability to the forefront), the kind of person who has waited for this very moment and who even celebrates its arrival. After looting nearby homes and stores, Bill starts to build his ‘gated community’ with tripwires, holes in the ground, and many other inventive traps designed to keep stray infected away from him. And it works. Or, that is, until a living breathing person falls into one of Bill’s traps. This is Frank, played by Murray Bartlett, a relatively athletic man for his age, who talks himself into a bath, a meal, wine, a change of clothes, and a private, heart-aching piano-led rendition of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time.”
Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman are perfectly tuned and in top form here, as one becomes the outgoing people-person who is the key to the other secretly vulnerable man, who is far more lonely than he likes to admit. I’ve never seen either of them better. They deliver great nuanced and tender work as they allow themselves to fall for each other, and it is a joy to watch them fall in love, bicker, and come to new agreements. Bill is exactly what Frank needs right now, and Frank is what Bill has been missing his entire life. Frank completes Bill in a way that is just so undeniably beautiful. As years go by, we see how Frank makes Bill accept new people in his life — in the form of Joel and Tess — just as we see Bill profess his love how he can; by admitting that he cares for Frank so deeply that he is afraid of a world without one or the other.
A startling attack from raiders, which Joel had warned Bill about, reminds them both how quickly they can lose each other. And then they masterfully cut from Bill bleeding profusely on a table holding the hand of someone he loves, to Frank — ten years later — being the one who is in need of aid. It isn’t explicitly made clear what disease befell Frank, but one can assume that it is something akin to ALS. And at some point here, Frank decides to go out on his own terms. Frank needs to have Bill let him go, and, though it hurts him so, Bill eventually agrees to have one final day with each other before they stop delaying what they believe to be inevitable. While we hear “On the Nature of Daylight” (one of the most beautiful and recognizable modern musical compositions), we see them get married, have their final meal, and spend their day together. Frank gets his wish, but Bill has his own asterisk. He is fulfilled in life, he is older than him, and he decides to meet his end with Frank in the most bittersweet and romantic way possible.
Once Joel and Ellie reach Bill and Frank’s gatekept community, it is all over. They’ve laid themselves to rest and left everything to Joel, who they hope can use Bill’s weaponry and tools to keep Tess safe. Bill meant well and couldn’t have known what happened, but it is another reminder to Joel of his own failures and shortcomings. Tess’ last line to Joel was a plea that he ought to save what he can save. That’s what he is going to do, by bringing Ellie to the Fireflies and/or his brother, come hell or high water. They leave Frank and Bill’s community in Bill’s truck, but not before Ellie secretly plants a gun in her bag. And as the episode comes to a close, we see Joel and Ellie drive away from the perspective of Bill and Frank’s open window, which is an image that will be familiar to gamers, as open windows were seen both in the first game’s menu and a pivotal scene in the second game. A perfect note to end on.
When it comes to adapting widely loved and praised source material, deviations from ‘the sacred text’ can be quite controversial. There have been some relatively significant changes in the first two episodes of HBO’s version of The Last of Us. Game sequences have been truncated or blended together, for example. But, mostly, the creators of the show have decided to keep a balance that often relied on direct one-to-one borrowings. Especially in the first episode, the show relied heavily on the visual language of the video game, and that is for good reason. This show was based on one of the most critically praised and loved narrative-driven video games ever made, and the story of the game, frankly, just works on a deep level. With this third episode, however, Druckmann and Mazin decided to deviate significantly from the events of the video game, which also included Bill and Frank but one much more than the other (to say the least — you only get glimpses of Frank’s dead body in the video game, whereas you spend a significant amount of time with Bill) and their relationship — partnership — is not as detailed (though you do find out that Bill was attracted to men) in the video game, and it ends on a much bleaker and much harsher note.
Let me just come out and say it, this is the first masterpiece of an episode in the television show. Though it is a noticeable departure from the narrative in the game, I frankly think it improves upon both Bill and Frank’s storylines to an enormous extent. I was blown away and moved to tears by this episode, which showed that Mazin and Druckmann have it within them to adapt the video game into a television show whose episodes can actually reach the heights that The Leftovers — arguably the greatest post-apocalyptic television series ever made — reached time and time again. I’ll end my review with my thoughts shared in a tweet, which went viral, on Twitter. “Long Long Time” is perfect. It is one of the most beautiful post-apocalyptic stories ever told. Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett give phenomenal, unforgettable, career-best performances. The episode is a reminder that when things go to hell, you can still keep living and loving.
– Recap and Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.
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