I am calling episode 3 of The Last of Us ‘The Ballad of Bill and Frank’. No other title seems quite as fitting, considering the tale we are treated to for 76 minutes in the second longest episode of the series. While episode 2 was tighter than the first in its narrative to provide more time with Joel and Ellie (and Tess, of course) episode 3 is arguably even more contained as its focus is on the relationship between survivalist Bill (played superbly by Nick Offerman in the role of his career) and his partner Frank (Murray Bartlett). Does an episode that reduces the time spent with the main characters impact flow, or is this the perfect bridge to the growth of the story? Read on, my friends.
Not all enemies click or sprout tendrils. Episode 2 added depth and history to the threat posed by the infected, but episode 3 presents two other dangers to survivors: humans and non-Cordyceps illnesses. The episode begins with Joel and Ellie navigating through the woods, but soon changes perspective to the gun-totting lone ranger that is Bill. As he had been preparing for an apocalypse his entire life, Bill is able to fortify a street and set up enough traps to keep out an army. But when he meets Frank, stuck in one of his pitfalls, the lone ranger allows someone else into his life.
The Last of Us as a game series is renowned for its depiction of gay relationships and transgender representation. As this was both praised and criticised during the release of the second game in 2020, there is no doubt that some of this may resurface in episode 3 due to the expansion on Bill’s sexuality (implied in-game, never shown directly). Neil Druckmann addressed this prior to the release of the show, stating that not all fans may appreciate the expansion. But the episode demonstrates the strength of humanity and is a testament to the creators in elevating the power of a relationship in a dire post-civilisation via its representation and cinematography. Many will be forgiven for shedding a tear or ten. The acting, setting and emotion are so vivid and realistic that you almost forget about the horrific creatures that have writhing tentacles beneath their skin.
Despite limited screentime, Ellie continues to shine and grow in her development outside containment and Joel demonstrates his slowly increasing care for his ‘package’. While the interaction between Joel and Bill is heavily reduced in this episode in comparison to the original material, the direction the showrunners decide on must be commended as it highlights the importance of connection when all else is lost. Even the strong need a softer hand to guide them.
In comparison to episode 1 and 2, episode 3 takes more risks. But it is because of those risks that it may be the episode that stays with viewers the longest. For in one of the latter scenes of the episode, we can’t help but contemplate how we would feel or act in a similar situation. And this is the true power of fiction.
Another fantastic episode in what has become the juggernaut of 2023.
The Last of Us is available to stream now on BINGE, new episodes drop every Monday.
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