The Last Of Us Episode 3 Review: A Long, Long Time before television gets any better

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulJan 31, 2023 | 15:24

The Last Of Us Episode 3 Review: A Long, Long Time before television gets any better

The third episode of HBO's The Last Of Us, titled "Long, Long Time", presents a significant departure from its source material and is all the more brilliant for it. The narrative stands on its own as a captivating little interlude to Joel and Ellie’s journey West, but is perfectly aligned with the overarching themes of Naughty Dog’s original narrative. 

As Joel and Ellie set out towards a possible safe haven, in the form of the previously alluded Bill and Frank, players familiar with the source material would have found asking themselves yet again: What could HBO do any better that the game hadn’t perfected already?


Although largely adapted from the game, this episode meanders from the game’s narrative in an increasing number of ways, most notably Pedro Pascal's portrayal of Joel. Subtleties in his craft are some of the many talents that Pascal prides himself upon. His portrait of Joel's internal struggle and emotional stonewalling regarding Tess's death - a mix of self-blame and guilt - are palpable through his performance.

Joel and Ellie journey West in "Long, Long Time"

The episode shifts away from Joel and Ellie with a splendid jump-cut back in time to focus on its show stealers. In Nick Offerman's Bill, we find a paranoid survivalist bracing for the Armageddon in his basement. Armed with enough ammunition to bring down the very “Nazis in the government” he already detests, Bill fortifies himself behind layers upon layers of fences, traps and other deadly devices to make sport of, while he enjoys his exquisitely prepared dinner.

Bill finds satisfaction in the life he’s made for himself. Up until he doesn’t. For someone who had spent the better part of the apocalypse as a cynical misanthrope, who would have thought that a simple bite into strawberries grown by the person he had grown to love would reduce him to giggling, teary-eyed mess. 

Frank and Bill enjoy strawberries in "Long, Long Time"

Finding a love as genuine and human as the one between Bill and Frank is a rare feat in any world, let alone in a collapsing society where trust is a scarce commodity. Bill is acutely aware of this, which makes Frank all the more precious to him. As a survivalist, Bill has lived for years without trusting anyone. What's beautiful however is how Murray Bartlett's comforting presence as Frank - an absolute stranger - successfully disarms the physical and psychological barriers that Bill has erected in the years spent as a closeted recluse.

Murray Bartlett as Frank in "Long, Long Time"

Just as Joel is starting to do with Ellie, Bill opens himself up to Frank, making their connection all the more special. The series serves as a reminder that even in the bleakest of times, finding comfort in someone else is all that is needed, and for Joel, all that he needs.

Peter Hoar’s masterful direction is part of why Bill and Frank’s chemistry was so effective. Previously known for his work on It’s A Sin, Hoar directs queer love with poignancy, steering clear of  heteronormative predispositions. The urge to veer off course towards queer romance ending in unexpected tragedy, especially considering the dystopian circumstances, was evaded with urgency and with grace. 

Frank and Bill in "Long, Long Time"

Frank's strawberry patch symbolises the flourishing of life amid decay, mirroring the nature of their relationship. They grew old together in a world where families were torn apart and love was a lost concept, but they remained steadfast. Their final day, marked by their wedding, was likely one of their happiest, in stark contrast to the weeping messes they left us in. Frank was Bill's reason to live and fight, for there was nobody else worth fighting for.  

Frank and Bill in "Long, Long Time"

The mastery displayed by both actors and the creators in depicting the final day of the characters is nothing short of extraordinary. Through their subtle performance, they manage to bring to life the rich and profound emotional journey, with its fair share of highs and lows, that spans 16 years, even without explicitly showing it.

Death is not always a defeat, but rather a natural conclusion that comes with ageing. Rather than portraying it as a sorrowful loss, the creators showcase death as the realisation of a beautiful and meaningful life: a testament to writer Craig Mazin's exceptional storytelling.

Frank and Bill in "Long, Long Time"

Mazin never shies away from drawing clear-cut parallels between Bill and Joel. Both the roughneck realists understand that trust is a commodity that is difficult to come by in their broken and inhumane world, and live by this understanding. However, Bill’s realisation that undercuts this parallel is their responsibility to protect and preserve that which they love and to guard those they hold dear. His final message to Joel reinforces this, and strengthens Joel's resolve to care for and protect Ellie, filling the void left by Tess.

Ripe with resentment, Joel only releases these bottled emotions (albeit in a fleeting moment of vulnerability) only upon reading Bill’s farewell letter - a moment that Pascal embodies with minimal dialogue. This episode embodies the central themes of the game in the most compelling manner. Love serves as a source of strength and motivation, driving us to do things we never thought possible, regardless of intention. 

Joel and Ellie in "Long, Long Time"

Episodes like these are what make television a medium of unbridled passion and artistry. They offer a welcome respite from the overarching narrative, allowing us to delve into the intricacies of minor characters, exploring their unique personalities, their growth, and the depth of their emotions.

And be it for its heart-wrenching inclusion of Max Richter’s all-too-familiar melancholic masterpiece or the punch in the gut pull-away from the (all-too-familiar) window to close the episode; The Last Of Us has defied and surpassed expectations enough to shatter the hubris of those familiar with the game (like myself).

Which brings us back to our initial enquiry - What could HBO do any better that the game hadn’t perfected already? I’d reckon a serving of roast rabbit paired with a glass of Beaujolais should offer some clarity.

Last updated: January 31, 2023 | 15:24
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