Much ado has been made about episode three of “The Last Of Us,” which took a quick detour from zombie violence to tell an overly long, extra sentimental gay love story.
Mainstream media celebrated the romance, calling it “a wonderfully powerful, achingly human story.” Conservative critics, meanwhile, rolled their eyes and insisted it was just another attempt to mainstream the LGBT agenda into every facet of pop culture.
While many opinions circulated about the merit of the sexual relationship between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), almost no viewers zeroed in on another vital component of the episode “Long, Long Time”: the glorification of suicide.
This concept is nothing new for Hollywood. The 2016 film “Me Before You,” which was based on a Jojo Moyes book by the same name, made the case for assisted suicide as well. That story features a caregiver named Louisa (Emilia Clarke) falling in love with a quadriplegic man named Will (Sam Claflin) and attempting to show him life is worth living. In the end, he heads to Switzerland to die anyway.
Moyes faced backlash in that instance and fought back, saying, “it was a kind of extraordinary situation but also one that it was very difficult to judge, because unless you put yourself in somebody’s shoes, I think you shouldn’t judge their action.” She also insisted that there was ambiguity over which decision was “correct,” citing her own experience with family requiring round-the-clock medical care as a partial catalyst for writing the story.
“The fact is, in the film as in the book, nobody else agrees with what [Will] decides to do. This is not by any means sending out a message,” the author said during a 2016 interview. “It’s just about one character – it’s nothing more than that.”
One more popular, suicide-glorifying television show was Netflix’s controversial teen drama, “13 Reasons Why.” That series at least had mixed reviews, with media outlets weighing in on whether it was safe and healthy to market a teen revenge fantasy featuring a graphic suicide portrayal as entertainment.
One report found that suicides among children aged 10 to 17-years-old saw a 28.9% increase in April 2017 following the show’s release, though the experts are divided on whether the show was a major contributing factor.
But when it came to Bill and Frank drinking poisoned wine on purpose in “The Last of Us,” everyone seemed to agree it was sweet and poignant, not tragic.
The basic gist of the story was that hardcore prepper Bill lived alone in his heavily-armed, super-fortified home amid the end of the world as we know it following a deadly zombie apocalypse. Bill was surviving, unhappily, until Frank stumbled into one of his traps and then talked his way into the carefully guarded fortress. The pair went on to enjoy a romantic relationship spanning two decades.
One of the most quoted lines of the episode was Bill saying, “I was never afraid before you showed up,” indicating how falling in love with Frank gave him a new lease on life. But in the more current scenes, it’s obvious that Frank is suffering from a degenerative disease and wants to kill himself so he’s not a burden on Bill anymore. Bill reluctantly agrees to help by poisoning a glass of wine. In the last hours of their lives, Bill reveals that he’s poisoned his wine as well so he’ll never have to live without Frank.
Upon learning Bill poisoned the entire bottle of wine, Frank says, “I do not support this. But from an objective point of view, it’s incredibly romantic.”
This Romeo and Juliet ending is painted as a moral good and understandable, given the circumstances. But the very fact that these two were able to live happy, fulfilled lives in the wake of a literal apocalypse, carving out an objectively happy life together in that impossible situation, is enough to negate all the pro-suicide overtones of this episode. Maybe it’s “romantic” to think Bill couldn’t live without Frank. But before Frank came along, he couldn’t imagine life getting better than sitting around, drinking beer, and watching zombies get zapped on CCTV. Suffering is a part of the human experience and sometimes we don’t find out the purpose for years to come, or even in this lifetime.
It would be easier for everyone in the series to give up trying. The world is full of danger, death, destruction, sorrow, and unimaginable loss. And yet everyone on “The Last of Us” seems determined to survive anyway.
The new hit HBO Max series is based on a video game and it’s worth noting that Bill and Frank’s story in the game is wildly different than it is in the TV series. Frank does commit suicide in the game, but it’s because he “hated [Bill’s] guts” and “wanted a better life,” per the suicide note. Meanwhile, Bill goes on living and supplies the main characters Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) with a car to drive west.
At this point, our culture is becoming numb to the concept of assisted suicide in the face of adversity. One only needs to gaze north to Canada and its MAID (medical assistance in dying) program to see where this all leads. Those who are elderly, sick, poor, or even heartbroken in the wake of loss may be encouraged to seek death as a means of escape.
This concept of embracing suicide as a noble choice is creeping in quietly through channels like mainstream books, movies, and television. Just don’t be surprised when being pro-assisted suicide becomes just as pervasive and deadly as the cordyceps fungus on the show.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free hotline for individuals in crisis or distress or for those looking to help someone else. It is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.