At the End of The World and on The Other Side of Death: Three Gay Romances on Television That Will Change Your Perception of Love
by MERCY FERRARS
Hidden among heaps of generic romances in media, these soul-stirring portraits of love find us where we least expect them—at the end of the world, in the adventures of antiheroes and on deathbeds.
“Long, Long Time”—Bill and Frank (The Last of Us)
“Long, Long Time” is the third episode of the U.S.-American post-apocalyptic drama series The Last of Us. While the series plays with familiar post-apocalyptic elements, it delivers a unique, complex approach to life at the end of the world. “Long, Long Time” shares in this deep exploration of love and friendship as well as trust and grief in a new, broken society. In the midst of Joel’s (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) search for Joel’s brother, they make a detour to self-described ‘survivalist’ Bill (Nick Offerman), who has built a fulfilling life with his partner Frank (Murray Bartlett) in the gated town of Lincoln, Massachusetts amidst a world wrecked by chaos and disease.
“Long, Long Time” explores what it means to be human, and what and who is ‘worth saving’ in such a dehumanised world in which connections cannot usually be trusted and partnerships hardly withstand the test of time. The episode is filled with soft, tender moments of intimacy, and the authenticity of a love blossoming under nurture and devotion crawls under your skin as the minutes rush by. It is the story of two men who found each other and never left. Between their giggles and their heartbreak, Nick Offerman’s and Murray Bartlett’s performances leave a lasting mark on the soul.
The Last of Us, Season 1 Episode 3, HBO.
“Frances Patrol”—Larry Trainor and John Bowers (Doom Patrol)
D.C.’s Doom Patrol is a series narrating the lives of several antiheroes and their struggles, but never comes short in jokes and friendship. The story of Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer) and John Bowers (Kyle Russell Clements, Tom Fitzpatrick) is a truly poignant tale of lifelong infatuation—the kind of love which pushes away just to pull in, always orbiting around each other’s gravitational centre.
Larry was born in 1930s North Dakota, and learnt from a young age that he was gay. He went on to marry his wife Sheryl due to the impossibility of freely living his sexuality during his lifetime. In secret, Larry maintained an affair with John, one of his Air Force colleagues. This affair ran deeper than both could have imagined, and Larry’s infatuation with John would continue for the next sixty years. In the 1960s, Larry piloted an experimental NASA rocket plane and was struck by a radioactive spirit as he exited earth’s orbit. Having suffered full body burns and emitting lethal radiation, he only survived due to the spirit from now on cohabiting in his body. His following years would be characterised by immortality, experimentation and stirring loneliness, trapped in a body that cannot touch and cannot be touched.
Consequently, Larry spent his life dreaming of John, a love he could never fully commit to out of fear and shame. Haunted by what-ifs and short-lived dreams of burning memories, Larry eventually befriends the negative spirit, who in turn fashions hallucinations for Larry to live in—hallucinations in which he can be with John, be it in the back of his car, in motel rooms or in a discotheque. In these hallucinations, John confronts him with the painful truth which Larry cannot escape from: ‘Right now, we could go anywhere. We could do anything, but we can’t. Because even in this dream or whatever the hell this is, you’re still worried about what other people think. The world has changed, and you’ve stayed the same.’ John asks Larry to admit to himself that he is incapable of change, and tells him that he ‘cannot live his last days like this.’ As Larry seeks out a dying John in real life and finds out he hadn’t been dreaming alone, he responds: ‘The truth is, I haven’t lived much since the accident. You were the last real thing.’
Doom Patrol, Season 1 Episode 1–11, DC Universe/HBO Max/Prime Video.
“San Junipero”—Kelly and Yorkie (Black Mirror)
“San Junipero” is one of television’s most celebrated tragic romances and the fourth episode of Black Mirror’s third season. It has been highly praised by critics for its overall positive tone compared to Black Mirror’s normally rather pessimistic, dystopian outlook on the aftermath of society’s increased integration of technology. In 1987 shy, adrift Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) wanders the streets of San Junipero, a self-proclaimed party town in California where life is buzzing with colourful neon lights and magnetic people. In a club, Yorkie meets the self-confident Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who, like her, is visiting San Junipero as a tourist. The two young women strike up a conversation and Yorkie confesses that she has never been on a dance floor before. ‘Never? As in the-whole-time-you’ve-been-alive-never?’ Kelly wonders. Yorkie shrugs, to which Kelly replies, ‘San Junipero is a party town. What would you like to do, what is something you’ve never done? It’s all up for grabs.’ Yorkie mentions that it will strike midnight in two hours and they don’t have much time left, whereupon Kelly, without beating around the bush, suggests they should sleep together, but Yorkie refuses, lying to Kelly about a supposed fiancé.
The following week, Yorkie looks for Kelly in the nightclub, but she is flirting with a young man and seems to ignore her. After Yorkie confronts Kelly in the restroom, the two decide to go home and finally sleep together. Yorkie confesses that she has never slept with anyone, ‘never with a woman…never with anyone. No one nowhere’, and comments on how absurd it would be for her family to see how much she enjoys her life in San Junipero. Kelly opens up about her bisexuality and her ex-husband when the scene abruptly ends.
When Yorkie looks for Kelly again a week later and can’t find her, one of Kelly’s friends advises her to ‘try a different time. 80s, 90s, 2002 one time. She’s worth a shot, right?’ Another week passes before Yorkie finally finds Kelly in the year 2002. But Kelly is not at all pleased to be found. ‘What are you doing here?!’ she snaps after Yorkie confronts her about hiding in the early 2000s, an era that does not seem to be Kelly’s vibe at all. Kelly clarifies that she’s visiting San Junipero to have fun and that Yorkie is ruining it now. Yorkie storms out of the club and Kelly finds her on a roof a little later. Worried, she follows Yorkie onto the roof. ‘How many of them do you think are dead?’ Yorkie asks, looking down on San Junipero’s party crowd. ‘The full-timers?’ Kelly repeats. ‘About 80.’ She eventually sits down next to Yorkie and explains that she is ill and has only a short time to live. ‘I told myself I wouldn’t do feelings. I wasn’t prepared for someone like you’, she apologises. The two engage in a passionate kiss.
A little later, looking out across the ocean, Yorkie shares her belief of being firmly convinced that without San Junipero she would never have had the experiences she had with Kelly. ‘Try me’, the latter replies. ‘I don’t want you to see me,’ Yorkie objects. ‘I’m dying’, Kelly answers, ’Whatever you are cannot scare me. I want to say hi.’
In the real world, Kelly—now in her old age—is confronted with the truth about Yorkie. She is faced with a daunting and poignant choice. She must decide between the real world, where her husband and deceased daughter are buried, and San Junipero, an ‘immersive nostalgic therapy, a world of memories’, a simulation in which one’s consciousness can be uploaded after death. A dream world, real and artificial at the same time, which would allow Yorkie, who has been unresponsively confined to her hospital bed since an accident following her coming out at 21, to catch up on her entire life—side by side with Kelly, who isn’t prepared to give up on living herself.
Black Mirror, Season 3 Episode 4, Netflix.
EDITED By Jan Kabasci.
Mercy Ferrars is a MA graduate in philosophy and writes fiction, poetry and non-fiction essays. She is madly in love with Scotland, dogs and Bojack Horseman.