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HBO’s The Last of Us tries a little tenderness in a surprising episode 3


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Kyle and Andrew fall in love with Nick Offerman's Bill and his dystopian love story.



Paranoid survivalist is the part Nick Offerman was born to play.


New episodes of The Last of Us are premiering on HBO every Sunday night, and Ars' Kyle Orland (who has played the games) and Andrew Cunningham (who hasn't) will be talking about them here every Monday morning. While these recaps don't delve into every single plot point of the episodes, there are obviously heavy spoilers contained within, so go watch the episode first if you want to go in fresh.


Kyle: OK, I know I spent a lot of time last week complaining about flashbacks, but I have many fewer complaints about this week's extended flashback. This is the kind of important, character-driven backstory that was only hinted at in the games and which a prestige TV show feels particularly well-suited to fill in, and this episode did a beautiful job of it.


Andrew: Yes, this week's episode is genuinely lovely and unexpected—essentially an episode of a The Last of Us-themed anthology show that is bookended with 10 or 15 minutes of Joel and Ellie on either side. It's also a tonal break from what I am sure will be a whole lot of fighting, running, and chasing later on in the season.


And it's also an antidote for the show's earlier reliance on tropes. "Loner conspiracy theorist captures the love of his life in one of his bunker traps" is not a story beat you see repeated in most apocalypse stories.


You mentioned that this was hinted at in the games. Is there a source for these characters (or similar ones) in the games at all, or are the showrunners just branching out?


Kyle: So this is where things get interesting from an "authentic to the game" perspective. Bill is a relatively major character in the first Last of Us, but his relationship with Frank is barely mentioned directly. And without spoiling the game too much, I'll say that the way Bill (and Frank, in a much less direct way) see their story develop and conclude in the games is very different from what we saw in this episode.


From the moment Bill got shot in the show, it started me wondering—how much are they really playing with the expectations set by the game here? How much are they willing to change the narrative we're supposed to "know"? Could Bill really just die here?


It's a big contributor to my feelings of doubt that the apparent double suicide is the last we're gonna see of this character. Not to mention it'd be a criminal waste of a perfectly cast Nick Offerman.



*Ron Swanson voice* "I am uncomfortable with this situation."


Andrew: As a non-game-player with no particular expectations or attachments, I kind of hope the story is a one-off, something that gives the world texture and does fill in Joel's and Tess' histories a bit but isn't continually revisited. To bring up another video game-adjacent show, it reminds me a little of the once-per-season flashback episodes in Mythic Quest. They're usually far removed from the main action (and most of the main characters) of the story but give the show a chance to demonstrate its range and give viewers something special.


But it's hard to say! Flashbacks seem to be a tool the show is willing to deploy frequently, and any character can come back to life in a flashback (as Tess does, here). Do the games do much flashing back and forward like this? It's hard to imagine playing the game version of this episode, unless The Last of Us has a farm sim game embedded in it, Gwent-style.


Kyle: No, the first game is quite linear, timeline-wise.


I'm trying really hard not to be one of those "they changed something from the source material! Sacrilege!"-type people. But one quibble I do have is with how changing Bill's story arc also changes the entire tone of his character.


There's one important Bill quote from the game that I remembered the gist of and looked up to make sure I had it right, because it's so opposed to the Bill we get in the show: "Once upon a time, I had somebody that I cared about. It was a partner. Somebody I had to look after. And in this world, that sort of shit's good for one thing: gettin' you killed."


Not exactly the sentiment we get here! I don't think either one is necessarily "better" or "worse" (especially before I see the rest of the show), but it is pretty jarring...


Andrew: So game-Bill essentially ends up where show-Bill starts, emotionally? That's a bummer.


Which is maybe why they changed it. I find apocalypse fiction with a shot of hope much more compelling than, say, a non-stop bleak-o-rama where we're continually finding out that humans are the real monsters (looking at you, The Walking Dead).


Or maybe they haven't changed it, and they'll get back around to that version of Bill in another episode. That's the fun of these show-by-show recaps: something could always happen next week that either makes us look like geniuses or morons!



