“When the world is running down, you make the best of what's still around.” I couldn't help but hear those words from that 1980 Police song as I watched the much talked about third episode of HBO's “The Last of Us.”
To be honest, I was just going to bank episodes and watch several in one go when I could handle something bleak. Except I got a message in my inbox from someone whose taste I respect this week that read: “Oh my god. 'The Last of Us.'”
It's odd to have bleakness as an escape, yet here we are.
In an episode which takes its name from another song, 1970's Linda Ronstadt song, “Long Long Time,” we meet two other characters from the game, Bill, the gruff survivalist loner and Frank who is actually dead. Here, over a 70-minute run time, the series takes a detour from the game and delivers a standout episode that focuses on Bill and Frank's love story amidst the death, destruction and chaos of the world.
In 2003, Bill (Nick Offerman) evades a mandatory evacuation of his neighborhood while hiding out in his bunker equipped with weapons and video monitoring system. After his neighbors are loaded on a truck, never to be seen again, he heads out to gather supplies and set up a fortification where he can trap and or kill all threats, human or “zombie.”
He then meets Frank (Murray Bartlett) who falls into one of his traps. After he determines this man poses no threat, it doesn't take long for both men to utterly relish the everyday magic of the sound of an old piano, the taste of a glass of wine and a shared meal and the warmth of touch.
I am all too happy to see Murray Bartlett in this HBO time slot again after his utterly delicious award-winning turn as resort manager Armond in season one of “The White Lotus.” He and Nick turn in such memorable, tender performances as companions and lovers.
The first lines of the song, “Long Long Time” go “Love will abide, take things in stride,” you hear this as Frank plays this on the piano and changes the tune of the initial, hesitant connection of the two men. The middle part of the song doesn't really play out in the episode as it is about a lingering but unrequited love. Here, the two men have a deep love and bond with each other to the very end.
We also see how Nick and Frank meet Joel and Tess and how what happens in this episode deeply affects Joel and informs the next chapter of his journey with Ellie. It is also a reminder of how good it feels to take a shower, put on clean clothes and bite into a fresh fruit.
The last line of the Ronstadt song goes, “And I think I'm going to love you for a long, long time.” As some love cynics say here, “Walang forever (there's no forever).” But when the world is falling apart all around you, as it is in “The Last of Us,” all people really have is the present and to have a string of good days is probably more than anyone can dream of.
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