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Show vs Game: The Last of Us Episode 3 – “Long, Long Time”

As episode 3 of The Last of Us (TLOU) show mixes up its structure, I’m going to do the same by first talking through game events first, and then do the episode recap.

SPOILERS for episode 3 of the show and game chapter Bill’s Town (to the end of High School Escape).

Bill + Frank = ?

Episode 3 is the largest departure (so far) from game events. Both the game and the episode focus on human isolation. Before we head to Bill’s Town, Joel and Ellie have a big Statehouse shoot-out with FEDRA agents. This section feel designed to teach us 1) how to use a rifle, and 2) humans are the enemy (uh oh).  It feels uncomfortably war-like. All I’ll say is, FEDRA shot first. The crew of two escape into a submerged subway station. Game Ellie doesn’t need to wear a WW2 gas mask, as she’s immune to infected fungal spores. But everyone else must. As Ellie can’t swim, Joel finds a floating palate to help get across the water. We find a note mentioning a Frank travelling from the Baltimore QZ to the Boston Qz. Ellie and Joel then have a key conversation. Joel demands Ellie doesn’t tell anyone about her immunity and do as he says. Ellie solemnly replies, “What you say, goes.

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Joel calls Bill a “fella that owes me some favours.” as they enter a town called Lincoln through the woods. Game Joel and Ellie seem…happy? There’s a gorgeous moment where Ellie sees real fireflies for the first time, “sorry, I lost myself for a sec.” The bond between proto-father and daughter further cements.

We arrive at the built-up red-bricked Bill’s Town (not the show’s white picket fence version) full of Infected. While looting Ellie stupidly tries to teach herself to whistle. Can’t she see those Clickers! Here the in-game technique of revealing plot through reading documents is used to great effect. Like, Game-Bill writes notes to himself about Infected-murder-related chores. In a café, Ellie’s eyes light up at a (fictional) arcade game called The Turning (Mortal Kombat in the show) and Ellie’s sad that nobody’s playing all the LPs in a record store.

They discuss Bill’s booby-trapped streets, Ellie asking if he’s “a bit paranoid?” with Joel replying  “Bill ain’t exactly the most stable of individuals.” Then poetic justice sees Joel hanging upside down, fending off Infected while caught in one of Bill’s traps, until the man himself (W. Earl Brown) all flack jacket, greasy hair and shoot-to-kill attitude turns up to despatch the Infected with precision accuracy. You know when two friends from different groups meet and don’t get along? That’s an understatement in comparison to Ellie and Bill’s introduction. Bill tries to handcuff Ellie to a radiator and she responds by bludgeoning then fat-shames him. Joel brokers peace and asks Bill for a car. They make a deal, he’ll fix a car if they first cross town to get him some gear. Bill says we can loot his home (oh, we should ask permission?) and there’s a noteworthy Chessboard, dusty and set mid-game…

NPCs are your friend

A quick segue. I’ve struggled with how nasty the show portrays everyone, when the game feels kinder. Bill might be gruff and paranoid, but like most in-game characters, he’s also generous and helpful. Because Non-Playable Characters are tasked with reminding players to tool-up or collect health, and I’m partial to helpful people, Bill feels more likeable. On TV, character introductions are often far less subtle. I fell for game-Bill when he tells Joel “normal people scare me.

Back en route, it becomes clear that Bill talks to himself a lot. Ellie, feeling threatened(?) becomes especially cruel, continues joking about Bill’s weight and sanity (so much for in-game NPCs being nicer). Bill eludes to Tess and Joel’s relationship, telling Joel:  “I had someone I cared about once. A partner…and that shit is good for one thing, getting you killed.” After shooting a lot of Infected, they make it to a garage only to find the car battery has been taken. They then hide out in a school gym, only to then have to fight a hideous thing called a Bloater (can’t wait to see that in the show) before finally having a moment to breathe in a nearby house. And that’s when Bill finds Frank’s hanging body, covered in bites.

He’s the only guy who would wear a shirt like that.” Joel finds a heartbreaking note, showing that Frank was taking the car to get away from Bill.  Once the car gets push-started, there’s more Infected to dispose of. Joel tries to console Bill “about your buddy back there.”

Bill doesn’t want to talk so off they drive. Ellie has found some new reading material, a gay porn mag as the player puts together all the pieces, Ellie passes Joel a tape (sounds like Bob Dylan) and they head off to Pittsburgh. So long Bill, stay paranoid.

