Episode 3 of “The Last of Us” has unsurprisingly caused a ginormous upsurge of emotions in the fans of the game and the fans of TV. It wouldn’t be preposterous to say that the episode almost has a Rorschach effect. You can truly tell a lot about a person just by their reaction to “Long, Long Time.” If you’ve at least skimmed through the recap of the episode, you know that it took me significantly longer than I expected to dry my eyes (cut me some slack). And once I was done making peace with the fact that someone other than Mike Flanagan could create something so devastatingly beautiful that I would bawl like a baby, I could take a moment and look back at some of the inconspicuous finer details that might have gotten lost within the deluge of emotions. What spurred the most contemplation were Joel and Bill’s characters—the congruities of their respective principles and personalities and their noticeable polarities.
We don’t have access to Bill’s past. Whatever may have happened to make him a paranoid survivalist must’ve been scarring enough for him to keep the world at bay even before the Cordyceps massacre. A normal man wouldn’t lace his home with a state-of-the-art surveillance system. Like our Bill, Joel instinctively kept the world at arm’s length, barring his daughter Sarah. He was never much of a sharer, even when it came to his own brother, Tommy. Selfishness, both as an innate intention and a spontaneous choice, came easy for the two. Despite having accumulated enough resources to help out other people in need, Bill hoarded it all for himself. It didn’t rattle the man to see innocents getting loaded into the military van to be murdered. A frenzied instance of an incandescent riot provoked a similar selfish reaction from Joel, who did not stop his truck to lend a much-needed helping hand to a family with a little girl. There was nothing cavalier about Bill and Joel’s focused concern for themselves and the people they were closest to.
Exceptionally cynical by nature, the two characters would’ve probably been best friends if the irony of their very elements didn’t stand in the way of it. While Joel’s withdrawn bleakness was only hardened by Sarah’s unbelievably tragic demise, Bill must’ve been an outcast for long enough for him to embrace the perks of seclusion. But when one is detached from the world outside for far too long, they will inevitably develop a sense of distrust towards anyone they come across. Being a smuggler and proving his efficacy to people of all manners still didn’t make Joel all that social. If anything, seeing the prospective brutality of people around him only strengthened his urge to keep to himself. In the case of Bill, finding love in a stranger and building a storybook romance with him still couldn’t eat away at his skepticism of people in general. Therefore, all he could get himself to do while having a garden party of sorts was to point his gun at Joel, a questionably quiet stranger he had just met.
Granted, they did not become friends who hugged or probably even shared pleasantries when they met, but what they unquestionably saw and respected in each other was something of far more value. It is universally true of human nature to inevitably recognize fundamental similarities in one another, even if their very nature bars them from emphatically acknowledging or appreciating the commonalities. Passionately picky about who he would welcome into his exceptionally small circle, Joel trusted Bill enough for his name to be the first thing to pop into his mind whenever trouble brewed. Similarly, Bill observed something in Joel that was undeniably true of himself as well. At the center of all their actions, there was but one predominant drive—their devotion to protecting the ones they cared about at any cost. It is that shared sense of acknowledgment that made Joel take a trip to Bill’s place for the sake of Ellie. It is that discreet respect that he has for Joel that makes Bill choose him to protect Frank when he thinks that he is not going to survive the gunshot. It was even more discernible in his suicide note that was left for “whomever, but probably Joel,” where he, for the first time and sadly, for the last, candidly confessed to his acknowledgment of their similitude.
In all of their detectable parallels, one thing stood as a stark contrast between Bill and Joel. While Joel’s heart, or any abilities he had to experience emotional vulnerabilities, progressively perished in the course of 20 abominable years, Bill’s emotional capacity for love was still left untainted. It took him but a moment of genuine warmth to open his heart to Frank. Not only did he take in Frank and essentially save his life, but what he conclusively gave him was a home with all the splendidness of love. Living in the horror of a turbulently collapsing world, Bill had it in him to forge a storybook romance where the two elevated and completed each other. While Bill could be the one to tend to the gritty practicalities, he celebrated the enlivening romance in Frank as he radiated hope and represented all that one should be lucky to hold on to in a rotten world. When held up against Bill’s emotional capacity, Joel’s lack thereof is staggering. The scraps of love that he might have been capable of dissipated when his daughter died in his arms. Looking back at Episode 2, Tess’ heart-wrenching words echoed the aching longing she felt for the reciprocation of her feelings—something that Joel could never give her. His bewildering emotional unavailability made it impossible for him to communicate how he truly felt or even to put a label on their relationship. He took a pause and hesitated to address Tess with an obvious term of affection when he was speaking to Bill. What enabled Bill to live a life most would kill for, even in a world not doomed, was the very thing missing in Joel. Perhaps things would have turned out considerably less dreary if love came as easily for Joel as it did Bill, but that’s a thought too gloomy to linger on for now.