The opening episodes of The Last of Us have been compelling television, but it does paint the picture of a dreary world. Tonight, despite the post-apocalyptic fungal pandemic, we see there is still room for a stirring romantic love story. Episode three detours from the main narrative to explore the previously referenced characters of Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett).
Bill’s flashback introduction provides a much different tone than what we’ve received from The Last of Us. The combination of soundtrack with the montage of the self-proclaimed survivalist creating his stronghold is rather upbeat providing a little pep in the series’ step. He’s definitely a man with a plan knowing exactly where to go to keep his modern luxuries going. Some of his methods of passing time inject some much-needed levity. Though there are layers to Bill more than a doomsday prepper in a tinfoil hat. He is refined and cultured in his culinary skills and appreciation for wine.
One person who can see past the tough exterior surface and appreciate the inner beauty is Frank. The pair come together after he falls into one of Bill’s traps. Whether being seen as unthreatening or a desire for human contact, Frank is invited to dinner. It’s good to see that the end of the world hasn’t dampened sophistication and manners with these two. Their evening has the tension and slight awkwardness of a first date.
The entire piano scene reveals so much about the characters. Frank is the optimist carrying on with a poppy and a little corny rendition while Bill has a more deliberate and passionate approach. You can sense the loss and loneliness in how Offerman sings. Also, it’s kind of adorable that Linda Ronstadt is the one that brings them closer.
The Last of Us delivers a moving romance through the years. For their part, Offerman and Bartlett’s performance make you invested as you follow along the highs and lows of this odd couple’s relationship. Some of the smaller, more arbitrary moments in their lives are the most impactful. An argument over landscaping has a deeper meaning into expressing love. Eating a strawberry grown from their own garden can bring so much joy (Offerman’s giggle is priceless).
Both Frank and Bill have a positive effect on each other, but the most progress can be seen in the latter. As emotional are the lines they speak to one another. “I was never afraid before you showed up,” hits so hard. In a world where aggressive zombie like creatures roam, it’s not until Bill found his love that he had something he couldn’t bare to lose. His devotion to his partner, even into their later years, is sweet.
So far, the show has deviated from The Last of Us video game, but they still kept the same beats. The third episode marks significant changes, but they seem to work. The deeper dive into Bill and Frank serves as a needed break from the sadder aspects of this world. Knowing that at least two people could live as close of a normal, loving life together brings a little glimmer of hope. Although death is still involved, the mood is more bittersweet than depressing because at least there are times of joy.
It could be seen as a risk focusing an episode so early on two new characters, but it still ties into the greater narrative. The parts with Ellie and Joel sheds light on how the pandemic spread (corresponding to some fan theories). There are also character moments for the two as well. The mass graves show how Joel tries to protect the kid while it also characterizing how callous the totalitarian state is and a clever way to transition to the past. More importantly, Bill is a parallel to Joel. They are so similar but only one has found joy and love in the post-apocalyptic era.
Meanwhile, Ellie has a chip on her shoulder maybe needing to prove, to at least herself, that she’s hardened enough. She gets her first Infected kill and finally obtains the gun she’s always asking for. Also, as a nice way to bring things full circle, it’s Linda Ronstadt on the radio as they set off on their own journey together.
The Last of Us episode three is a pleasant detour from the main narrative providing a poignant and bittersweet love story that shows there can be joy in the world.
New episodes of The Last of Us air Sundays on HBO.
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