If you've played the games, get ready to see a different side of Bill, here...


Kyle: OK, so I may be seeing things that aren't there, but did you think anything of the pretty prominent front-door-shutting moment when Joel was searching through Bill's house?
Andrew: Yeah, you may well have something there. We are told that Bill took the same wine-poison as Frank; we are specifically and pointedly never shown it.
Kyle: I half expected to see Bill looking out the window during that last shot...
Andrew: But even if he were still alive there would still be some conflict between the tone of his note to Joel and that quote from the game.
Kyle: Yeah, and Bill giving away his guns and stuff doesn't necessarily fit, either.


Oh yeah, Ellie is in this episode too, I guess...


Andrew: It would be a weird fake-out. For whose benefit is Bill faking his own death? For whose benefit is he leaving all his wine glasses out to get all dusty?? I guess he's... doing it and then waiting weeks or months for "whoever finds this, but probably Joel" to show up?
Kyle: The meat was not all that rotten, so it probably had only been a few days. Bill could have still been mourning for that time, then he runs off when Joel shows up to preserve his solitude?
Andrew: If he ain't dead, there's some 'splaining to do, is all I'm saying.
Kyle: Yeah, I don't know how much of this is just wishful thinking on my part and how much is actually there. But as much as I like Ellie-from-the-games, I think I might like Bill-from-the-show even more. And part of me doesn't want this episode to be all we get of him.
Andrew: Offerman is criminally charismatic here. And most places.
Kyle: Anyway, the comic book rules apply. No body, no death.


Andrew: One other thing that always piques my interest in any kind of "alternate history" story like this: how much of the "real world" is the world we know? According to this episode, 9/11 happened and 9/11 truthers exist. Which suggests that George W. Bush existed and was president. Which implies that pretty much anything that happened before September of 2003 is theoretically real in this world, too?


Which means we're living in a world where Joel may have seen Shrek (2001), but not Shrek 2 (2004). Something to think about.



No room in the QZ, sorry folks!


Kyle: Do you think Linda Ronstadt survived the outbreak in the show? Here in the real world she won a Grammy for Best Music Film in 2021!


Andrew: It's entirely possible. Though, if the show wanted to stunt-cast some real-world celebrities as infected, she could be a contender.


Also, if we're talking about period-appropriateness, there's a whole weird cul-de-sac my brain got stuck in about where opinion about gay people in America would have been if it was frozen in 2003. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy had only started in July! Brokeback Mountain never came out! Modern Family never happened!


Kyle: Makes the marriage at the end much more meaningful. It wasn't legalized in Massachusetts until 2004!


Andrew: Cue zombie Antonin Scalia coming in and telling them they can't do it.


Regardless of the ultimate fate of Bill, or whether Joel has seen Shrek (I'm just saying, he had a kid who would have been the right age!), I thought this episode was a cut above the ones we've seen so far. Not that either of them was bad, but this one has raised the show's average rating from "competent but predictable" to "maybe this could actually be really great?"


That said, I feel like I have seen three episodes of this, and each one has given me a different show: apocalypse-by-the-numbers, then video game tutorial level, then a one-act play about love in the time of cordyceps. I can't help but wonder which show The Last of Us is going to be next week.


Kyle: Agreed. It feels like some people who would really like this episode might struggle to get through the first two, which are so different. But slowing down the world-building and just focusing on two characters really let the emotions shine through.


That also happened a lot in the game, just not with those two characters. So I'm still looking forward to diving deep into the Joel/Ellie dynamic, which we started to get some real hints of this episode.



HBO’s The Last of Us tries a little tenderness in a surprising episode 3

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5 hours ago, Karlston said:

Kyle and Andrew fall in love with Nick Offerman's Bill and his dystopian love story.

With this crab, please. The entire episode's purpose is to demonstrate that being homosexual is completely normal and that you can live a regular life and encounter normal circumstances. Teenagers are watching this, and they want their agenda to become globalized. Introduce concepts and ideas of this nature to children.


Most of the TV shows now days are all about this agenda. 

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