The Last of Us

The Last of Us Episode 3 Steals One Important Trick From HBO’s Best Dystopian Show

The Last of Us isn’t the first HBO show to explore how powerful connections can form even in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Murray Bartlett as Frank and Nick Offerman as Bill in The Last of Us Episode 3

Episode 3 of HBO’s The Last of Us has rightly earned a lot of praise from both TV critics and casual viewers alike.

Unlike the HBO series’ first two installments, The Last of Us Episode 3, titled “Long Long Time,” focuses on two people whose lives were not irrevocably ruined by the show’s zombie apocalypse. Instead, the episode follows Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), two men who manage to form an unbreakable, life-changing connection amidst The Last of Us’ brutal dystopian world. For that reason, “Long Long Time” isn’t just a unique installment of The Last of Us.

The episode also bucks against the largely nihilistic tone that has come to define most post-apocalyptic TV shows, books, and movies. In doing so, “Long Long Time” manages to steal one underrated trick from HBO’s other great dystopian TV series: Station Eleven.

Station Eleven & The Last of Us

In 2021, Station Eleven offered a very different post-apocalyptic story than viewers are used to seeing.


Much like The Last of Us, Station Eleven is an adaptation. Based on Emily St. John Mandel’s acclaimed 2014 novel of the same name, the 2021 miniseries follows a group of disparate survivors as they all struggle to come to terms with their shared, lingering trauma over a pandemic that wiped out most of the world’s population. At the center of the series’ story is Kirsten (Mackenzie Davis), a former child actor who has spent most of her post-apocalyptic life performing with a theatre troupe known as “The Traveling Symphony.”

Kirsten is the closest thing Station Eleven has to a primary protagonist. Over the course of its 10 episodes, the series bounces between multiple different perspectives. Like “Long Long Time,” it also jumps across multiple different time periods — some of which are set decades after Station Eleven’s game-changing pandemic, while others take place only a few days, hours, or months after it. Some characters’ storylines are even primarily set prior to society’s collapse.

What ultimately binds The Last of Us Episode 3 and Station Eleven together, though, isn’t their time-hopping narrative structures, but their shared interest in how people can come together in the wake of great tragedy. In a genre that is so often defined by how people can violently tear each other apart (see: The Walking Dead), Station Eleven and “Long Long Time” are two defiantly hopeful, subversive responses to an era of sci-fi fiction that seems to focus far more often than not on the darkest and weakest parts of humanity.

Unlike so many dystopian TV shows and movies, Station Eleven isn’t interested in hurting you.


In the same way that Bill and Frank are bonded together, in part, by Frank’s art and Linda Ronstadt’s music, the characters in Station Eleven are ultimately brought closer together by the art that comforts and challenges them. Not only do the Traveling Symphony’s plays give many of Station Eleven’s characters the chance to vocalize and grapple with their trauma, but the show’s eponymous comic book also emerges as a shared source of both escape and connection.

Those two threads, in particular, converge in Station Eleven’s finale, which actively subverts the post-apocalyptic genre’s violence-driven style of storytelling in order to place a greater focus on healing, empathy, and love. Much like “Long Long Time,” Station Eleven doesn’t actually set out to “hurt” its viewers or cause them unnecessary pain. Instead, it sets out to create a kind of open-hearted emotional catharsis that’s hard to come by in most dystopian dramas.

In its third episode, The Last of Us takes a break from all of its post-apocalyptic brutality in order to tell an “incredibly romantic” love story.

Liane Hentscher/HBO

The Inverse Analysis — Station Eleven was criminally underseen when it premiered on HBO Max in December 2021. Most TV viewers seemed to take only one look at its pandemic-centric premise before deciding, in our post-Covid world, that they didn’t need to watch another dour and depressing post-apocalyptic show. That’s not what Station Eleven actually is, of course.

Now, given the success of The Last of Us, it looks like viewers may finally be open again to the story that Station Eleven has to offer. In fact, if The Last of Us Episode 3’s overwhelmingly positive reception is any indication, viewers seem to be more in the mood for stories about survivors who find love and closure even in the face of immense, global hopelessness than they’ve ever been before.

Fortunately, that’s something Station Eleven has in spades.

Station Eleven and The Last of Us are available to stream on HBO Max.

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