[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “The Last of Us” Episode 3, “Long, Long Time.”]
It’s not often that a song is so crucial to a TV episode that it ends up becoming the title, too. 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,” it’s the title that makes most sense.
An early, pivotal moment in the episode sees Frank and Bill sing the 1970 Linda Ronstadt hit while playing it on an antique piano. Frank’s clumsier rendition, paired with Bill’s soulful version, ends up being a catalyst to their relationship and sets the tone for the rest of their first day together. Craig Mazin, episode writer and series co-creator (along with original game writer Neil Druckmann), knew that he wanted to structure the episode around a musical moment, but it came with a placeholder.
“I had the thought that this would happen, that there was a song that would be played, and that we would be surprised by who was good at it and who was bad at it,” Mazin told IndieWire. “I remember saying to Neil, ‘I’m not sure what the song is, I just know that it has to be this incredibly sad song about yearning for love, and never getting love, and just making your peace with the fact that you 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 make that breakthrough and find a song that fit all that specific criteria, Mazin sought some help from a trusted source.
“I went through hours and hours and hours. And finally, I was like, ‘I know what to do. I’m going to text my friend Seth Rudetsky,’ who is a host on Sirius XM On Broadway, and has this encyclopedic knowledge of all music,” Mazin said. “I described what I needed and within 30 seconds, it was [incoming text noise] ‘Long, Long Time by Linda Ronstadt.’ I kinda remembered that song. I played it and was like, ‘Oh, my. There it is.’”
The song came from Ronstadt’s sophomore album, “Silk Purse,” and led to her first of nearly 30 eventual Grammy nominations.
Those living room performances from Offerman and Bartlett are just the beginning for their two characters, charting a love story that makes for the best “The Last of Us” episode so far. Fitting Bill and Frank’s full journey into a single hour of TV was a daunting task, but Mazin had outside help with that, too.
“The intention was to show the arc of commitment. I’m in my 26th year of marriage, and middle-age love is a thing. And it’s a different thing than love in your 20s and new love. There’s something that gets kicked off by commitment over time,” Mazin said. “It was important for me to show that the romance, however long it lasted, it didn’t last. And then it’s arguing. And then it’s bargaining. And then it’s realizing what the other person does for you. And then it’s fear, and pulling these characters through the stages of life as I’ve been experiencing them and I’ve seen my wife’s parents experience and other friends experience. The whole idea was to hit the highlights of moments in your life where love means something different. In the end, Neil said something really smart: ‘Even if a character doesn’t make it in our show, in this case, these guys had a happier ending than they did in the game.’”
“The Last of Us” airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on HBO and is available to stream on HBO Max.
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