WWhen I woke up on Monday, it was immediately clear The last of us had aired a future classic. The applause was unrelenting, with many sharing their appreciation for the latest installment in the HBO video game adaptation alongside the water cooler, across social media and, in this author’s case, on the tube. Fans who hadn’t seen the episode were urged to “prepare” — and for good reason: “Long, Long Time” was beautiful and touching as hell. It was beautifully written and impeccably acted. It was worthy of all the hoopla; I just wish I hadn’t been privy to flattery beforehand.
*Spoiler alert – you have been warned*
It’s weird that a new TV show would go from its format as early as three episodes, but that’s what it is The last of us did. Viewers who tuned in when the episode aired live, whether it be Sunday night in the US or Monday morning in the UK, were stunned by the story at its core: a two-decade love story between two men who fall in love after the breakout of Cordyceps destroys civilization.
This gear change would have come as a surprise to those who expected the action to stay with main characters Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsay). Instead, it turns the pages back to flesh out an earlier chapter in a romance between two lonely souls – Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) – from their first strained encounter to their deaths. Those who couldn’t see the episode right away would have spoiled that detail and sat down and known that what they would see would be different than they otherwise expected: in every other post-apocalyptic show, Bill’s gruffness has him perhaps overpowered and even led to Frank’s untimely murder before their love could develop.
Viewers would also have realized too soon that the 75-minute segment, directed by Peter Hoar, was branded as one of the best in television history.
But all of this may have affected some people’s ability to find it so brilliant, which doesn’t detract from its quality. Long, Long Time, so titled after the sanely named Linda Ronstadt song featured in the episode (streaming Spotify to heaven, no doubt), was another masterclass from writer and co-creator Craig Mazin. Once again, he’s proven critics wrong when they ignore someone for their credits to date — before he becomes one of television’s most acclaimed showrunners with hits like that Chernobylhe wrote two Scary Movie films and the Hangover trilogy.
That said, there’s no getting away from the fact that watching an episode of TV knowing that what you’re about to see was so celebrated can take the shine off the thing. It’s the nature of the beast in the social media era when discussions are inevitable as soon as a new movie or TV episode is out. It’s wonderful to see the work unfold, but is a few days of discretion really too much to ask?
The most surprising thing about the episode, at least to non-video game players, wasn’t its events but its placement in the series. It’s a bold decision to deviate from the main storyline so early when you’re trying to keep viewers interested, who may still be deciding whether to continue watching. It definitely paid off. But discovering this revelation organically for yourself is an essential part of the experience. As a wise man (Alex Turner) once sang, “Anticipation has a habit of preparing you for disappointment.” He has a point.
The Last of Us & Happy Valley | binge or bin
When Lost started when I was 13 and barely used the internet. Watching each episode was like stepping into the unknown – some might not have been as good as others, but when those big moments came, it was their unexpectedness that helped make it my favorite show. This week especially, I’m longing for a time when that was the norm; I doubt we’ll ever experience a show the same way again.
It’s the very definition of a first world problem, but I think we should all think twice before forewarning anyone that the next episode is a “special” episode. Most people loved The last of us‘s third episode; I just think they could have done without heads-up.