When writing something about an episode of television that's a few days in the rearview mirror, I'd usually kick off by assuming readers have had the chance to digest and process what they watched. Or, as was the case with The Last Of Us' third episode, have recovered from what was an emotional rollercoaster. In this rare instance, I know most people reading this won't have moved on. It's hard to imagine anything in the show hitting harder than watching Joel weep as Sarah dies in his arms, but somehow Bill and Frank's story managed to do just that, and then some.
When it comes to Sarah's death, at least those of us who have played the first game were prepared. It still hit like a truck, but we knew it was coming. No one was prepared for the entirely changed story introducing, and then removing, Bill and Frank to Joel and Ellie's story. The first two episodes of the show have been fantastic, celebrated for their faithfulness to the games and the subtle tweaks made for TV. Who would have thought that turning an early part of the first game completely on its head would not only be accepted by those who have played it, but celebrated and labeled one of the best episodes of television ever made?
That's certainly where I've landed after watching it twice. It's only Wednesday as I write this, and I want to watch it a third time, I'm just not sure my heart, or my tear ducts, can take it. Apparently there's a two-hour director's cut out there somewhere. Maybe I'll wait until that finds its way out into the world, although 40 more minutes of Bill and Frank before we get to see their heart-wrenching final day might well do me in.
While I knew Bill and Frank's story was being completely retold as episode three began to unfold, the characters in the game were so different that I had largely forgotten what exactly happens to them. A quick refresher and it all came flooding back. While still brutal, it did not have the lasting impact of the adaptation's love story.
For those unfamiliar with the characters on which HBO's Bill and Frank are based, Bill is still alive in the game when Joel and Ellie come to him for a car battery. Frank, however, is not, nor did he die peacefully in his partner's arms. A letter you find a little later, along with Frank hanging from the ceiling, reveals Frank left Bill due to his insistence on simply surviving and not living, an element of Bill that Frank has to work on in the show. Frank doesn't make it far before he's bitten and decides to hang himself before he turns.
As I said, brutal, but not in the same way as the show. There's no love story and very little risk of tears. You don't know the characters well enough for that sort of reaction. Probably just something along the lines of an “oh shit” from me as I read the letter and moved on with the story. However, when I replay The Last Of Us again, which I inevitably will, probably once season one of the adaptation has finished, this part of the game will get a lot more than a passing reaction out of me.
When I reach the part of the game where Joel and Ellie meet Bill, it won't simply be a chapter I finish and move past. It will be a lot more than a quest to retrieve a car battery so that the journey across the country can really begin. The next time I meet Bill, even though I know Frank is hanging on the other side of town, it will be the retelling of their story through HBO that I apply. I'll be meeting someone who just spent the last 16 years with the love of their life. That would certainly explain why he is so grumpy and clearly broken.
It will take a little imagination on my part, of course. The town Bill calls home in the game looks very different from the show's Lincoln. There's also the not-so-minor detail of Bill still being alive. Knowing that Ellie and Bill meet in the game, as I watched episode three I clung to the hope that he had pulled a fast one on Frank. That he told the love of his life he had filled the bottle with pills to make him feel better about the decision he had made. The belief that Bill wouldn't be left alone after he died, but really, Bill just wanted him to think that and would carry on without him.
That's why the next time I play the game, that particular section will be a completely different experience. I'll never see Bill and Frank in the same way again, even though Frank is someone you never actually met before the adaptation. That said, this isn't necessarily a critique of how their story is told in the game. While video games are a better medium than most assume for telling beautiful and impactful stories, something The Last Of Us is currently showing the world, implementing episode three in video game form would have been an incredibly tricky, maybe even impossible, thing to do. Then again, if Naughty Dog wants to add a patch that replaces that part of the game with a 72-minute cutscene that's just episode three from start to finish, I'll definitely allow it.
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