‘The Last of Us’ Creators Answer a Lingering Question About Frank
He had my heart, my soul, and an appearance in one of the best episodes of TV I have ever seen.
The Last Of Us is a dark, ugly franchise. The world is populated by the most abominable zombies imaginable and lots of people die. Life in this world is, as 17th century writer Thomas Hobbes put it, “nasty, brutish, and short.”
And yet it is also so full of love.
The third episode of The Last of Us, “Long Long Time,” is a testament to this. It contains perhaps the most romantic love story I have ever seen in any genre, post-apocalyptic or no. It’s the story of a rich, beautiful love that culminates in the way that all love is doomed to follow: with a final goodbye.
This particular “goodbye” between lovers Bill and Frank was precipitated by some sort of degenerative disease. While we don’t know exactly what that disease was, we can make a few guesses.
What happens in The Last of Us episode 3?
While the episode begins with Joel and Ellie trekking to a small town outside of Boston, the real meat of the episode appears in a flashback about the history of the town and one of its most eccentric members: Bill, played by Nick Offerman. Bill is a prepper; a “survivalist,” in his words. He has been preparing for the end of the world for what seems like many years. He is distrustful, reclusive, and highly adept at a variety of survival skills. He can grow crops, wire trip mines, and cook an exquisite meal. He’s also a gifted piano player.
And the apocalypse is his time to shine.
After hiding in the basement while the military evacuates the town (and massacres all the civilians), Bill emerges and begins making some renovations. He empties the gas station of fuel, builds a high-powered electric fence, and goes on the mother of all shopping sprees at the derelict Home Depot.
Things are good for Bill for years. He is well suited for a solitary life. He believes that he has everything he needs.
And then Frank shows up and falls for him. Literally.
Their meet cute happens after Frank (Murray Bartlett) falls into a hole that Bill built to keep out infected and survivors alike. While initially skeptical of Frank, Bill soon realizes that the sweet-faced, middle aged man means him no harm. After cooking Frank a delicious meal, the two share a first kiss while seated at the piano.
And so begins a romance to last the rest of their lives.
The years pass. They fix up the town. They grow strawberries. They make friends with a younger Joel and Tess. They bicker. They make love. They grow old. They do everything that married couple does, apocalypse be damned. (Well, except for setting a flamethrower on some unsavory raiders. Not every married couple does that.)
And then Frank gets sick.
I’m crying already. What does Frank have?
While it’s never said exactly what disease Frank develops, it’s likely that it is some sort of degenerative illness. After a 10-year time jump, we find a nearly elderly Frank seated in a wheelchair. He is trying to paint, but his hands can’t quite hold a brush anymore. Bill has begun to take care of Frank entirely, cooking for him, pushing him around in the wheelchair, and carrying him in and out of bed.
There is a moment in the episode where Bill and Frank briefly discuss the illness. Bill is hoping that someday a doctor will pass by and be able to help his lover, but Frank seems to know that there’s nothing a doctor would be able to do for him anyway. While Frank’s background is never officially stated, it’s likely that he was some sort of nurse or caretaker. When Bill is shot defending their home from raiders, Frank calmly administers medical treatment to his partner. His level-headed nature under stress leads me to believe that he has been in emergency medical situations before, and his foreknowledge of his own prognosis leads me to believe that he has seen similar degenerative diseases manifest in others. He knows the end is coming, and it is close. It will be slow, and it will be painful. Instead of facing what he knows will be a long death, he decides that he will end it all with a baggie of pills crushed up in a glass of wine.
My first guess for Frank’s mystery disease is Lou-Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. When a person develops ALS, their motor neurons, which are responsible for the body’s motion, begin to degenerate and die. The process is slow, and sufferers slowly lose the ability to walk, use their hands, and even chew their food. Eventually, the sufferer loses the ability to talk, move, and finally, breathe. The process usually takes anywhere from two to five years, but can take a long as 10. In rare cases, such as the case of physicist Stephen Hawking, it is possible to live with ALS. However, this is only because Hawking developed the disease at a young age. For adults who develop the disease later in life, the disease is always fatal.
Frank’s mystery disease diagnosis was all but confirmed by the creators of the show in an interview for the official podcast. Co-creator Craig Mazin said, “We didn’t necessarily want to specify [the illness] for the audience, it was either MS or early ALS but it was a degenerative neuromuscular disorder.” MS refers to “multiple sclerosis,” an autoimmune disease which causes the body to attack itself, causing symptoms that mimic ALS. As such, the two are often misdiagnosed as one another. While MS is not always life threatening, Frank’s lack of access to medical treatment would turn this normally non-fatal disease into a fatal one.
Many victims of ALS choose to end their life on their terms, rather than waiting to succumb to the disease. Frank has made his peace with death, but Bill decides that without Frank he has no reason to continue living. Bill serves Frank and himself a bottle of wine with enough pills to “kill a horse” before taking Frank to bed so they can pass away in each other’s arms. While Frank doesn’t support the plan at first, he confesses that he finds it “incredibly romantic.”
So do we, Frank. So do we.
(Featured Image: HBO)
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