‘The Last of Us’ Episode 3 Recap: Love In The Time Of Cordyceps
SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of Season 1, Episode 3 of HBO’s The Last Of Us.
WARNING: The episode and recap includes sensitive discussions of suicide.
Calling The Last of Us Episode 3, titled “Long Long Time”, a spectacular piece of television is hardly an understatement. Funneled through the pen of series showrunner and co-writer Craig Mazin, this episode is an incredibly poignant and heartbreakingly tender reflection on vulnerability, love, and the meaning of life through the eyes of two lovers named Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett).
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Before we get into the recap, it’s important to explain some things. A notable element of this episode, likely to spawn heated discourse amongst game fans, is how heavily it deviates from the source material to successfully enrich and redeem an otherwise sparse and dark narrative during gameplay.
For those who haven’t played the game, but are eager to join in on the discourse, here’s a quick rundown: In the game, Joel and Ellie come across a former acquaintance of Joel’s named Bill, who is the sole occupant of a small town that he’s heavily reinforced to keep out infected. During their reunion, Bill mentions that his partner Frank went missing some time ago after stealing his supplies. And unfortunately, while scavenging for more supplies, Bill, Joel and Ellie find that Frank has died by his own hand. And not only that, in his final note, Frank admits that after twenty years of living together, he purposefully ran away due to Bill’s increasingly paranoid behavior. Yeah, it’s heavy. And comparisons between the two versions will undoubtedly lead to thoughtful discussions long after the episode airs.
With that context out of the way, it’s easy to see why Mazin’s significant changes are a welcome breath of fresh air. Changing the tragedy into a compelling love story that offers redemption to both men’s stories further elevates the conversation of video game adaptations to show that things can be improved while still staying true to the source material’s spirit.
Now, let’s proceed with our recap.
After losing Tess (Anna Torv) in last week’s episode, Joel (Pedro Pascal) keeps her dying promise to take Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and seek help with their friends Bill and Frank. Along their five-hour journey, Joel and Ellie do their best to make small talk; after all, it’s no one’s fault that Tess died, and they both need to stave off any hostility towards one another if this whole cross-country trip is going to work. So, what kickstarted the end of civilization? Ellie asks casually. At first, this lack of knowledge surprises Joel because Ellie prides herself as a smart-alecky teenager. But, in one of the episode’s funniest lines, Ellie reminds Joel that she went to an authoritarian school where the government heavily censors any information that makes them look bad. In a deadpan delivery, Ellie confesses, “They don’t teach us how the shitty government failed to prevent a pandemic.” It’s a clever fourth wall break that might as well have included a turn and wink toward the camera.
Joel explains that the world collapsed over a weekend after a mutated strain of Cordyceps tainted the global food supply chain through products like flour, grain or sugar. He also describes that in the early days of the collapse, the military tricked people into thinking they were safe by offering survivors refuge in a nearby quarantine zone. However, if the QZs were full, survivors would be killed instead. This misinformation led to much strife and distrust amongst the government and survivors. And there’s no man more distrusting of the government than that of Joel’s old friend Bill.
Herein lies the true focus and heart of the episode, the story of Bill and Frank.
This show sure loves its flashbacks. A small quaint suburban town is where we lay our scene. Bill stares at several surveillance cameras from his underground doomsday bunker as the military escorts everyone—except him—out. Now left to his own devices, he raids the local gas station, stocks up on supplies at the Home Depot, builds an electric generator and manipulates the grids of the power plant. This burly man means business. Also, during this alone time, he loads up on wine, learns how to grow his own food, and raises chickens. But his biggest achievements are the heavily fortified fence and various booby traps used to keep the wandering infected at bay. Thinking he has pandemic living all figured out, Bill believes he will be safe and happily alone in his town indefinitely. But little did he know, his kingdom of isolation would come tumbling down around him.
Meet Frank. He’s a survivor running away from the recently collapsed Baltimore QZ. He’s desperate for food, shelter and a little companionship. While on his quest for a new location, Frank accidentally falls into one of Bill’s traps. Upon investigating the disturbance, Bill is surprised to see it’s another person and immediately launches into hostile defense—it has been a while since he’s interacted with another human. After a snarky tête-à-tête between the two men, Bill gives in to Frank’s handsome face and deep blue eyes and allows him to stay at his home temporarily just to recoup. Frank indulges in a long hot shower and Bill’s exquisitely prepared meal. But as soon as mealtime is over, Bill sternly reminds him that he needs to leave.
