Spoilers from the outset for this review of HBO’s adaptation of The Last Of Us.
This’ll be a tough one to write. It’ll be a long one too. Following a summary of last week’s events, the third chapter of HBO’s adaptation cuts to the credits and skips past the cold open. The absence of one is fitting since the heart of the episode’s one-hour and fourteen-minute runtime is an extended flashback chronicling the lives of Bill and Frank across two decades.
Ten miles outside of Boston, a sullen Joel delicately assembles a pile of stones by a river’s edge, tending to his wounded hand, while Ellie tells him not to blame her for the decisions he made. As they travel, Ellie asks Joel about a scar on his head, which he cites was due to a bullet grazing him in a shootout. As Ellie continues to pitch questions his way (including a denied request for a gun), they gather supplies at a rest stop. In a basement, Ellie finds an infected pinned beneath debris. With Joel struggling to remember where he and Tess left their emergency stash, Ellie kills the infected with her switchblade and reminisces about a popular video game (Mortal Kombat 11) that she and Riley used to play (adapted from Angel Knives in the Left Behind DLC).
Before leaving, Joel stashes the automatic weapon with the other supplies underneath a floor panel. Later in their travels, Ellie asks Joel how the pandemic began, with Joel speculating that the Cordyceps mutated into a food type and spread. Ellie, however, speculates the pandemic could have been because of monkeys, a reference to the adorable little critters found loose in the science building later in the game. At the peak of a hill, they discover the wreckage of a plane, followed by Joel’s complaints about costly in-flight meals and middle seats. Ellie is in awe that he was able to fly in the sky.
A further finding of skeletons from a FEDRA massacre is another dark reminder of the post-pandemic world they inhabit. FEDRA executed civilians to prevent the infection from spreading as quarantine zones filled up. The last haunting image of this scene focuses on a green dress flapping in the grass. Right after this moment, the episode cuts back to September 30, 2003, and opens with a young woman in the same green dress comforting her baby. Bill (Nick Offerman) watches the military evacuation from security cameras inside a bunker.
Soldiers enter his house and fail to find him. With the town deserted, Bill gives a look of contentment as he makes the place his own. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘I’m Coming Home To Stay’ cues up. Bill pilfers petrol and home depot supplies, fortifying the town with fences and homemade traps to kill any roaming infected. Bill is, by tea time, tucking into a home-cooked meal for one with a bottle of wine, and life is just about perfect. As for the infected, they walk into his traps, and he gets to watch them from the safety of his home.
Four years later, Bill meets Frank, a survivor from the Baltimore QZ caught inside one of his traps. Bill is initially skeptical of him and asks him to leave for Boston, despite Frank not being infected and hungry. The survivalist relents and brings Frank into his home, offering him clothes, a shower, and a home-cooked meal. Bill is shy, skittish, and maybe even a tad coy, whereas Frank is overflowing with spirit and gratitude for Bill’s hospitality.
After a meal, Bill and Frank attempt renditions of “Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt before sharing a kiss. Bill and Frank’s relationship is subsequently chronicled over two decades, documenting the highs and lows of their lives together, followed by an immediate three-year time jump into 2010. Bill, an eternal survivalist in his own way, struggles to understand Frank’s desire to give the town a lick of paint and the lawn a trim. Frank affirms that with time, the couple will share their home with other people before revealing to his partner that he’s been in contact with a woman on the radio. The woman is Tess, and Bill is not best pleased to hear the revelation. Joel and Tess are invited into the community. Frank pours wine, and a paranoid Bill keeps bringing his gun onto the table.
The fortified defences around the town are beginning to age, and without support, their community will come under increasing threat from outsiders. With Joel’s assistance in sourcing materials for the defences, they can secure their safety for years. After Joel and Tess go, Frank proposes a coding system across the radio using decades of popular songs to communicate, should anyone else be listening. Joel warns Bill that the town could soon come under attack from raiders, a warning Bill stubbornly shrugs off. Three years later, bandits attempt to enter the town before being killed by Bill’s entrapments, including electrified fences and fire aerosol systems. Bill sustains a gunshot in the fight, and as Frank tends to the wound, Bill insists he contacts Joel.
Ten years elapse, and Frank’s health deteriorates from a terminal illness. After waking up one morning, he informs Bill that he intends to end his life – but not before marrying his partner and sitting down for a final cooked meal with him, after which Bill is asked to place crushed-up pills into his wine and let him pass away in their bed. Unable to continue his life without Frank, Bill mixes the same lethal cocktail into his own wine, choosing to end his life with the man he loves. The choice of music after the dinner scene is profoundly perfect. The song “Vanishing Grace (Childhood)” is famously heard during the giraffe sequence in the game, and plays as Bill and Frank return to the bedroom together for the last time.
As the episode reaches the present day, Joel and Ellie arrive at the gates of Bill’s town. Joel glances at the untended flowers outside the property, and after searching inside, Ellie finds a suicide note written by Bill. He gives Joel everything he needs, from weapons to supplies, in the hope that he’d be able to keep Tess safe, little knowing of how events transpired beyond their town. Ellie reads the letter aloud to Joel as Bill writes that he and Joel are fated to protect those worth saving. In Bill’s instance, it was Frank, and for Joel, it would have been Tess, and now Ellie. At this moment, Joel snatches the letter and leaves the house. Silently distraught, Joel finds a pickup truck with a battery in a fridge inside the garage. He suggests Ellie keep her immunity a secret, never mention Tess, and follow any instruction he gives. This is before Ellie conceals one of Bill’s guns into her bag.
They drive from Bill’s town and listen to a cassette of Linda Ronstadt’s “For A Long, Long Time.” In the final shot, a camera pulls in through the window of Bill and Frank’s bedroom as we glimpse the truck moving away from the empty community. There’s a framed, painted picture of Bill and a pot of old flowers beneath it, in an image that feels strangely reminiscent of Ellie walking from the farmhouse at the end of The Last Of Us Part II. Joel and Ellie move on to the next leg of their journey, but there are troubled times ahead, as the story adapts events from the Pittsburgh chapter next.
In last week’s review, there was an admittance of confusion and doubt over the changes made in the final act – particularly with the clicker kiss. Suffice to say, there is no confusion and not a doubt in my mind concerning this episode. To take Bill and Frank’s story in this direction is a radical shift from the video game and makes the series all the better for it. Sure, we didn’t see a bloater, or find out if Bella Ramsey and Nick Offerman would share some of the same snarky, back-handed dialogue their video game counterparts share, but none of this matters.
With a consistent quality delivered throughout this adaptation so far, an hour-long episode featuring Joel, Ellie and Bill searching for a car battery and fighting infected in a high school gymnasium would have been entertaining if managed right. Sometimes, however, it isn’t always about the action. On occasion, the best content from an adaptation comes from something new, and the Bill/Frank-centric story proves the point. 10 from 10, without any hesitation. Nick Offerman sells as Bill. Murray Bartlett as Frank is a marvel to watch. Druckmann and Mazin have pulled off one of the greatest episodes of television ever made.
Episode 2’s review is here.