(WARNING: I use stronger language than I usually do in this blog post)
This show had a lot going for it. The casting was decent, the lines well-delivered, the writing pretty good (if relying on filler one too many times). And, so far, the source material has been faithfully adapted for the screen. But when one of my favorite characters from the video game is assassinated and replaced with an impostor, I get to be pissed about it.
The third episode starts with no medical cold opening: I mean, that’s a good sign. The video game never needed all this pointless backstory: why do we? So we launch straight into the backstory, and nothing too crazy happens in the story for a few minutes. Along the path, Joel explains some worldbuilding properties to Ellie. I ain’t complaining.
Then, surprise surprise, it cuts to backstory. Nuts. Well, I guess we’re back in 2003 again, and we get to watch as a group of soldiers evacuate a town of civilians. However, Bill, an introverted, possibly sociopathic prepper, hides in his concealed underground hideout. He then surfaces when everyone’s gone, and is delighted to have the town all to himself. He goes and secures gas, tools, food, and a multitude of other things for free. Fun stuff, I suppose.
However, I was more delighted than most to see it: Bill was one of my favorite characters from the game: he was like Joel but on steroids. He’s a rough, hardened man with kindness buried deep within him. He’s Joel if the man never met Ellie. He stands to exemplify the theme of the video game: if you push humans to the bring, you’ll find evil in them. You push farther, and their true character shines through.
But I was a bit queasy from the moment Joel mentioned “Bill and Frank” and I knew a sizable change was on the winds. However, I wasn’t too worried as all the other changes they’d made up until now were fine by me. So anyway, continuing the backstory, Bill lives a happy life until some guy shows up and steps in one of his hole traps.
Bill walks in to investigate, and takes pity on the man who hasn’t eaten in a few days. He gives him clothes, he cooks him dinner. At this point, I was an innocent sheep, blindly following this story and ignoring the warning signs that sh*t was about to go down. Because after all, Bill is a compassionate person under all that hardcore survivor. Makes sense that he would befriend Frank, right?
Well, Bill tells Frank to leave, but Frank goes over to Bill’s piano and fumbles through the first verse of a love song. Bill agrees to finish it and plays it much better, and when it’s over, Frank asks Bill who the girl was. Okay. I thought. Not sure why you wouldn’t just tell this guy to piss off and be on his way by now, and why they would include any romance in Bill’s story at all…but, eh, let’s see where it leads.
“There was no girl.” Replies Bill.
Hm. Makes sense. I thought. Bill’s never been the romantic type, and he’s a sociopath as well as mentally unstable when we come upon him in the games. I’m not sure why we had to have this scene–
Then Frank leans over and puts a long smack on Bill’s kisser.
There are a ton of problems with this scene, by way of deviation from the source material, irrelevancy to the main plot, and lack of pacing. And a dozen other things, but I’d rather just deal with my complaints than spend a few hours explaining them. But the rest of the episode goes, well, about as you’d expect: a lengthy and unevenly paced mess of homoerotic fantasy until we get fifteen minutes of Joel and Ellie at the end.
First: this romance is just a bad one. I don’t care who you are, one song played on the piano is not enough for two people to fall desperately in love with one another. Real romance unfolds over the course of a long time, and if you’re trying to build a lasting relationship, you need to establish it better than one song. Everything in this show felt realistic and grounded (with, granted, a few exceptions) until this point, except this Bill X Frank “romance”. It’s also insanely rushed: a romance with Bill of all people should have to span an entire season to have the impact they want it to, but instead we get twenty minutes of pseudoromantic lying in bed, kissing, and pretending that they’ve been a normal, happily married couple for a few seasons.
The romance is misplaced: Bill is not romantic. For him to be the tough prepper we knew and loved, we needed him to stand as the antithesis to what Joel was: someone who forsook his loved ones for survival’s sake. That was the point of his character during his tenure on the screen in the video game. Bill and Frank were never made to be gay lovers, because that would destroy the entire point of Bill’s inclusion.
The pacing is worse than Rings of Power. They spend 8-minute stretches of time not on actual character development, but with Bill and Frank lying in bed together, having a drawn-out last meal together and everything except give us a story about characters we care about. In other words, they blow forty minutes of screentime without actually developing the relationship. It’s just one love song, and they’re mAdLy iN LoVE!!
Before I get to the larger consequences of this, let’s discuss character assassination for a brief moment. Bill, the rugged survivalist we’ve loved from the games, Bill, the hardened hoarder and cautious collector, Bill, the man with a broken friendship towards his former friend, Frank, is not in this show.
In his place, there is a dummy wearing his skin suit and pretending to be Bill. I gotta say, it had me fooled up until the piano part. Bill is tough, no-nonsense, and and doesn’t take sh*t from anyone, especially Ellie. The impostor is grumpy, but any old survivor guy can be grumpy. Joel is grumpy. But whoever this is, it isn’t Bill.
Bill was in the game to exemplify the tragedy of stubbornness and a lack of love. He was hard for a reason: and that reason was to show what Joel would be like without Ellie. It’s art, brilliantly woven into a well-crafted adventure with Bill, Joel, and Ellie. This Bill teaches us none of those lessons…because he’s dead by the time Ellie and Joel get to his house.
Yep, you heard me right. This may be the worst consequence of the cheap homoerotic fantasy we got: the whole plot with Bill and Joel going to scavenge a car battery was cut to make room for it. Instead, Bill dies with Frank and conveniently leaves a car for Joel to take on his quest to find his brother.
So lemme get this straight: you eliminated Bill’s whole point of being in the story by choosing not to tell the story we found in the games, then replaced it with 40 minutes of poorly paced, unrealistic gay TLOU fanfiction, in effect ruining the characters of both Bill and Frank so you could appeal to a wider audience.
I. Am. Speechless.
Bill is not romantic. Bill is a tough motherf*cker who’s just as bloody and brutal as Joel. He fell out with Frank because he realized, if they stuck together, his friend would become a liability. And he did: Bill’s story ends in tragedy but not death, a striking example of what comes if you do not have the capacity to love your fellow man.
But nope. We get a rushed, forced, and needlessly melodramatic gay fantasy that we’re expected to care about because it’s got two men in it that has no significant impact on the wider story as a whole, replacing the source material that was far shorter, better thought-out, and more compelling.
Well, this episode has largely destroyed my good will towards the show, and while I’ll still watch and review the coming episodes for your reading pleasure, I don’t know if the show will be worth watching after my HBO subscription expires. And if that’s the case, well…I see no reason to torture myself for your enjoyment.
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