The Last Of Us – Season 1, Episode 3: Long Long Time

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Up until now, one of the main positives that fans have been praising about The Last Of Us, is that it hues impressive close to the original game. Yes, there may have been the odd, noticable deviation here and there with the occasional infection setting prologue, or various characters such as Tess and Sarah having their deaths tweaked, but for the most part, HBO’s acclaimed show has stuck firmly to the source material, even going so far as to recreate actual shots and moments wholesale.
Until now.
I’ve, to date, still not played The Last Of Us, but the introduction of paranoid survivalist, Bill, is apparently a big deal, but while his appearance in the game was to make you question the point of continuing in a world ravaged by zombifiying cordyceps if you are on your own, here his story is rejigged to make the same point but from an entirely opposing perspective.

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Still stinging from the death of Tess, Joel and Ellie trudge on, through a plant coated apocalyptic wasteland in order to find any kind of vehicle with a working battery in order to get on to the next stage in their journey. They soon approach the property of Bill and Frank, partners who have managed to fence of a section of a town deserted town and who were Joel and Tess were frequently trading with.
From here we bounce back to the very start of the infection to see that Bill, the very image of a paranoid survivalist, avoided being hearded out of town by government troops along with everyone else precisely because of his extreme beliefs. Time passes and Bill is relatively safe thanks to the fences and trip wires his compound offers, but one day he goes to inspect a triggered pit trap only to find it occupied with the bedraggled form of Frank who is merely passing through in order to get to a quarantine zone. After the requisite amount of dystopian generated mistrust, both Frank and Bill relax enough for the former to stay for a meal and use the latter’s hot water for a shower, butvas the evening goes on it become apparent that these two men have something more in common than just shaggy, Grizzly Adams style beards and before you know it, we’ve jumped ahead a few years to find them living together and have turned the area within the fences into something of a two-man utopia with Frank using the radio to make connections in order to trade with outsiders. This is how Joel and Tess eventually come into the picture and as the years progress we see Frank and Bill’s relationship attempt to weather attacks from raiders and illness until Joel and Ellie finally arrive in 2023. However, what they find is quite what they expected.

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Episodes that suddenly switch focus from the main core cast in order to shine a light on side characters is usually fatal to the momentum of the show – however, when a show usually tries this trick, it drops it near a series finale in order to dredge up some previously unknown revelation or dump a boatload of exposition about the past of a newer character. Every show from Halo, to Stranger Things, to The Walking Dead have tried this storytelling trick with varying degrees of success, however, The Last Of Us manages to avoid shattering its momentum by sticking a side story into the third episode, giving us some breathing space after a previous episode filled with infected and harrowing character deaths.
While Joel and Ellie’s continuing journey book ends the show (they’ve finally got that fucking car battery – and a car to boot), this is well and truly the Bill and Frank show and showrunners Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin use their story to tell an end of the world story quite unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Essentially a love story told in its entirety it’s a dazzling showcase for Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett who essentially hijack the entire show in order to tell a genuinely touching story that looks at love and need in very real and relatable terms. Offerman plays Bill with the usual, brusk, sarcastic delivery that made him a favorite in Parks And Recreation and if you think Ron Swandon hates the government, Bill makes him look like a guy handing out election badges on voting day. However, his awkward, closed off demeanor is gradually unlocked by Bartlett’s kindly Frank who challenges Bill’s stubbon desire to ride out the end of the world on his lonesome and thus the episode’s themes are laid bare – people need people, otherwise what’s the point of carrying on?

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Simply put, while some may find this glance away from Joel and Ellie’s journey a little distracting, what the Last Of Us has provife is something of a contained, minor masterpiece that’s simultaneously uplifting as it is ruthlessly dedicated to jerking every tear it can out of your eyeballs. Tissues are a must.
On top of the central romance, the show continues its habit of dropping incredibly subtle and unnerving hints about the shit that happens in a ruined world. Note how we cut from a distinctive scarf wrapped around a corpse in a mass grave to the mother wearing it when she was still alive after we are filled in by Joel that the government started executing healthy people once the quarantine zones became full; our brains put all the pieces together to fill in the chilling whole and it’s made all the more worse when you see she was carrying a baby.
Elsewhere, we get more touching character beats when the normally sardonic Ellie is reduced to excited wonder by sitting in a car for the first time “it’s like a spaceship!” and getting bamboozled by the concept of seatbelts while Joel, after discovering the heart breaking fate of Bill and Frank while reading Bill’s typically blunt farewell letter, quietly mourns the loss of Tess without her name even being mentioned aloud.

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With Long Long Time (named after a Linda Ronstat song that’s bound to have exploded by the time you read this) The Last Of Us’ position of top tier television is not only all but guaranteed, but seems to be rising with each and every week, something that’s made all the more impressive by the fact that the villains of the piece, the Cordyceps laden Infected, hardly make an appearance. While other shows would doubtless be weakened by a horror show that not only skimps on its creatures, but on our lead characters too, The Last Of Us somehow gets even stronger as it spreads its tendrils ever deeper while commenting on what it means to be human.

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