‘Last of Us’ and Linda Ronstadt: The story of Bill and Frank Song
Series co-creator Craig Mazin explains how the key to unlocking the season’s most emotional moment so far began with a text to a friend.
(Editor’s note: Contains the following spoilers for “The Last of Us” episode 3, “Long, Long Time”.)
It’s not often that a song is so pivotal to a TV episode that it ends up being the title. But given how important the Linda Ronstadt song “Long, Long Time” is to the love story of Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) in this week’s episode of “The Last of Us,” that title makes the most sense. .
In a pivotal moment early in the episode, Frank and Bill sing the 1970 Linda Ronstadt hit while playing it on an antique piano. Frank’s clumsier portrayal, paired with Bill’s enthusiastic version, ends up being the catalyst for their relationship and setting the tone for the rest of their first day together. Episode writer and series co-creator Craig Mazin (along with original game writer Neil Druckman) knew he wanted to build the episode around a musical moment, but he also included a placeholder.
“I thought this would happen, that there would be a song that they would play and we would be surprised by who was good and who was bad,” Mazin told IndieWire. “I remember saying to Neil, ‘I’m not sure what this song is, I just know it’s got to be this incredibly sad song about longing for love and never getting love and you just come to terms with it. with the fact that he will always be alone. But it can’t be on the nose. And it can’t be a song that we all know.’”
Struggling to break through and find a song that fit this specific criteria, Mazin sought help from a trusted source.
“I went through hours and hours and hours. And finally I said, “I know what I have to do. I’m going to text my friend Seth Rudetsky, who’s a Sirius XM host on Broadway and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things music,” Mazin said. “I wrote down what I needed and within 30 seconds it was (incoming text noise): ‘Long, long time by Linda Ronstadt.’ I kind of remembered that song. I was playing with it and I said, Oh honey. There is.'”
The song is from Ronstadt’s sophomore album, “Silk Purse,” and led to her first of nearly 30 Grammy nominations.
Offerman and Bartlett’s daytime performances are just the beginning for their two characters, sketching out a love story that ranks as the best episode of “The Last of Us” yet. Fitting Bill and Frank’s entire journey into a single hour of television was a daunting task, but Mazin had outside help.
“It was intended to show the arc of commitment. I’m in my 26th year of marriage, and middle-aged love is a thing. And it’s very different from love in your 20s and new love. There is something that commitment sets in motion over time,” said Mazin. “It was important for me to show that the romance, as long as it lasted, didn’t last. And then he fights. And then the bargaining. And then you realize what the other does for you. And then there’s that fear, and the passing of these characters through the stages of life as I’ve experienced them and seen my wife’s parents and other friends. The whole idea was to hit those moments in your life when love means something else. At the end, Neil said something very smart: “Even if a character isn’t in our show, in this case, these guys have a happier ending than they did in the game.”
“The Last of Us” airs Sunday nights at 9:00 PM on HBO and can be streamed on HBO Max.
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