‘The Last Of Us’ Gave Us The Last Great Pandemic Love Story

‘The Last Of Us’ Gave Us The Last Great Pandemic Love Story

I can’t determine the twist, but at some point “Hollywood” stopped telling pandemic stories; no more talking through masks about a shared experience that quickly shattered. Film and TV are of course a mirror of the real world.

The Last Of Us is necessarily an exception. It would be silly to fully compare the real-life COVID pandemic to the Cordyceps one in the HBO series, but there are notes that hit the same ear. Many of us know a little more about isolation, despair, loss, and what it takes to get through (and move on from) a crisis. Many of us want to forget all of those things, but The Last Of Us uses them and pushes against the walls we’ve built around ourselves.

Last night’s episode is a perfect example, with Nick Offerman as an end-of-the-world survivalist who shares his bounty with a drifter (Murray Bartlett), one meal turning into a lifetime of love and companionship.

When Bill (Offerman) lets Frank (Bartlett) into his lonely world, it’s like a bank of lights that come on, slowly with a hum before reaching full brightness. Everything is palpable, fresh sensations shaking up a life of routine and quiet unacknowledged desperation – the sight of Frank’s satisfaction with the trappings of civilization (a hot shower, clean clothes) and the taste of dinner made better by the ability to share it with someone. The sound of the piano and a Linda Rondstadt song, impulsively played by Frank and then by Bill as if given permission by that act of broken protocol in his own home. That first touch of lips and then, later, Frank’s hand on Bill’s chest as they lie in bed, one of them reassured, the other nervous.

Don’t elements of it hit harder if you’ve holed up alone or without a partner? Your awakening may not have occurred after such a long time, such a deep separation from society, or within a world so cruel, but did it not seem comparably rich and intoxicating to how the rush of sensations so familiar and at one or other way also felt so fresh?

Bill and Frank’s story continues, crammed into one episode where much more would have been warranted. But the impact of the total picture (including an ending that left many viewers reeling) serves the needs of the storytellers to talk about love as a balm for loss and fear and chaos. Safe harbor and what happens when the sea rises and even overtakes it, leaving you dark, cold and alone.

We have seen the facts of Joel’s (Pedro Pascal) life. The show’s main character has lost his daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker), and his partner, Tess (Anna Torv). He is now looking for his brother. But we didn’t really see Joel deal with those things directly, we just saw him grit his teeth and move through. With the ballad of Bill and Frank, we’re drawn closer into a show we now know is capable of reaching those emotional heights, and it’s coming for Joel, through flashbacks that add more context to Joel and Tess’s relationship and the frayed . remnants of Joel’s paternal instincts that continue to surface in his interactions with Ellie (Bella Ramsey).

However, Bill and Frank weren’t just a plot device or a bridge to get the main story from point A to point B. Their initial connection so sweet, their bickering and sounds of engagement with each other so relatable, and their ending, inspire such a variety of emotions. Theirs is a great love story in its own right, most likely the last great pandemic love story considering the aversion to stories that go to a place that resonates with a time many would like to forget.

I didn’t cry last night when I saw Bill love Frank the way he wanted to be loved on his very last day, his disease ravaged body and his will to not be a burden made clear. Not even when Bill pushed Frank’s wheelchair down the road to the boutique, as they sat quietly and finalized vows, or ate one last meal in that house they had made. That house, filled with Frank’s art and the many shades of Bill’s face, a character whose ability to love was not clear at the beginning as he hid in his composition and himself, drawn out by Frank.

In the end, when Bill decided to drink the wine too, I came so close to tears, but the charge that broke the dam was sitting down to write these thoughts, to that damn beautiful Linda Rondstadt song listening, looking at my wife, and thinking about our own time in the pandemic.

If I don’t want to turn this into a journal entry, I ask that I go into personal confession ever so slightly, but I’m at a higher risk of a bad result with COVID, which is why our level of isolation during COVID was more intense than most . Plus, in the midst of COVID, we moved 100 miles from friends and family. And so we are essentially all we have is each other, something that was made clear to us a few times when each had short but intense illnesses over the past three years.

When I think about it all, the dreams we share and how we sacrificed to protect them and each other, I am completely destroyed by Bill and Frank’s ending. Especially when you look at things through Bill’s eyes and his choice to reject a world without Frank in it, because how could you not have disappeared as your literal life purpose?

No one wants to tell pandemic stories anymore or live with the weight of it on their shoulders. Trust me, I understand why. But they are still out there and the feelings they evoke are still hidden in all of us. As I said, film and TV is a mirror, one that reflects even the things we don’t want to see. And great film and TV forces us to watch, to find a connection between what’s on the screen and what’s in our lives, even if there’s just a sliver of commonality. Above all, it forces us to feel, and that’s what last night’s episode of The Last Of Us achieved.

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