 

The Ballad of Bill and Frank

Now for the episode recap. The episode starts just after the events of episode 2, Joel’s hand still not healed from murder-punching a guard. Ellie tells Joel not to blame her for what isn’t her fault (Tess’s death). Joel is more worried about people than Infected. Ellie asks about his face scar. Joel says someone shot at him and missed and he shot back (I can’t help thinking this someone was Tommy). They arrive at a petrol station where Joel has stashed some goodies. Ellie finds some tampons (yay) then finds a trapped Infected in the Basement (ooh) who she cuts open (eurgh) before knifing (okaaaay). Ellie rejoices at the arcade machine and the pair are getting along. On seeing airplane wreckage Ellie asks about the outbreak. Joel reveals the dreaded flour theory. On Thursday evening people eating products felt bad, by Friday they were weird. By Monday they were Infected. Ellie replies “Makes more sense than monkeys” NO IT DOESN’T says me and the stars of the film Outbreak, and they then stumble on a mass grave. Turns out that when there was no more room in the QZ, FEDRA killed the leftovers: “Dead people can’t be infected.” Cold.

This segues into a Flashback. It’s September 30th 2003 and we meet show Bill (Nick Offerman). He a first class Prepper with a full arsenal and an array of gas masks. Bill’s also a bright spark, waiting for the DEFRA agents to finish rounding up the stragglers (chilling) before channelling his own electric power from the grid, in a nod to game puzzles. Bill is perfectly happy alone with his steak dinners and fine wines… or is he?

We cut to 2007 when Bill finds a man trapped in a hole. This is Frank, (Murray Bartlett) who says that the Baltimore QZ has “gone.” Of course, Bill has an Infected detector, and with reluctance, he grants Frank entry to his town, a shower and a home-cooked meal. Both men play a little Linda Ronstadt number on Bill’s piano, Frank’s jaunty and Bill’s melodic versions capturing their differences. Frank’s gaydar is spot on (guess it was the wine pairings?), and they head straight to bed.

It’s Bill’s first time, and it goes very well because we cut to years later. Now it’s Bill and Frank’s town. Frank, mirroring Tess’s statement to Joel in episode 2, indicates that a relationship with Bill has been riddled with compromise, “do I ask for things, ever?” before delivering an iconic summation: “Paying attention to things is how we show love.” Bill has room in his life for one person, but Frank needs more, that’s why he’s been talking to someone on the CB radio. Cut again to a spiffy lunch with Tess and Joel (looking good). Joel levels with the clearly uncomfortable Bill. Bill’s fences aren’t going to hold forever (yes, we understand symbolism). Tess and Frank decide the radio decade codes (as used in episode 1).

We cut to 2013. Frank shows Bill that seeds he bought from Tess have fruited and Nick Offerman wins an Emmy by eating a strawberry. They speak honestly, Bill saying “I was never afraid before you showed up.” And he’s right to be afraid, when a group of hooded figures try to overrun Bill’s town. Bill’s a crack shot with a rifle but he also takes a bullet which Frank must remove.  Bill has learned that everyone need friends. He’s planned for his death and tells Frank to call Joel for help.

We cut again to 2023. Bill is not only alive, but he’s also the one pushing an ageing Frank in a wheelchair. Frank, a decent painter, sees his latest efforts denigrate into the squiggly lines of cognitive degeneration and makes a decision. He wants to have a perfect final day. They’ll eat toast (good), choose suits from the town boutique (nice), get married (yay), have a great dinner (yum), and then Bill will crush Frank’s various pills in his wine, Frank will down it then float away in Bill’s arms (wait, what?). Before Max Richter’s haunting On the Nature of Daylight can fade out there’s a lump in my throat. But Bill doesn’t want to live on his won anymore. He tells Frank that he’s “satisfied” and that Frank was his “purpose.” They both drink the tainted wine and Bill takes Frank to their bed for the last time. That was intense.

We cut (AGAIN) back to Joel and Ellie. Joel uses a gate code to enter Bill’s Town (something that happens a lot in TLOU2). Show Ellie is also an inquisitive reader, finding a letter meant for Joel, which he asks her to read aloud. Bill writes that he was happy when everyone died. But he found happiness having one person to protect. Joel should use his arsenal etc to do the same…with Tess. Awkward! And also heavy-handed exposition but we’re all too choked up to care. (Fun fact, the end of the letter is briefly shown on screen where Bill makes suggestions on food and wine pairings, a lovely touch). Joel has a moment alone. Joel gives the game speech to Ellie about doing what he says. Ellie asks him to take a shower because he stinks and while he does that, Ellie literally finds Chekhov’s gun. They drive off in Bill’s chevy, Joel touchingly fastening Ellie’s seatbelt first. Show Ellie has never seen a car before, calling it a spaceship (that’s another nod to TLOU2). They play a Linda Ronstadt tape and head off toward Tommy. And we see them leave through Bill and Frank’s open bedroom window.

So here we have two very different ways of telling the same story: Bill was a man who had friends. RIP.

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