Written by Craig Mazin and directed by Peter Hoar, the third episode of The Last of Us gives us a love story in the apocalypse. The show does not ignore Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), allowing them to bookend the episode. However, it runs a parallel story of love and protection over the twenty years since Cordyceps began to take over the world. Get those tissues ready, as “Long Long Time” might be the best episode yet.
Joel and Ellie
At a river West of Boston, Joel builds a small monument to Tess by stacking stones. Ellie and Joel are hiding in the forest, making their way to Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank’s (Murray Bartlett) house. Ellie reminds Joel she never forced him to take the job transporting her. She does not want Joel to resent her for Tess’ death. Joel stops at the Cumberland Farms convenience store to pick up items he stored in the past.
Inside the store, Ellie jokes about a video game and explores the back rooms. She finds a trap door, and jumps down into the darkness, looking for supplies. After finding some, she hears an infected snarl at her from nearby debris. However, it is trapped, unable to attack her. After slicing its skull open to expose more fungi, she stabs it in the head. Ellie returns from the back room and sees Joel found his stash.
They get back on the road and discuss the beginning of the pandemic. Joel tells her that the Cordyceps likely mutated while in flour or other goods. Within a weekend, the infected had spread. Cordyceps began to take over humans, and the world effectively ended. They find a mass grave alongside the side of the road, where soldiers killed dozens of non-sick survivors to ensure they would not become infected.
Bill and Frank
We flashback to September 2003, following a dress of a woman whose remains were present on the side of the road. While she’s loaded into a military transport, we see Bill hiding in a basement. The military cannot find him as he watches on a security system he’s installed. Once the soldiers leave, Bill collects a generator, hitches a boat, and raids the local Home Depot.
Over the next four years, his compound expanded and remains safe from the Infected. One day, a man falls into one of Frank’s traps, revealing he left the Baltimore QZ and is trying to find his way to Boston. While he began with ten in his party, he’s the only one remaining. He reveals his name is Frank, and he begs for food. Against his better judgment, Bill lets Frank into the compound.
At the house, Frank showers and eats for the first time in days. He complements Bill’s cooking and wine pairing. The two laugh and eat, and when Frank finishes, he notices the piano in the other room. He rushes over, finding the sheet music for “Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt. Bill asks Frank to stop, but Frank turns it around on him. He pushes Bill to play, and he does so beautifully.
Frank leans down and kisses Bill, and the two pull each other close. As they kiss, Frank cries and tells Bill to take a shower. When Bill leaves the bathroom, Frank is in his bed waiting for him. Bill reveals he’s never slept with a man. The two kiss and make love.
Three years later, the two fight about cleaning up the house and street. it turns out Frank has been talking to Tess over the radio and invited her to Bill’s house. Joel and Tess (Anna Torv) visit for lunch, having food and wine for the first time in years. When Tess and Frank wander inside, Bill and Joel hash out some of Bill’s needs. He remains very resistant to their overtures. Before leaving, Joel predicts that raiders will come for them.
Another three years go by, and the fences have been replaced with walls of broken-down cars. Bill and Frank run a lap around their neighborhood, and Frank leads them to a garden he started. After trading a gun to Tess and Joel, Frank received seeds to grow strawberries. Bill apologizes to Frank for growing older. One night, a group of raiders fulfills Joel’s warning. However, Bill prepped the fences with extra explosives and flame throwers. However, while shooting at the raiders, Bill takes a bullet in the abdomen. He begs Frank to call Joel for protection before passing out.
Another ten years go by. Bill survived the gunshot but is noticeably older. Frank is wheelchair-bound, struggling with his motor function. One morning, Bill wakes up to find Frank already in his chair. Frank believes that his illness is too far gone. He’s set on taking pills this evening and wants one perfect day with Bill. Over the course of the day, they marry and visit all of Frank’s favorite places.
After dinner, Bill adds the pills to Frank’s wine. After they each drink from their own glass, Bill reveals that he had already put pills in the wine bottle. They will both pass in the night, and they head to bed together.
Joel and Ellie
The next morning, Joel arrives at the gate with Ellie. When they enter Frank and Bill’s house, everything seems deserted. As Joel searches the house, Ellie plays the piano and finds a sealed envelope on the counter. Ellie reads the note to Joel, which Bill wrote before they passed. It preaches “keeping one person safe,” which is supposed to be Tess in Bill’s estimation.
Joel gets emotional and steps outside. He finds Bill’s car and makes uses the materials in his shed to make a car battery. He lays out ground rules for Ellie to follow as they make their way to Wyoming to his brother. They collect supplies, including guns (Joel refuses to let her have one, but Ellie hides one in her bag). They shower and get in the car. As they drive away, they listen to “Long Long Time.”
The introduction of Offerman and Bartlett immediately pays dividends for The Last of Us, which desperately needed some levity. The darkness of the world was beginning to feel genuinely all-consuming. Other shows have wallowed in their nihilism and immediately lost the path. Instead, The Last of Us swerves into the hope that life can go on. The portrait of two men finding each other and love at the end of the world is an incredibly profound and beautiful story.
Offerman has never been better. The Parks and Rec alum has often contributed his survivalist persona to dramatic projects, yet this time it feels uniquely suited for the role. The way he looks at Bartlett, Joel, and anyone else on screen, he gets to show off some genuine brilliance. His hilarity is impossible to ignore, but the heart he brings will make “Long Long Time” linger with TV audiences. Even for Bartlett, a recent Emmy winner, this is career-best work. He gets to be funny and charming in all the ways The White Lotus allowed him. Yet this is more subdued and passionate work.
Most importantly, the audience got a glance at the power of relationships in The Last of Us universe. While Joel and Ellie are not exactly copacetic, both are willing to fight for the belief in something better. Bill was not an optimist; if he could find hope in the future, then Joel can as well. As Joel continues to step into the surrogate dad role for Ellie, there will be more bad days ahead. But as Frank so eloquently pointed out, there were more good than bad once he found Bill.
The musical score from Gustavo Santaolalla is astounding in this episode. Many of the most romantic and quiet moments between Bill and Frank are accompanied by impressive orchestral movements. There’s certainly a strong assist in the form of “Long Long Time.” Still, music supervisors Evyen J. Klean and Ian Broucek really bring out aspects of the characters through their choices. Furthermore, DP Eden Bolter sets up some absolutely stunning shots to sell us on the romance. The lingering camera allows us to watch Offerman and Bartlett’s chemistry build in real-time, allowing us to truly see that love develop.
With Joel and Ellie leaving Bill’s compound behind them, they travel to Wyoming. It seemed rather unlikely our characters are meant to make it across the country in an easy road trip. The “Next Week On” segment teases the introduction of Melanie Lynskey, which is certainly exciting. Expect more action after the more intimate episode, which may be a trend we need to watch out for as The Last of Us develops.