Within the online game of “The Final of Us,” Joel and Ellie meet Invoice, a lone survivor who’s distrustful and unsightly. He makes reference to a “accomplice” and appears to counsel he kicked that particular person out, discovering it higher to be on his personal. After combating by means of contaminated seeking a automotive battery, the group discovers that that accomplice, Frank, was bitten by contaminated and hanged himself somewhat than flip. Plainly Frank was leaving Invoice, and his suicide word is stuffed with vitriol. “I need you to know I hated your guts,” he writes to Invoice. “I grew bored with this shitty city and your set-in-your-ways angle. I wished extra from life than this and you would by no means get that … Attempting to depart this city will kill me. Nonetheless higher than spending one other day with you.”
The HBO present pulls on the thread of Frank’s need for “extra from life than this,” displaying the viewer a dwelling Frank who meets Invoice when he falls into one of many traps Invoice has arrange round city, a city he has to himself after refusing to evacuate initially of the zombie pandemic. Frank dives into intimacy with Invoice from the second they meet, ingratiating his method into dinner at Invoice’s home. He’s enthusiastic about easy pleasures, enthusing over a scorching bathe, a scrumptious meal, Invoice’s piano and in the end Invoice himself, as they go to mattress collectively and start a relationship. By means of the years, we see Frank beautify their home and the city, make pals in Joel and Tess and usually relish in no matter life the present’s apocalypse has to supply for so long as he can. His enthusiasm brings Invoice out of his loner shell, and the 2 have an extended, comparatively blissful life collectively earlier than, aged and infirm, they die by joint suicide.
I used to be stunned to discover a storyline like this in “The Final of Us.” I’ve to confess that my view of the video games isn’t optimistic — they’re stunning and emotional, however for me, they at all times come again to brutality and despair in a method I discover simplistic. As I wrote in my assessment of 2020′s “The Final of Us Half 2,” co-creator Neil Druckmann’s work “doesn’t relish in its gory deaths or emotional struggling. It simply takes each alternative to point out them, again and again, and decides that counts as saying one thing about them.” The video games’s characters are admirably numerous; a queer storyline within the 2013 recreation was undoubtedly a leap ahead for the medium on the time, and 2014′s “Left Behind” DLC and “The Final of Us Half 2” featured queer and trans storylines that develop online game narratives. However this variety, to me, in the end factors again to nothing however nihilism: queer folks exist in these worlds as a result of we exist in the actual world, and so they undergo as a result of everybody suffers. On the threat of being crass: I’m a queer trans man, myself. You don’t want to inform me issues are dangerous out right here.
So I didn’t count on episode 3 to inform such a optimistic story, or as optimistic a narrative as “The Final of Us” universe can enable. Queer illustration in media has an extended, thorny historical past; for many of the twentieth century, queer characters had been portrayed as villains and loners, and their lives had been tragic as a type of ethical instruction. In current instances and a few elements of the world, as public opinion of queerness modified and communities made strides in authorized recognition and rights, the queer tales accessible have additionally modified. Tv, movie and books have proven queer characters in a extra optimistic gentle, transferring from sidekicks or punchlines into nuanced protagonists with complicated lives. Queer characters have been “allowed” to be blissful, which has undoubtedly helped a brand new technology of queer folks see themselves and picture higher lives. This has led to a debate amongst many in queer communities about whether or not illustration itself is the top aim, or whether or not optimistic illustration runs the danger of simplifying queer lives. It’s a sophisticated matter with no definitive reply.
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In some ways, Invoice and Frank’s story embodies this debate. They’re sophisticated characters, particularly Invoice; when’s the final time you noticed a queer character who was additionally a prepper, with a Gadsden flag and a basement stuffed with weapons? Whereas they fall into sure homosexual stereotypes — a love of finer issues, Frank’s information of antiques, Invoice’s fussiness about his house — these qualities stand as humanizing contrasts to their powerful exteriors. (Their glorious butch beard recreation doesn’t harm, both.) They survive and thrive on this planet of “The Final of Us,” creating an considerable life whereas different folks we’ve met up to now languish in militarized cities. Most notably — and most in another way than the sport — they exit on their very own phrases. They “queer” what loss of life in “The Final of Us” may be; in a world the place the whole lot ends in tragedy, they create the happiest ending accessible to anybody, homosexual or straight. They’re a lifeline to life itself, to an previous world the place folks might die in additional methods than simply on the mouth of a zombie or the barrel of a gun.
