Episode 3 of HBO’s The Last of Us goes in a different direction than expected, showing us the benefits of prepping and giving us a tear-jerking romance!
This is a recap and review of The Last of Us episode 3. Spoilers to follow!
The Last of Us Episode 3 Recap and Review
The episode begins with Joel slowly building a rock pile by a rushing river, intended perhaps as a monument to Tess. Ellie, sensing his mood, calls him out on what she perceives as him blaming her for Tess’ death, which he seems to accept but for which he doesn’t apologize.
They travel through gorgeous shots of healthy forests, overgrown fields, and space reclaimed by nature. They stop at Humberland Farms, an abandoned shop where Joel has a supply cache. Ellie, bored, first admires an arcade version of Mortal Kombat II (a game I played a lot of on my SEGA when I was a kid; I had the same reaction to Mileena), then locates a hatch in a room. She sneaks in, finding tampons (apocalypse prep is yet another reason to use reusable products!), and runs into a Cordyceps in the rubble. She cuts him on the forehead, revealing only more fungal matter in his skull – nothing to indicate he’s still human. Disgusted, she stabs the man.
As they continue, Ellie asks Joel to explain how the contagion started. Joel describes how a fungus mutation got into the food supply – a ubiquitous staple like flour or sugar – and when people ate the tainted food, they grew infected. Then the biting started.
After this revelation, FEDRA’s harsh policies are displayed via a culvert of skeletons. Joel explains that soldiers evacuated the small towns, and if there wasn’t room in the safe zone for the refugees, they were shot. Ellie asks why, and Joel says that the dead can’t spread the infection.
This sends us into a series of flashbacks beginning on Sept 30, 2003.
A man watches on security cameras as soldiers go house to house in his town. We very shortly learn he’s a prepper with an enviable basement bunker. He sets about clearing his own house, then realizes he’s now the only one in town. And we see that he’s Nick Offerman!
We learn later his name is Bill, but before this, we are treated to a wonderful prepping scene that I honestly could have watched all day. Bill hitches his boat to his truck, steals supplies from abandoned stores, fills barrels with gasoline, breaks into Home Depot for tools and other necessities, restarts the flow of natural gas from the plant, stocks up on alcohol, hooks up a huge generator, cuts down trees, lays traps, and grows veggies, keeps chickens, and hunts. Even better, he has a warning system to trigger a proximity alarm. He has everything he needs. Or does he?
Four years after this, in 2007, he’s added a fence around town. A triggered alarm sends him to a traphole, where he finds a man (Murray Bartlett). After clearing the man of infection, he begrudgingly allows the man, Frank, into his home for a shower, clothes, and a delicious meal. Right off the bat, there was a tension between them that had me wondering whether this wasn’t just a friendly moment of good citizenship. I was delighted when a jam session (if playing piano and singing Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time“ counts as a jam session) led to Frank moving in (in more ways than one). What are the chances they would find one another?
When Frank said, “I’m going to stay for a few days,” I was not surprised when it was then 2010, three years later. Frank and Bill argue about allowing more people into their lives, with Frank getting his way and inviting Tess and Joel over. We learn about their trading needs, that Frank came up with the radio code, and that the threat of raiders is growing.
Three years after that, in 2013, Frank and Bill are working on rule #1 from Zombieland: cardio. This allows us to see that the fence has been turned into a wall of cars, and the area is growing more rundown. As happens to any self-sustaining base, raiders attempt to break in. Luckily, Bill has piped the gas in a way to set up a flamethrower trap and has electrified the fence.
Unfortunately, because he chose to shoot at the invaders out in the open, he himself gets shot. We think he dies, but ten years later, in the present timeline, it’s Frank in a wheelchair and Bill is still alive. Frank, tired of living with a debilitating, incurable disease, tells Bill, “This is my last day.” He outlines what he’d like to do (and yes, it made me cry), and Bill, despite it clearly breaking his heart, agrees.
After checking off the items on Frank’s list, Bill pours Frank a glass of wine and adds crushed pills. After Frank drinks it, Bill drinks his own glass, to which Frank asks whether the entire bottle was poisoned. Bill admits this, saying, “I’m old and satisfied” and “You were my purpose.” Did I cry again? Maybe.
Now, killing off gay characters is a bit of a cliched trope (called “bury your gays” if you’re curious). But, I would argue Bill and Frank get a pass for a few reasons: no one but Ellie and Joel have survived the season so far, there is a main character who is LGBTQ+ in the games (which I believe an episode alluded to carrying forward into the show), Bill and Frank were given an entire episode – almost movie-length – to fully-develop their characters, and their deaths were a choice which occurred with dignity and respect.
A few days after, Joel and Ellie arrive. While Joel is looking for the men, Ellie finds a key and a letter. She reads it, explaining briefly what we already know, but when the letter mentions keeping Tess safe, Joel seems to break a little. He decides to take the S10 truck to find his brother in Wyoming. Tommy used to be a Firefly, so he may know where Ellie should go next.
After Ellie sneaks a gun into her bag, the episode ends on a lighter note. Ellie changes into a red shirt (in homage to the game), and Joel is amused by her antics at being in a car for the first time (“it’s like a spaceship,” she says). As they drive away, “Long, Long Time“ plays, and the episode ends on the open bedroom window.
Despite my (admitted) tears, I did find the episode a little slow, though there were so many things I loved about it. The prepping scene, of course, the acknowledgment of menstruation (something that would be hard to deal with in an apocalypse but is rarely considered in movies/shows), the breaking of stereotypes surrounding who can be a prepper, Nick Offerman (who is always a gem), and Joel’s beginnings of paternal care for Ellie. In truth, I was not expecting the show to give us a lengthy background episode, but HBO seems to be saying, “Hey, our show has your fun zombie-like creatures and action scenes, but we also have a strong emotional core, and we’re not afraid to show it.” To that, I wave my already-cried-on tissue in surrender and say, “Bring it on.”
The next episode airs on February 5 on HBO Max.
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