‘The Last of Us’ Episode 3 Review: “A Touching Love Story”
Following the explosive conclusion of last week’s episode Infected, HBO’s The Last of Us has returned with the most emotionally resonant episode yet. The series, at this point, has done a good enough job of staying consistent with the game’s story. Any changes that have been made, such as Tess’ death, only help to make the show more emotionally poignant. Episode 3, titled Long Long Time, is the most significant departure of the games yet. Coincidentally, it’s also the best the series has to offer up to this point.
As Joel is left with no option but to take care of Ellie alone, the smuggler decides to visit trading partners Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). The episode’s structure differs from the previous two, with extended flashbacks taking up most of the runtime. Joel and Ellie’s scenes serve as bookends to the episode, and the brief scenes featuring the two are some strong character moments. The first is at the beginning, with Ellie conversing with Joel about what led to the breakdown of the previous world.
Ramsey continues to impress as Ellie, and the attitude of the character compared to the older characters of the show is incredibly interesting. The stark contrast of being accustomed to the new apocalyptic norm, almost entirely unaware of life before the outbreak, leads to humorous and heartfelt interactions with Pascal’s Joel. At this point, the relationship between the two characters is one of contention and unease, but Pascal is doing an incredible job of showing the subtle cracks in Joel’s stoic nature as he warms up to Ellie.
But that’s enough about those two for now. The real highlight of the episode comes in the form of Bill and Frank’s story. Initially, Bill’s town in the video game served as an example of one of those doomsday prepper bunkers who didn’t have a good grasp on reality. For the HBO series, it’s more or less the same, except Offerman’s take on Bill is one with a lot more empathy and humanity (though still paranoid, in the spirit of the game). As has been the pattern with the previous two episodes, HBO’s The Last of Us goes further into detail about how Bill took hold of his town, transforming it into a fortress.
Bill’s solitary life changes when Frank comes along, and that’s when the series takes a creative detour in the best way possible. As the 20 years of the outbreak pass by, so do Bills and Franks as they go through all sorts of struggles together. The way their romantic relationship blooms feels rushed at first, but as the episode continues, it begins to feel authentic and heartwarming. What I initially thought would be a quick flashback to explain Bill’s situation and get to him interacting with Joel and Ellie (like in the game), it’s instead almost entirely about Bill and Frank.
Watching the two characters grow old together results in a tonally different episode. Long Long Time wisely uses this episode as a chance to tell a touching love story and explore other ways people survived the outbreak. The episode also keeps the show’s narrative thread by having Joel and Tess meet with Bill and Frank. Eventually, Bill and Frank’s relationship comes to a tragic end, but it’s still not as pessimistic as how it ended in the game. In a surprising turn of events, HBO’s The Last of Us chooses to not have Bill interact with Joel and Ellie at all.
Rather than strictly adhering to the story of the game, Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin decide to tell a more human story. Bill and Frank have more dimension and humanity than in the original game, and in turn, benefit the story of Joel and Ellie in the long run. Taking creative liberties with source material held in high regards, like The Last of Us, is a huge risk. Thankfully it pays off in the long run. Offerman and Bartlett work in unison to tell a beautifully tragic love story, and the way it ends plays into Joel and Ellie’s journey.
The ending of the episode entirely focused on Joel and Ellie discovering what became of Bill’s town is emotionally cathartic. Joel and Ellie hadn’t really let the loss of Tess sink in, and Bill’s letter to Joel helps to get that point across. Long Long Time’s ability to bring two unconnected plot points and make the come together from a thematic standpoint is truly impressive. With Joel now in a more emotionally vulnerable state than ever and equipped with a car for his journey west, HBO’s The Last of Us ends its third and best episode leaving viewers wanting more. – Ernesto Valenzuela