Editor's note: this article includes spoilers for episode three of HBO’s The Last of Us, "A Long, Long Time."
The Last of Us is already one of the best shows on television, but after this week’s most recent episode, the series has reached new heights.
Episode three is the first episode to stray far from the plot of the game, expanding the story of the two gay characters Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). In the game, Frank is already dead when we see him, and we know about his relationship with Bill thanks to some dialogue and a note he left.
In this episode though, we got to see their whole, beautiful, devastating love story.
Episode three, “A Long, Long Time,” starts out similarly to the game, with Bill being the lone survivor in an abandoned town. He soon rebuilds the town into a booby-trapped paradise designed for his protection and pleasure. He’s got all the gasoline, guns, and nice wine he could want.
This is a career-best performance out of Offerman. He plays a similar character to his liberation survivalist Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation, but here, he’s so much more than that.
Everything changes, however, when a handsome stranger named Frank falls into one of the pits that Bill has dug.
At first, Bill is reluctant to help Frank, but he’s charmed by something about him. Soon, he’s cooked a delicious meal of rabbit and fresh vegetables and paired it with a fancy wine.
“A man who knows to pair rabbit with Beaujolais,” Frank says to Bill about his beverage of choice.
“I know I don’t look the type,” Bill responds shyly.
“No, you do,” Frank smiles.
Over the rest of the episode, we see the next few decades play out as the couple grows closer, has sex for the first time, falls in love, and builds a life together.
Both actors are giving masterclasses, and their performances are spurred on by equally great writing and directing. This truly is the best episode of TV in a long, long time, as the song that gives the episode its title says.
Highlights include seeing Frank carefully guide Bill on his first experience with gay sex, surprising Bill with some fresh strawberries in their garden – something that makes Bill laugh with joy at the taste – and Bill revealing to Frank that he was he has made his life complete. “I’m old, I’m satisfied – and you were my purpose,” he tells his husband before they slip pills into their wine and fall asleep together one last time.
On their last day together they get married, something that’s even more powerful when you think about the setting of the show. The fungal apocalypse came in 2003, a year before same-sex marriage was legalized even in Massachusetts, Bill’s home state.
At the time they get married, same-sex marriage was never legalized.
This is honestly a huge upgrade over this story in the game, and shows the true power of adaptations like this.
After the show started and we saw some scenes from the video game recreated perfectly, some critics were comparing it to Disney’s live-action remakes, saying that it was just a carbon copy of the video game and not a true adaptation. Here they’ve gone off the path and forged a new, better story.
Perhaps most importantly, the episode reminds us of the stakes that exist in the story. We’ve seen hundreds of people die in each episode. We’ve seen children shot and executed. We’ve seen mass graves.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of nihilism and forget what Joel and Ellie are fighting for. But with this episode, we’re reminded that even in the worst circumstances, love can, and will, flourish. And that’s worth fighting for.
It’s a welcome reprieve from the nihilism so present in stories like this, and the nihilism that will surely come from later episodes. It’s the splash of citrus on the mouth-burning spice level of the show’s flavor pallet.
After episode three, I’m left asking: how many Emmys can this show win? As Cady Heron so famously said: the limit does not exist.
New episodes of The Last of Us air Sundays on HBO and stream on HBO Max.
The Last of Us | Official Trailer | HBO Maxyoutu.be