Naturally, Frank doesn’t want to leave. Why would he? He’s found a safe place, has access to good food, a functioning shower and a comically stoic man that he could learn to love. In a move of desperation and charming distraction, Frank rushes from the dinner table and over to Bill’s vintage piano to prove that he could earn his keep by being entertaining. He launches into a poorly played cover of Linda Ronstadt’s ballad “Long Long Time”, from which the theme of the episode resonates and doubles as the episode title’s namesake. Having heard enough of Frank butchering the song, Bill takes over and plays an emotionally tinged version. Surprised by Bill’s sudden display of vulnerability, Frank asks him, “Who’s the girl you’re singing about?” (smooth!) to which Bill replies somberly, “There is no girl.” Frank then equips back, “I know”, and goes in for a very tender kiss before leading Bill up to the bedroom for some sexy time. What a sly fox he is!
The pair have fallen into domestic life, where the romance is plenty, and the fights are many. Bill doesn’t understand why Frank wants to trim the grass and repaint the crumbling storefronts of their vacant town. As it turns out, Frank, tired of being alone, wants to make friends. What friends? It’s an idea that Bill can’t quite wrap his head around. They’re in an apocalypse. Frank then drops the bombshell on him that he’s been casually communicating with a mysterious woman on the radio, and they will be visiting Bill’s town soon. Bill is hilariously enraged.
It turns out that the surprise guests Frank invited over for lunch are Joel and Tess. The ever-paranoid Bill keeps a gun pointed at Joel the entire meal while Frank and Tess gab over wine. During their luncheon, Joel tries to convince Bill that mutual trading would be most beneficial. In living at the Boston QZ, Tess and Joel have access to medicine and rare supplies. Namely, high-grade materials to help Bill fix his beloved and now corroding fence. But no matter how Joel tries to convince Bill that he can help him fend off infected and raiders, Bill waves off his concern, but Frank allies with Tess anyway, and the two head back to Boston.
On a lovely sunny day, Frank surprises Bill by showing him a patch of strawberries that he’s been growing. As they share the budding fruit, Bill confesses that he had never felt fear before Frank showed up. The two share a kiss and a moment of sexy time before everything goes to hell later that night. Joel was right. Raiders have finally come to wreak havoc on Bill’s town, and in the ensuing gunfight, Bill is wounded and asks Frank to send for Joel over the radio if he dies.
Finally, we make it to the present day. Bill and Frank have aged into elderly men, but Frank is worse for wear. He’s grown sickly. His daily routine mainly consists of painting, taking a mixture of pills, and relying on Bill to transport him in and out of his wheelchair. It’s heartbreaking, but he still maintains his sparkling wit nonetheless. One morning, Frank calmly tells Bill that he wants this day to be his last day alive. Even though Frank tries to ease the pain with jokes, Bill does not take the decision well. (Shoutout to both Offerman and Bartlett for the incredible outpouring of emotions during this incredibly heart-wrenching scene.) Frank confesses to Bill that he’s had “more good days than bad days” with him during their life together and that he just wants Bill to give him “one more good day” and respect his wish to go out on his own terms.
Frank gives Bill a list of desires that include toast for breakfast, getting married at the restored boutique, and having one last tasty meal together before helping him end his life. As previously requested, Bill crushes up all of Frank’s pills into his glass of wine, and they sit in reflective silence about their lives as they drink. But wait, Frank senses that this perfect day is going too smoothly. Were the pills fake? No. Bill reveals that he’s also poisoned the wine bottle and will be joining him in death too. Frank is stunned. “This isn’t the tragic suicide at the end of the play,” Bill says to him. “I’m old. I’m satisfied. You were my purpose.” They share a laugh and a delicate kiss and head to the bedroom for their final good night.
Cue the tears.
Sometime later, we rejoin Joel and Ellie as they arrive at Bill and Frank’s house. Joel and Ellie notice the rotted food and complete silence throughout. What happened here? Ellie spots a note. In Bill’s final letter to Joel, he mentioned that though he never did like him, he still considered him a friend. He’s left Joel all his supplies and a working vehicle—finally, Joel can get to his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna). Joel takes a slight hit as he realizes he’s lost yet another acquaintance. However, reading Bill’s letter reaffirms his purpose. Bill tells Joel that they were (and are) here to protect the people they love, and God help anyone who gets in their way. Joel takes this as a sign to continue protecting Ellie and take her to the Fireflies out west. They recoup, gather supplies, and drive out of Bill’s town while listening to a cassette tape of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time”.
Whew, what a fantastic episode, right? Those 75 mins just flew by!
Where will Joel and Ellie end up next?
Will we ever stop crying?
Gamers, what did you think of the changes to Bill and Frank’s story?
Let us know below and see you for next week’s episode.
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