Heartbreaking ‘The Last of Us’ episode could finally score Nick Offerman his first Emmy bid for acting

HBO’s “The Last of Us” continues to draw millions of viewers into its bleak, fungus-infused apocalypse. Week two of the video game adaptation saw the largest week-to-week increase in viewership in the history of this cable giant. Looking beyond any viewership metrics, though, the show’s third episode, “Long, Long Time,” has the potential to correct one of the greatest sins in awards show history: it could finally snag an acting Emmy nomination for Nick Offerman. (SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE FOLLOW)

SEE Here comes the ‘shroom: ‘The Last of Us’ renewed for Season 2 by HBO

Episode three spends most of its running time in flashbacks. After the cordyceps fungus destroys civilization, extreme survivalist Bill (Offerman) hides out in his homemade bunker until he is the last resident standing in Lincoln, Massachusetts. He raids a Home Depot, walls off the town with an electric fence, and lays booby traps to take down any stray infected humans. But his solitary world is interrupted when a stranger named Frank (Murray Bartlett) is ensnared in one of Bill’s traps. Bill hesitantly allows Frank into his home for a shower and lunch, and the pair slowly feel each other out until giving into romantic desires.

The audience follows Bill and Frank over the course of their entire relationship, giving this episode the feel of a standalone film. After their first night together, we witness their relationship evolve over the years: they fix up their neighborhood, fight over how to deal with strangers like Joel (Pedro Pascal), and cultivate a bit of paradise at the end of the world. The most compelling aspect of watching this relationship grow is experiencing the melting of Bill’s hard exterior. When Frank surprises his love with a newly planted strawberry patch, the gruff Bill cracks a smile and gleeful laugh for the first time as he tastes the fruit. “I was never afraid before you showed up,” he confesses, with Offerman displaying a rare sense of vulnerability as Bill grips Frank tight.

SEE ‘The Last of Us’ reviews: HBO series is a ‘masterpiece of storytelling’ and ‘faithful recreation of the video game’

Offerman and Bartlett are sensational throughout, but their final act is what may seal the deal as far as Emmys are concerned. Frank’s health worsens as he suffers the effects of cancer and Bill serves as his doting caretaker. But one morning Frank informs his partner that it is his “last day,” because he doesn’t want to continue to live with his painful, incurable disease. Since Bill is typically a guarded, closed-off man, even the smallest expression of emotion feels seismic. So when Frank describes his perfect last day (complete with a wine glass full of crushed pills to end his life) it’s impossible not to weep as Offerman’s face contorts with grief and a tear rolls down his cheek.

During that dinner, Bill also takes a swig of laced wine, committing to leave this world with the man he loved. “I’m old … You were my purpose,” he says with gleaming eyes before the two go to lay down in bed for the last time. The series crafts a queer love story for the ages, with Offerman’s performance proving that even in a grim landscape, the power of love is stronger than any force on Earth.

A tender love story may not be what fans of Offerman assumed would bring him Emmy recognition. The actor spent seven seasons on beloved sitcom “Parks and Recreation” as everyone’s favorite Libertarian, Ron Swanson. He stole nearly every scene and nabbed two Critics Choice nominations, but Emmy voters cruelly skunked him for the entire run. Offerman eventually earned recognition at the Emmys for re-teaming with his “Parks and Rec” co-star Amy Poehler as hosts of the competition series “Making It.” The pair earned three consecutive Emmy nominations for Best Reality Host.

While his hosting duties are certainly fun, it’s time for Emmy voters to recognize Offerman’s acting chops. His performance in “The Last of Us” dominates the entire episode, showcases a radical departure from his famous comedic characters, and would make a perfect submission for the Best Drama Guest Actor category at this year’s ceremony.

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