The Last of Us, Episode 3 Review – Long, Long Time
Horror television is often looking for a way to surprise the audience. It might be through a well-timed jump scare, a ghastly monster design or unexpected death of a beloved character. Rarely is that surprise achieved by completely shaking up the formula and dropping what equates to a self-contained short film about a love story into the middle of the season. Long, Long Time, Episode 3 of The Last of Us dares to challenge its audience and succeeds in delivering a truly unique viewing experience.
Episode 2 of The Last Of Us disappointed me by retracing familiar territory in media with similar themes, failing to generate excitement
Little did I know that the showrunners had an ace up their sleeve that would enthrall me and make me realize the potential of this HBO Max series. Recruiting a favorite television performer of mine into the mix didn’t hurt either.
My skepticism hit its peak after watching the second episode. I encountered a mumbling survivalist hiding in his basement bunker. This character reminded me of Michael Gross from the Tremors movies, transported into a world overrun by fungus. When this last man in town started traveling to unoccupied retail stores to stock up on supplies, it felt like a more serene version of Zombieland. I expected Joel and Ellie to unknowingly stumble into a certain location. Their capture seemed likely. However, I also believed that their cleverness would enable them to escape. Boy, was I on the wrong track.
Frank Meeting Billy
Nick Offerman’s portrayal of Bill in the 1 hour 16 minute episode is an unforgettable emotional experience. Bill displayed stand-offishness and mistrust when alerted to a lone uninfected man caught in one of his traps. Frank (Murray Bartlett) quickly changed the situation with sincerity and humor, creating a magic-like moment. The surprise for the audience was yet to be revealed.
We get to see the their relationship blossom
Talking his way into shower and a meal, Frank could very well have been a very talented con man, especially when he insists on playing the piano in a seeming attempt to croon his way into another few minutes of safety. The growing uneasiness of Bill throughout the scene becomes less about a fear of bodily harm this stranger might inflict and more about emotionally opening himself up to another human being. This is amplified to near terror when Frank makes it clear that he has a genuine attraction to this seemingly heterosexual male prepper with a penchant for fine dining and Linda Ronstandt tunes.
Even as the attraction played out on screen, with Bill accepting the romantic advances and being honest with his sexuality for possibly the first time in his life, it still felt like a hustle. As far as I was concerned, Frank was simply doing what he had to do to survive and would soon turn the tables on this lonely man for his own gain. Once again, I was wrong.
The rare treat of witnessing the evolution of Bill and Frank’s relationship over the years presents various moments of both joy and suspense. For example, after settling into their life together, a dramatic moment arises when Frank decides to invite some people he’s been talking to on the radio over for a meal. This of course creates great panic in Bill, who humorously keeps a gun on the table during the dinner with the couple, who end up being Joel and Tess. Rather than make the familiar faces main characters in the story, they quickly move on and allow the domestic narrative to continue on its path.
Billy fighting the raiders
That’s not to say that this episode is free of any action. Joel forewarned about individuals who would disrupt Bill and Frank’s serenity in pursuit of resources.When reality mirrored his warning, Offerman’s portrayal aggressively fired shots towards intruders at the fire barriers.The emotional effect intensified as his sole aim was to endure another day with the cherished person and protect them..
One particularly sweet moment is when Frank surprises Bill with a garden of fresh produce, made possible by a trade with Joel for some seeds. The sense of fulfillment in the faces of the actors as they cuddle together while kneeling on the ground, shows just how they’ve learned to embrace life’s little moments, a life choice which continues into the unexpected, but emotionally satisfying end of their journey together. I won’t give a hint about how their story ends. Experience this moment without any expectations.
Joel and Ellie do make an appearance by the end of the episode, as the timeline finally catches up to the current journey of our protagonists.
For what amounts to little more than cameo, the writer/director is able to mine some emotional moments for the pair. We find that over the years Bill came to appreciate Joel, after their rocky first meeting, providing the means for he and Ellie to get to the next stage of his mission. Meanwhile, Ellie takes the opportunity of being a home stocked with firearms to secretly get the gun she’s been begging for.
If you had asked me when starting this series, if there would be an entire episode devoted to the beginning, middle and end of a love story between two men who embody the true meaning of partnership and romance, I wouldn’t have bothered to respond.
The Last Of Us, Long, Long Time broke the mold with its unexpected elements. The trailer featured Offerman, but didn’t reveal his role or how his journey intersected with Joel and Ellie. This lack of information made for a thrilling and unpredictable experience.
This was a wise choice, as it created the best kind of gift that entertainment can deliver. The lack of expectation made for a surprising and enjoyable experience.
Though I’m expecting episode 4 to get back to the general tone of two people surviving in a world gone mad, it was wonderful to take to a detour that delighted my senses, got me out of my skeptic bunker and made my outlook on the rest of the horror series a whole lot brighter.
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