THE PERFORMERS | Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman
THE SHOW | HBO’s The Last of Us
THE EPISODE | “Long, Long Time” (Jan. 29, 2023)
THE PERFORMANCES | It’s been almost a week since HBO’s post-apocalyptic drama ruined us with some strawberries and a Linda Ronstadt tune. In what was (so far) the show’s biggest digression from the video game on which it’s based, Offerman’s Bill and Bartlett’s Frank — both tangential characters in the game — took center stage and, via a pair of stunningly beautiful performances, broke our hearts.
Let’s first consider Offerman, whose turn as the gruff-yet-sensitive survivalist was a revelation. Seven seasons of Parks and Recreation taught us that the man certainly knows his way around a punchline. But we were unprepared for how well he’d convey Bill’s insecurity as a gay man who’d never been in a relationship until one literally fell into his path. That interlude that started at the piano, as Frank’s kindness and affection quickly dismantled Bill’s defenses, was stunning thanks to the vulnerability Offerman conveyed through his taciturn character’s tentative gestures: his impulse to stand as the pair kissed, his tentative stroking of Frank’s shoulder when they were later in bed.
Meanwhile Bartlett’s easy openness provided a magnificent counterpoint as Frank and Bill navigated their 16-year relationship. The culmination, of course, came as the characters sat in the parlor and Frank laid out his perfect last day. Bartlett’s eyes were wet but his voice was steady: This, his every gesture communicated, was a man who knew what he wanted and was determined — happy, even — to leave the world on his own terms. As Bill struggled mightily, Offerman looking like he was in physical pain from the onslaught of grief, Bartlett’s gentle reassurances and undemanding tone steered the scene to its eventual outcome: a place of true love and partnership.
Offerman and Bartlett, hand-in-hand with The Last of Us’ creative team, produced one of the finest episodes of television ever made. What a privilege that we all got to share in it.
HONORABLE MENTION | As Criminal Minds: Evolution set the stage for next week’s finale, we saw Rossi in positions of great strength… and heartbreaking weakness. And it all added up to a great showcase for Joe Mantegna. The cold open, which flashed back to Krystall’s funeral (where a bereft Dave was unable to watch his wife’s coffin enter the ground), was the first sign that we were getting something special. Then as the hunt for Sicarius continued, Mantegna gave us Rossi at his finest, using every trick in his books to coax Elias Voit’s wife to see the dark truth about his work trips. And when Sicarius himself appeared at Rossi’s desk? The game was truly on. Alas, Dave’s age would later betray him, when he walked into a trap set by Elias and wound up imprisoned in a bunker, leaving the BAU to hear his plaintive wails on a livestream.
HONORABLE MENTION | Poker Face‘s scheming seniors Joyce and Irene might be in a retirement home, but they can still pack a punch. Esteemed TV veterans Judith Light and S. Epatha Merkerson — who have a trophy room full of acting awards between them — made a killer duo this week as Joyce and Irene, a pair of rebellious former hippies who quickly befriend Charlie by sharing their weed stash. Light and Merkerson had a vigorous, defiant energy together as the longtime pals gleefully made mischief, and they chilled our blood, too, when we learned they were very capable of murdering anyone who stood in the way of their revolution. They even mixed it up with Charlie in a hilariously brutal fistfight after Charlie discovered their crimes. Poker Face is a terrific showcase for one-off guest stars, and Light and Merkerson proved they still have more than a few tricks left up their sleeves.
Which performance(s) knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in Comments!