With its third episode, the emotionally lovely and ultimately heartbreaking "Long Long Time," The Last of Us offers up an hour of TV that will surely be talked about for the rest of the year. Taking a detour from the main story of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) trekking west from the Boston quarantine zone, the episode introduces the characters of Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) and follows their love story across the twenty-year expanse of the pandemic. In doing so, The Last of Us series creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann make their most significant departure from the video-game source material yet, telling what is essentially a brand new story — one punctuated by a pair of soundtrack choices so breathtakingly perfect that they demand recognition.
The first is the song that lends the episode its title, "Long Long Time," made famous by Linda Ronstadt. It's the song that unlocks the episode's emotional core. As we depart from Joel and Ellie for a while, we circle back to Bill, who survived the military's purges at the beginning of the pandemic by hiding out in his doomsday-prepper hidden bunker. Once the troops cleared out, Bill was left alone to build what was essentially a fortress of solitude, where he could live off of his survivalist know-how in relative comfort, including gas-stove cooking, fresh produce from the garden, and an extravagantly stocked wine rack.
Four years later, Frank turns up. And while Bill is reluctant to let anyone, even someone this ruggedly handsome, into his home for a hot shower and a warm meal, he does. Frank notices something about Bill, this man who knows enough to pair roast rabbit with a beaujolais, that viewers haven't. And when he spots the antique piano (Bill's late mother's) in the living room, he eventually coaxes Bill to play. The song, sung so delicately by Offerman that the scene itself might shatter at any moment, is "Long Long Time," the 1970 ballad that was Ronstadt's first charting single as a solo artist.
The lyrics linger. "Love will abide, take things in stride / Sounds like good advice but there's no one at my side." Bill has made himself vulnerable, against all better judgment, and he's rewarded, as we would all hope to be, with Frank laying an impossibly tender kiss on his lips.
The song's aesthetic qualities and evocative lyrics are apparent, but it's worth lingering on its history as well. Ronstadt recorded it for her album Silk Purse, her first solo effort after breaking through with the band Stone Poneys and their hit recording of "Different Drum." For this new album, she went to Nashville and opened herself up to a more southern country sound, distinct from the California folk-rock she came up with. It would be the first of many times that Ronstast would adapt and explore musical genres, moving through rock, folk, Latin music, her collaborations with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, and even a Broadway stint. For anyone who knows her career, "Long Long Time" is a potent reminder of Ronstadt's ability to make a home in any genre. And it marks the beginning of Bill and Frank making their own home together.
The episode jumps ahead in time in chunks, a few years here and there. Frank pushes Bill to let him reach out to other survivors, which turn out to be Joel and Tess (Anna Torv) in a flashback. Their partnership evolves and changes them both. Bill is an ornery son of a b*tch (he keeps his gun on the table during Joel and Tess' visit), but for Frank, he's exposed more of himself: "I was never afraid before you showed up." Frank, in turn, toughens up. When a band of raiders attack at night, right at the moment an audience trained in apocalyptic TV might expect sweet Frank to be killed in order to set Bill on a mission of revenge, Frank is instead able to help Bill fight the intruders off. Two queers against the world, staying alive for each other.
But with one final 10-year time jump ahead to the present timeline, it's time for The Last of Us to slip in the knife. It's not cordyceps or roving gangs of survivors who get the jump on Bill and Frank's wonderful life but a simple degenerative disease that's left Frank with increasingly limited mobility. Frank informs Bill that today will be his last day, that they're going to dress up, have a proper dinner, and then he's going to down a bottle of pills and die in Bill's arms. And here's where that second piece of music kicks in, the instrumental piece "On the Nature of Daylight" from composer Max Richter.
Richter has had an extensive career in film and television, including his rightfully acclaimed score for The Leftovers. "On the Nature of Daylight," written for the little-seen film Disconnect, has been borrowed extensively for other works, everything from Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island to Hulu's Castle Rock. By far the most effective use of the piece was in director Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, where it scored the final five minutes of the film, as Amy Adams' character — gifted with the ability to see her whole life at once — looks back and ahead at at the devastation of losing her daughter to illness at a young age. Despite knowing the pain she'll face, she embraces the path ahead.
If you're so inclined, it's not hard to see indirect parallels to Bill and Frank and their lives together. Bill could have stayed cold and hardened, alone and safe. He could have sent Frank on his way when he first turned up and never known the pain that lay years down the road. But he let himself be open and loved, vulnerable and afraid. He faced down the end of the world not in a fortress alone but in a home and a partnership built for two. And with that satisfaction, Bill too lets it all go, not in despair but in gratitude.
The episode ends with Ronstadt's recording of "Long Long Time" playing over Joel and Ellie as they depart down the road, with some of Bill and Frank's supplies in tow. Bill and Frank's song was a promise to each other to stay devoted and together for as long as they could. That blessing has now passed over to Joel and Ellie, whose story together is still only beginning.
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Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: The Last of Us, Bella Ramsey, Linda Ronstadt, Max Richter, Murray Bartlett, Nick Offerman, Pedro Pascal