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However nevertheless revolutionary their deaths could be for the universe of “The Final of Us,” they nonetheless fall into well-worn homosexual loss of life tropes. Plainly Invoice is older than Frank, however Frank succumbs to an unspecified sickness and finally ends up infirm, which in the end prompts his suicide. In the event you grew up queer within the 80s and 90s, the picture of 1 homosexual man pushing one other in a wheelchair may look fiercely acquainted from the early days of the AIDS disaster and the storytelling that got here out of it. Many cis homosexual males of my technology believed this type of loss of life was inevitable, that they’d die tended to by a lover or they’d be the widower left behind. (Invoice and Frank’s final day collectively specifically jogged my memory of the 1996 movie “It’s My Occasion,” wherein an HIV-positive man throws a celebration earlier than killing himself.) Invoice rebels in opposition to this trope by dying alongside Frank, however as I watched (and cried) as Invoice wheeled Frank round their home and handed him his drugs, I considered what number of instances I had seen this scene in different films and tv. I puzzled why the present’s creators selected to have Frank sicken to result in Invoice and Frank’s deaths when one or each of their ages might have been the inciting issue.
Within the time wherein they’re proven alive, in addition they exist as the one two queer folks of their world. At one level they argue over having pals, a struggle Frank wins by inviting over Joel and Tess, a straight couple. The viewer by no means sees if they’ve queer pals, or in the event that they did earlier than. That is, in fact, explainable: Invoice is a loner by nature, plus there’s the entire apocalypse factor, however the lone queer or remoted couple is one other trope I’ve seen in media depictions. Whereas no relationships finish fortunately per se in “The Final of Us,” queer lives are at all times lonely.
Within the “Left Behind” DLC, Ellie has a youthful romance with a woman named Riley; when the 2 are bitten by contaminated, they resolve to die collectively, just for Ellie to survive Riley when she discovers she’s resistant to the an infection. In “The Final of Us Half 2,” Ellie finally ends up alone when her quest for revenge drives her accomplice Dina from her life. “The Final of Us Half 2′s” trans character Lev appears to be the one trans particular person on this planet, and he loses his spiritual group, household, and in the end his life. Within the expertise of many queer folks in the actual world, myself included, queer folks may face hardship, however we have now a group round us; we all know folks like ourselves. “The Final of Us” depicts queer folks when a viewer may not count on to see them, nevertheless it nonetheless reveals them in the identical previous methods.
I’m not going to positively declare this “good” or “dangerous.” A extra historically blissful ending isn’t within the playing cards for Invoice and Frank as a result of it isn’t within the playing cards for anybody in “The Final of Us.” And queer characters don’t essentially want blissful endings to be nuanced characters or to inform significant tales. However whereas watching the episode, I thought of Ellie’s canonical queerness from the video games. Joel and the viewer know a lot about Invoice and Frank’s queer lives, however Ellie doesn’t. Invoice’s suicide word asks whoever finds it to not come into the bed room, and so she by no means even sees them. If Ellie is queer on this universe, I puzzled what it could have been like for her to satisfy them, the way in which she meets Invoice within the recreation. Wouldn’t it assist her think about the horizons of her personal life, the way in which it has helped so many real-world queer folks? I puzzled if she might see clues of queerness, hints of herself, in Invoice and Frank’s home. Invoice’s suicide word is left to “whoever however most likely Joel,” and Ellie says “I figured I fell into whoever” — she does, maybe in additional methods than one.
“I used to hate the world and I used to be blissful when everybody died,” Ellie reads. “However I used to be improper, as a result of there was one particular person price saving.” Bella Ramsey as Ellie stumbles over the second half right here. Is she seeing herself within the word? Is she connecting with different queer folks by means of their phrases, even on this tragic method, simply as I did by means of all of the books and flicks and performs of my very own youth? I’m, in fact, an actual particular person not dwelling by means of an apocalypse (possibly that is debatable; not a zombie apocalypse, anyway), and I overcame these tragic tales of my youth by forming a group of different queer and trans folks. Will the identical prospects be open to Ellie? It appears unlikely, however given what Invoice and Frank’s story reveals us within the present, maybe it’s not unimaginable.
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