I watched this gameplay of “Bill’s Town” before this week’s episode. I thought it’d be nice to have a fresh perspective on that portion of the game to compare to Bill’s introduction to the TV show.
Turns out that was entirely unnecessary since this episode is an all new and original story. Game references and direct quotes are few and far between. We are barely with Joel and Ellie, instead spending the bulk of the time reliving in a flashback of prepper Bill’s post-apocalyptic love story with his partner Frank. It’s a rare kind of story in The Last of Us, one with a happy and satisfying ending.
The power of adapting for TV strikes again with the ability to just breathe. The pressure of player control is nonexistent and viewers are instead taken on a journey. There is time for proper meals, exercise, and gardening. We never get this sense of life in the game, outside of part of Left Behind and a small bit in Part II. Bill and Frank have been rewritten in a way that makes me wish the game version of Bill could have gotten this ending.
It has never been a secret that Bill and Frank were a couple. I find the dialogue and performances in the game have always clearly conveyed that, but I suppose the absence of Frank’s living presence in the game left room for doubt. As soon as Murray Bartlett was announced as Frank in July 2021, I expected a flashback that would still lead to his untimely, bite-driven death. At least I was right about the flashback.
I love the transition to Bill’s town. We get Joel and Ellie hoofing it there and Joel tries to dissuaded Ellie from seeing a mass grave. Undeterred by Joel’s warning, we walk right up to a ditch full of skeletons. We see weathered, but patterned clothing (which I actually thought may be Frank’s Hawaiian tastes). We then go back to 2003 and see a mother and baby boarding a FEDRA truck to be driven off to slaughter. An absolute gut punch that further establishes FEDRA’s brutality and the chaos of the beginning of the pandemic. From here on out, we never leave this little town.
Bill’s prepping has paid off as FEDRA leaves and he has the entire run of the place. This opening montage of errands is a treat. Seeing Bill do the thing is fun, which isn’t something The Last of Us is particularly known for. And seeing the evolution and advancement of Bill’s traps builds on that fun.
It doesn’t take long for us to meet Frank, who fell in a hole. It also does not take long for Bill’s walls to come down. The rush of their budding didn’t feel like a product of television, but rather the apocalypse. Bill amplified more so by an implied life of isolation. Bill was primed for the end of the world, but he was not prepared for someone like Frank.
Frank’s pushing of boundaries felt real, especially with making a connection with Tess and Joel. Their meal together was such a contrast to the way we have seen and know these characters. The celebration of returning to the old ways; breaking bread and making new friends. The respect that Joel and Bill forge here is strong. Joel continues to show the audience his hardness and ability to command a situation.
My favorite moment in the episode was the surprise of strawberries. The longing for fresh, sweet fruit in a hardened world melts my heart. I’m reminded of Samwise asking Frodo if he remembers the taste of strawberries. It’s the little things that bring life, flavor, and texture to our humanity. Finding and growing strawberries mirrors Bill and Frank’s life being cultivated and sweetened against the contrast of a bitter world. And just like strawberries, the sweetness is gone far too soon.
Not long after, we taste that bitterness when the Hunters attack. This scene reminds me of the opening scene in the game. We are beside Frank, soaking in his perspective of this attack on their home. He cries out wondering where his partner and protector are, but still slinks downstairs and somewhat cautiously handles a small pistol. It’s like violence is foreign to him.
With the rain pouring down and Bill’s traps popping off, we see the mighty Bill struck down. I thought for a moment they were going to kill Bill right there as a wild swing away from the game as means to explain why Frank can’t take Ellie across country. Instead, we jump forward one last time to a sick and disabled Frank. The unfairness of it hits immediately.
The following day when Frank declares his intent to take his life after a perfect day, the wholeness of it all falls into place. It’s a path Bill was not prepared for, and as someone whose identity is wrapped up in order, it’s an big pill to swallow. Bill never struck me as a man to accept the loss of Frank. He would fight tooth and nail to keep Frank. Seeing his content compliance throughout the day, struck me not as a person preparing for the next phase of life, but enjoying the end of it. Inhibitions fade away. Relationship and time are savored.
The love story of Bill and Frank is a romantic version of the story of Joel and Ellie. Bill’s letter conveys that kindred spirit of the two protectors. It’s also a happy ending to that story. One that I don’t think we’ll be getting more of throughout the season. It’s like the sadder, more broken Bill from the game said “Once upon a time, I had somebody that I cared about—a partner—somebody I had to look after. And in this world, that sort of s*** is good for one thing—getting ya killed.”
Another unexpected route for this review. Perhaps I went the beat-by-beat route because of the review podcasts I have been listening to as the season plays out.1 Reviewing this show is a like a fun sprint writing challenge of exploring my feelings within a week. I love it.
As is now tradition now, here are some other observations and tidbits I noticed.
- Frank not wearing one Hawaiian shirt the entire episode is a huge miss. Rest in peace tacky Frank.
- Coming off of episode two and the introduction of the Clickers, I was skeptical they’d hop right to a Bloater this week. I’m glad they didn’t. This episode makes a lot of sense when you consider how much of the narrative was told through gameplay in the Bill’s Town portion of the game.
- I didn’t touch on the opening sequence above. Nice to see Joel and Ellie enter the “wandering across the country” portion of their relationship. Small caring touches from Joel, like the jacket. Ellie sneaking off in the basement is quite important, I think. A rebellious spirit is in her, alongside a darker violent curiosity. She pushes boundaries (how else would she have gotten bitten?) This is some early groundwork for her arch in Part II.
- The goal of getting a truck battery is now complete. Interested in this rescue of Tommy. We’ve realigned with the game’s narrative of taking Ellie to Tommy to find out if he knows where the Firefly base would be.
- I know I mentioned them above in the proper review, but hot dog Bill’s traps were awesome. The saws spitting sparks to make basically a fire fence was dope.
- I like the touch that Bill left Joel a note. It is a touchstone to the letter Frank writes in the game that is a collectible. The “hehehehehe” was delivered perfectly.
- We finally see the very Uncharted 3-esque airplane shot that was teased so long ago.
- I enjoyed Frank’s reaction to Bill joining him in death. I’m actually glad Frank still chooses suicide in the show. Sure, his death in the game was driven by bites from Infected, but still, control over his death is in Frank’s nature. I’m glad this trait made it into the show.
- Ellie swiping Frank’s gun continues this week by week build up to her taking a life. Could happen next week with them facing Hunters.
- If they do not play Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” when they roll into Kansas City, the production team will have forsaken me.
1. I haven’t listened to any about this episode though. Always want my thoughts to be original before hearing other folks’ takes.