EZMM 2023 Day 3.2: The Last of Us S01E03 “Long, Long Time”

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017201820192020, 2021 and 2022.

Here there be spoilers!

So this is what all the controversy is about? Stupid, fucking, mouth-breathing dipshits. Downvoting this episode because of the gay love story is just idiotic. Using an apocalypse narrative and a doomsday prepper character to explore the idea of being afraid to be oneself openly in a hostile world is kind of genius.

Now, does it advance the story of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey)? Well, they get a truck at the end, and that letter telling Joel that it was worth saving one person and to look after Tess should help kick in his protective instincts more than we’ve seen so far. Technically, there was a monster in this episode and Ellie got a nice little bit of interaction with the thing and lucked into some tampons, too, so it’s a huge win!

As you probably know, unless you’ve been living in a post-apocalyptic world with no internet access, after introducing the episode with Joel and Ellie moving on from the loss of Tess and stumbling across evidence of a government sanctioned mass grave, the bulk of the episode is the love story of Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). After a fantastic transition from the mass grave to the flashback to 2003, we are introduced to survivalist loner, Bill, who avoided the government round-up (that ended in the execution of the rest of his town, regardless of infection status) by hiding in his underground bunker.

After this we get the traditional resource-gathering montage that all post-apocalyptic shows and movies are required to film. After a few years of isolation behind a heavily secured and booby-trapped electric fence, Frank stumbles into one of Bill’s hidden pits. In a moment of compassion, Bill takes him in, fixing him an amazing dinner with an equally amazing wine. From there, we learn that Bill has never been with anyone, male or female from the sound of it, and he is totally into Frank’s advances.

And they live happily ever after!

No, but seriously, they do pretty well for themselves for many years, until Frank secretly gets into radio contact with Joel and Tess and the group become friends. Tenuous friends at first, but ultimately real friends. And it means we get a return of the ever-enchanting Anna Torv.

It turns out that radio code introduced in the first episode, where the music playing from different decades mean different things, is the way they communicate. So playing that eighties music meant there was trouble. We can infer then, that after the tragic ending of the episode, this was Bill’s way of letting Joel and Tess know there was a problem, and they would eventually make their way to the compound. But more on that in a minute.

There aren’t any infected monster people in the flashback, but there is an attempted invasion by human raiders who don’t make out so well, and after a moment of concern for Bill, we get a jump cut to many years later to find out that it was Frank we should have been worried about.

Fuck Cancer.

It’s all heartbreaking and emotional, with Offerman and Bartlett acting their asses off in what should open them both up for Emmy consideration. The lovers decide that they want to go out on their own terms and share a wonderfully powerful final day together, and when Joel and Ellie show up, they find that previously mentioned letter, a truck, and if they didn’t partake from Bill’s massive gun collection, then it’s something that needs to be addressed. I could have done without that totally on-the-nose Linda Ronstadt song, too.

I’m working on accepting the whole lack of sporing, which is how mushrooms spread and was apparently a threat in the game, from what I’ve gathered with a quick Google search. I guess you don’t want to have your actors covering their faces with gas masks all the time – Pascal gets enough of that in his other Internet Daddy show – so I’m just ignoring it.

While this was an extremely powerful episode, it almost felt like it was a different show, particularly since the focus was entirely on people we didn’t know before and won’t know going forward. Fear the Walking Dead did a very similar thing in the episode “Laura” from the fourth season, where the entire episode was a flashback to told how John (Garret Dillahunt) and Naomi (Jenna Elfman) met, fell in love, and ended up separating. It was a highlight of that show and “Long, Long Time” is probably going to be a highlight here, despite working with unknown characters and sidestepping the main concept of the show.

This is mainly because the episode takes the time to actually be about something other than just survival and monsters. It’s about the irony of the fact that only once nearly the entire world is driven away, can this man, Bill, be who he really is, openly and without regret. This means that for the first time in his life, he’s truly alive, truly seen. When he tells Frank, “I was never afraid before you showed up,” it makes clear that it took isolation for him to feel safe enough for intimacy and community. And if apocalypse narratives aren’t about trying to find community in an openly hostile world, then I don’t know what they’re about.

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