By Frankie-Robin Cooper, Staff-Writer/Co-Host
Florida Man waits out Fedra evacuation, creates safe haven amidst horrific fungal outbreak, takes in another man and proceeds to create one of the most gut-wrenching romantic sequences in cinema since Disney’s UP.
Honestly, I was a bit surprised when I didn’t wake up to this particular headline the morning after the third episode of The Last of Us dropped. Watching the third episode for the first time, I found myself wondering if I was still watching the horror-zombie-show that I’d signed up for. By the end of the episode, I didn’t really care.
Episode three of the The Last of Us is a story within a story. Rather than continuing the adventures of the main characters Joel and Ellie, it provides backstory for two side characters, Bill and Frank, whose sanctuary the main characters are journeying towards. Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t seen it, in which case, stop reading this review right now and get on that.
What’s most intriguing about this episode for me is that the backstory of Bill and Frank has little to no effect on the main storyline. By the time Joel and Ellie arrive at the sanctuary, the two lovers are dead, and their home more or less serves as a rest point for the main characters to regroup and restock for the next episode.
However, The Last of Us took what could have been a simple, brief plot point and made an entire story out of it. This risky and ingenious move on the part of the writers not only provides the audience with a bit of a brain-break from the main story while exploringthe underlying themes of the series through new and intriguing characters, but also provides the audience with a damn good story and one hell of a good cry.
In my opinion which, mind you, doesn’t hold a lot of water, this story is a great representation of queer folks. Bill and Frank aren’t just archetypes of gay men or silhouettes of gay characters for which you have to fill in the space. They are fleshed out, flawed human beings with different goals, quirks, and attitudes towards life, and yet despite these differences manage to create a home together through their love for one another. That’s impressive within itself, and we haven’t even gotten to the part where they’re doing all of this despite a literal apocalypse going on. Bill and Frank are heroes in their own right.
There are also a lot of other things that this episode does right. For one thing, despite it being about the lives, romance, and eventual death of two great characters amidst the world burning all around them, it made me laugh several times. The Last of Us has the art of tragedy down to a science, yet it never fails to make the characters human. It doesn’t try too hard to be funny, but rather lets the characters and their quirks charm the audience. Bill going unbridled Florida man after his town is evacuated and literally hitting up Home Depot is not only a logical response to the situation, but Bill’s Ron-Swanson-esque manner of doing it and attitude towards it is what makes it funny. This humor is also well-timed and feels well earned for the audience, who has just experienced a main character death in the previous episode. “Not today, you jackboot fucks” Bill mutters to himself while hiding with a shotgun in his basement during the FEDRA evacuation. The same concept also often applies to Ellie whose character makes logical decisions given her situation, but whose attitude and very human reactions to things make you grin.
Finally, one other thing I think this episode did really well was continuing the underlying themes of the series as a whole. Joel has just lost a romantic partner, so while this may seem like a random place to introduce a touching love story in a series about mushroom-zombies, its timing gives Joel’s grief more depth. Additionally, Bill’s final instructions to Joel to protect those he can, intended to be about Tess, solidify what I predict will be one of the largest themes of the series: the idea that human strength lies in its ability to cultivate love even in the most hostile conditions. This applies not only to Bill/Frank and Joel/Tess, but also in the familial love being cultivated between Joel and Ellie. But that remains to be seen.