By Sean Gallagher
I have no doubt in my mind that this episode of The Last of Us will be quite divisive. There’s a few reasons for this, but a big one is this episode features the most deviations from the source material to date. Did it work? Let’s find out.
Long Long Time opens up with Joel and Ellie at a creekside, with Joel making a cairn to honour Tess. But without their leader, Joel and Ellie are forced to start talking to each other and Ellie starts unloading questions on him. The duo makes a pitstop at a gas station, where Joel has stashed some gear years ago while Ellie discovers an infected being under the station, buried in some rubble. Ellie seems to enjoy inflicting pain on the infected, likely due to all the pain they’ve caused her, as she cuts the infected across the face before killing it. The duo eventually walks by a field of bones and Ellie learns that the government was totally willing to murder non-infected persons in the name of keeping inventory and space in check.
But the episode quickly shifts and goes into an extended flashback featuring Bill and Frank upon seeing the bones. It’s quite a shift, as we were only just getting to start to see the foundations of Joel and Ellie’s relationship, but the action cuts to 20 years earlier and we suddenly have to get to know two new protagonists for this episode. Played by Nick Offerman, Bill is a paranoid gun-loving, survivalist government-hating kind of fella who evades capture by Fedra thanks to his hidden room in the basement. He quickly sets up his own private utopia, complete with traps and monitors. Bill is a loner and is perfectly content living out the rest of his days watching the world burn around him as he outsmarts Fedra.
But he eventually crosses paths with Frank. While Bill is a survivalist in the sense of preparation, Frank is a survivalist in a self-preservation manner. I definitely think that Frank was looking for a protector and found it in Bill, who had shelter and can cook, and Frank was willing to exploit his own body in exchange for food and shelter. Frank says “I’m not a whore”, but he kind of is at this point. But I do also think that, over time, these two learn to drop their walls and actually did fall in love with each other. We follow them over the course of nearly twenty years and see their highs and lows as a couple. Bill’s genuine laugh at seeing strawberries is completely human, as cultivating strawberries is not something that was in Bill’s nature, but Frank was able to bring him that joy (at the cost of one of his guns-a “small one”).
A major change from the source material though is that Bill commits suicide with Frank, which means that Bill doesn’t get any scenes with Joel and Ellie. This is a bit of a loss, as those interactions were so good in the game, but I also think that Bill’s passing was tragic but in a way, happier than surviving to meet Joel and Ellie. In The Last of Us game, Frank abandons Bill and commits suicide on his own and the implication is that the two had a huge falling out. Here, the two stay together until the very end. Frank wants to take his own life due to living with an illness, but Bill elects to die next to Frank, next to each other in bed. It’s wildly tragic but also touching.
Most importantly though, this episode and the closing theme is ultimately about love and how it can be rediscovered even in the most jaded and bitter of souls. This story, despite being about two gay men, is ultimately a mirror for Joel, who is Bill at the start of the flashback, bitter and emotionally walled off. But love gave Bill purpose and it saved him, ironically, so perhaps Joel, who basically has no humanity at this point, can be saved as well.
So with Bill out of the picture, Joel is still shackled with Ellie and decides to bring her along in his initial search for Tommy, who was a Firefly and may know where to bring Ellie. The two drive out of Frank’s town, listening to music and the wall between them slowly starts to come down. I do wish we got to see Ellie and Bill bicker with each other and the entire sequence with the school, but it’s an interesting episode that explores love, a key theme of The Last of Us. But considering there are only nine episodes in season one though (and one more flashback-heavy episode to come), I hope that we start to dive into the relationship with Joel and Ellie proper now, as there’s only so much runtime left for them to dive into their story. But as it stands, this was a touching-if unexpectedly different-episode of The Last of Us.
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