Recapping Episode 3
The second episode of HBO’s The Last of Us left us reeling after the death of Tess and confirmation of Ellie’s immunity against the Cordyceps fungus. In the moments before she sacrificed herself, Tess tells Joel to get Ellie to Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), who will be able to take care of the young girl. In Episode 3, we’re given a look into Bill and Frank’s backstory as Joel and Ellie begin their new journey to find them. The episode’s title, “One More Good Day”, hints at the sad ending to Bill and Frank’s otherwise heartwarming story. While they may not have gotten a traditional happily ever after, HBO does give the couple justice in light of their relatively underdeveloped story in the original game. We’re able to see the smaller but no less significant, parts of their relationship as well as the subversion of the “Bury Your Gays” trope.
The two first meet in 2007. Bill, prior to meeting Frank, was a paranoid doomsday prepper and the onslaught of an actual apocalypse only amplified his survivalist tendencies. He’s got everything he needs to survive, food, supplies, and even wine; the only thing he lacks is a purpose to continue living. Luckily enough, that purpose comes in the form of Frank having the misfortune (or maybe good luck?) to fall into one of the many booby traps Bill has set up around his house. Frank persuading Bill to let him into his home for a shower and some food marked the beginning of the end.
We see the two men begin to form a bond over their shared love of food and music, namely Gary White’s Love, Long Time. The conversation turns to Bill’s attraction to men, which he says he never acted on. Frank assures him that they can start slow. It’s worth noting that in the original game, Frank is hinted at being Bill’s romantic partner, but it’s never explicitly confirmed as it is in the show. In the rest of the episode, the couple begins to take part in more domestic behaviors and they slip into a comfortable, almost normal life that is rare in their post-apocalyptic world.
However, Bill is still fearful that he will somehow lose everything, and this paranoia is only made worse by the fact that he now has someone he cares about: Frank. Now that he has someone who encourages him to enjoy his life despite the catastrophe just outside their home, Bill is torn between reveling in domesticity or fighting to survive.
His worst fears seem to personify themselves in the form of the unnamed illness that eventually cripples Frank. Now terminally ill, Frank asks his partner to assist in his suicide. Based on the earlier parts of the episode, it was clear to me that Bill would not live his life without Frank, stating that “…You [Frank] were my purpose.” My theory was unfortunately proven right when the couple both enjoy a final glass of wine laced with a lethal dose of painkillers. Their deaths are dignified and they go in peace in the comfort of their own home. By the time Joel and Ellie arrive, all they find is a letter from Bill that says Joel is free to take the rest of his supplies and to please not go into the bedroom and see their corpses. In a world where most people don’t get to die on their own terms, Bill and Frank’s deaths seem like their version of a happy ending.
How the show subverted the “Bury Your Gays” trope
When compared to their story in the video game, Bill and Frank’s mutual suicide was a much more fulfilling ending. In the original game lore, Joel and Ellie are able to get to Bill’s house and find him alive, but later realize that Frank has killed himself. Bill is reluctant to talk about the nature of their relationship and it’s clear the two had some unresolved conflict at the time of Frank’s suicide. As Joel and Ellie take their leave, Bill has left a bitter and broken man. We never see him in the game again.
Compare this to the way Bill and Frank are portrayed in the show; they are openly depicted as a gay couple and they go out on their own terms, having accepted their story is coming to an end. This episode did an amazing job at subverting the “Bury Your Gays” trope aka the view that LGBTQ+ characters are more expendable than their heteronormative counterparts. This usually leads to them being one of the first to die or suffer an otherwise unnecessarily gruesome death. This episode refrains from using any of those stereotypes; Bill and Frank’s story is portrayed in extreme detail and they are given more central roles when compared to their video game counterparts.
The couple is able to enjoy a domestic life and is not put through unnecessary or misplaced trauma. I also applaud this episode for not depicting them as victims. Bill and Frank were not implied to have died for some greater cause, they go out on their own terms rather than acting as a martyr or sacrifices. In fact, their deaths are the exact opposite of the “Bury Your Gays” trope; in Bill’s final letter to Joel, he asks him and Ellie to leave their decaying bodies alone and neither they nor the audience ever see them. The couple’s deaths are not gruesome nor violent; the ending of their story was sad but it fits well within the overarching plot of the show. In other words, they got to live out the full extent of their lives in peace and their deaths were not for nothing.
This episode gave Bill and Frank the redemption they deserved, especially considering their less-than-satisfactory ending in the original video game. Their story was a much-needed reprieve in a time when we’re seeing many queer characters die young or without reason. They may have still died in the end, but as Bill said, “This isn’t the tragic suicide at the end of the play. I’m old. I’m satisfied.”