Mazin could see how the beats of the story were also reflected in the interactions between his leads. “Nick is straight and there was this kind of nervous I’m doing something for the first time energy there that is hard to fake,” Mazin says. “His commitment to it was extraordinary. You could feel Murray and Frank both saying, ‘I got you, I’m gonna help you through this. I know what I’m doing.’ Those moments between them are real and beautiful.”
The episode is anchored by two pieces of music: Max Richter’s composition “On the Nature of Daylight,” which scores their final day together (which has been used elsewhere in film and TV, most notably in Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival) and Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 hit “Long, Long Time,” the song that bonds Bill and Frank.
In the case of “Long, Long Time,” Mazin knew he needed a song to “suggest terrible longing, the nature of not just unrequited love, but a lifetime of unrequited love, and a kind of surrender to your fate.” It frames a scene where Frank, not quite ready to leave the comforts of Bill’s home, goes to Bill’s piano and finds a book of Ronstadt music. He begins to play choppily, but Bill stops him, taking over for a deeply felt, if not awkward, interpretation of the tune. Frank understands Bill through that performance and they kiss for the first time.
Mazin was hunting for lyrics that would fit the bill when he texted his friend Seth Rudetsky, who hosts Sirius/XM Radio’s “On Broadway.” Rudetsky instantly texted him back with the Ronstadt track.
Before shooting Hoar and Mazin met with Offerman to not just practice the music, but to go through the words of the song, written by Gary White, and unpack their meanings. As they filmed the scene, emotions were “overflowing,” says Bartlett. Offerman’s assessment is more grounded. “I practiced many, many hours of piano and singing [in order] to execute a performance that mediocre,” he says.
When the audience finally catches up to Bill and Frank in 2023, Frank is suffering from cancer, unable to move on his own. He decides he’s going to end his own life on his terms. They will have a beautiful day together and then he will drink a glass of wine with pills and drift to death in his sleep. Bill is resistant but ultimately acquiesces to Frank’s wishes with one detail added— he is also ready to die, happy with the life they have spent together. It’s a sad end for them, but a lovely one too. In a world where families are ripped apart, theirs stay together until the very end.