The wait is finally over. Join us every week as we dissect every episode of the long-awaited adaptation of The Last of Us, starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey.
In episode 3, we get the heart-breaking backstory of Bill and Frank in what might be the finest television episode in 2023.
Spoiler alert: These reviews will include spoilers for each episode, so if you’d rather go in cold, we recommend you return to this review after watching the latest episode.
So far, HBO’s The Last of Us really has outdone itself with each episode. Granted, we’re only 2 episodes in, but the same goes for episode 3, which might very well be one of, if not the best, episode of television we’ll see in 2023.
At the end of episode 2, Tess has perished at the hands (mouths? tendrils?) of the infected, leaving Joel and Ellie alone on their journey to find the Fireflies. They trek towards Bill and Frank, old acquaintances who might be able to help Joel get a car.
Surprisingly, most of episode 3, titled ‘Long, Long Time’, doesn’t involve Joel or Ellie at all. Instead, the episode chronicles the relationship between Bill and Frank. Bill, a hardened survivalist, bunkers himself into his house, placing intricate traps around his property as the pandemic/apocalypse rages on.
Honestly, he’s got it good, at least considering his circumstances. He’s got power, nice food and safety, but Bill is also all alone. At least until Frank arrives. Dirty and tired, Frank begs Bill to help him, and Bill obliges, offering the poor man some dinner. Things progress; Frank plays a tune on Bill’s old piano, and they’re tenderly making love before you know it.
Frank stays, and the two develop a romantic, comfortable relationship. Turns out, love blossoms even when the entire world has gone to shit. The couple eventually encounter Tess and Joel and helps them with supplies, creating a somewhat transactional but still genuine friendship. Bill and Frank work to create an oasis of sorts, a tiny little domestic bubble where everything is relatively normal.
But it’s a cinematic rule that those happy bubbles are made just so that people like Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin can burst them.
From the start, there’s a distinct feeling that either Bill or Frank might die. Well, gamers know that Frank perishes well before Joel and Ellie make it to their house, but we never learn how. We assume it’s infected because, duh, it’s The Last of Us.
Turns out it’s cancer. Even during an outbreak of a deadly fungus, cancer won’t leave you be. Frank slowly disappears in front of Bill, who is devastated and angry.
Here comes the gut punch; Frank decides he doesn’t want to wither away anymore; he wants to go on his own terms, and he asks Bill to crush up some pills and put them in his wine, so he can simply fall asleep and not wake up at the end of dinner.
It’s devastating. The tragedy here is so purely human. Sure, the episode has a few infected and humans also pose a threat here occasionally, but episode 3 of The Last of Us is mostly designed to rip our hearts clean out.
If Frank dying wasn’t enough, Bill decides he doesn’t want to live without the love of his life either. Having put some of the pills in his own glass, he tenderly carries Frank into their bedroom, where they simply go to bed. There’s no violence, just love. It may sound cheesy, but it seems like a real blessing to be able to die in the arms of your loved one when elsewhere, people are getting ripped apart or losing themselves to the fungus.
As Joel and Ellie arrive, they find a letter from Bill explaining everything. He even mentions that he left a window open in the bedroom, so the house wouldn’t smell.
The Last of Us and romance seem like such an odd combination of words, but I dare you to find me a more moving and romantic episode of TV. Nick Offerman delivers a sincere, pitch-perfect performance here as Bill and is beautifully matched and often challenged by Murray Bartlett as Frank. Their relationship, which surely won’t please all, feels real and tangible. It’s as loving as it is complicated as best love often is.
Episode 3 is a masterclass in storytelling and making necessary changes in the game’s narrative to successfully adapt The Last of Us for TV. It’s a chance to broaden the story’s scope, which is so tightly focused on Joel and Ellie and to bring more nuance into the narrative. As said before, ‘Long, Long Time’ might be the finest episode of The Last of Us and all television in 2023.
Next week, Ellie and Joel continue their journey, but humans pose a far greater threat than the infected and Ellie is forced to make a difficult decision.