Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Third Day closes out its “Summer” arc with its best episode yet

Emily Watson and Pady Considine
Emily Watson and Pady Considine
Photo: Liam Daniel (HBO
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Over the past two episodes of The Third Day, things have been getting weirder and the clues that this random island off the coast of England is not inhabited by kindly denizens have only gotten heavier. At first these seemed like loose threads scattered throughout the series. Just as one question was answered, two or three more would pop up announced and unaccounted for. Finally, the various breadcrumbs of violence, disturbing imagery, and a messed-up cult come together in a satisfying mix of twists and sharp turns in its delectably disturbing third chapter.

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On Osea Island, there’s nothing quite like a gross ceremony involving bloody organs while tripping on acid to jolt you awake. Well, Sam’s in for a rude awakening after his involuntary baptism. It’s just the start of yet another bad day here on our remote island hellscape. After another round of manhandling, Sam wakes up to the archeologist who tells Sam that he’s the descendant of the Island’s revered founder and that the story he knew about his grandfather being stationed here during a war was only a cover-up to hide his family’s true origins.

The full story stops there as Larry (John Dagleish), a menacing figure throughout the previous episodes, makes for an intimidating captor. He sits Sam next to a gutted deer in storage, then drags him back through where the baptism took place, in an ornate crimson room where blood and guts are still sitting on the table. In between flashes of horror and other disturbing images, Sam spots two little blonde girls, including once in the window on his way out of the Big House where clearly many evil things happen.

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Larry continues to drag Sam’s tied-up body into the wood and then into another decomposing building, complete with a convenient well deep enough to drown a person and hide their body. That’s what Larry attempts before Sam puts a sudden stop to it by knocking him out. Freed from his binds, Sam runs for the shoreline, only he gets caught in the mud and in his exhaustion, collapses. The next morning he wakes up to crabs—lots of them.

Sam returns to town for his car but finds himself blocked yet again. He runs back to the shore to try and make the land bridge on foot, an attempt that also fails. For a moment there, it looked like it might be the end of Sam until Jess steps in and rescues him from drowning. But she’s not thrilled to see him alive. She found the money he said was stolen under the sink in their room. Sam says he had no idea how it got there, and Jess questions if any of his stories about people chasing after him were real. He confirms it’s true by raising his wrist with the leftover rope Larry used to tie him, and Jess believes him.

Either the story’s tension finally kicked in or my eyes have just given up trying to make sense of the show’s visual choices, but its wild effects look less intrusive or distracting than the earlier episodes. The series’ fondness for out-of-focus cinematography and doctoring the color scheme of every third shot has yet to fade, but our time in these moments feel shorter because of how much happens. There’s still time for Sam to look dazed and confused, to have his vision—and by extension, ours—blur until blobby swatches of color move in the background or in one close-up, make one of Sam’s eyes and a quarter of his face greyed out while the other is saturated in color. It feels as if the show has finally struck the right balance between creating an uneasy tone and trying too hard to create capital-A art.

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Back in an abandoned greenhouse, Sam and Jess talk about his son, how he was a handful at his young age, and was in that phase of pulling legs off of bugs. She mentions that in some cultures, crickets were a sign of rain, flood, and death. Jess also explains her fascination with belief systems because she once lived in a devoted religious community. On some level, she sympathizes with the reverence of those on the island to their strange rites. This point has somewhat been teased before, but there’s actually a satisfying conclusion waiting for us at the end of this episode.

However, their moment of calm is interrupted by the Martins, who Sam, for good reason, isn’t excited to see. Jess asks if they can help them escape to the mainland, and Mr. Martin emphatically says yes. Sam’s not buying what they’re selling and he angrily asks why was Larry trying to kill him. Mr. Martin explains that Osea needs a father, and the old man in the creepy white suit Sam spotted at the Big House can’t pass on without a successor. The old man was the one who was supposed to meet Sam the day his son was taken—a tragedy now revealed to be a botched plan hatched by Mr. Martin himself. Mrs. Martin stops Sam from flying into a full rage, so instead, he reiterates his intentions to get the hell off the cursed island, stomping on their religion in the process. Because of their beliefs, his son is dead.

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As the group readies to leave, Sam asks about Epona, and the Martins break the news that she’s gone missing. He hesitates to leave her, but the Martins insist. Their time to escape is running out and they must leave before the others on the island find him. Jess and Mr. Martin head off in one direction, and Mrs. Martin and Sam head in another, an eerie echo of the previous night’s debacle that led to Sam getting captured by Larry and subjected to a bloody baptism.

Once again, Mrs. Martin leaves Sam for some unseeable path. In looking around, he spots the curly-haired boy again and chases after him, leading Sam to a church under construction. At first, it looks like any old church: angel statues and other handcrafted adornments. But then, Sam notices the carved diptychs depicting scenes of violence, the perpetrators wearing a salt shaped aura like a halo behind their heads. Sam makes his way to one depiction that looks exactly like him. Suddenly, he hears an unnerving sound. He makes his way to the altar and steps in a pool of blood. He lifts a sheet and finds Epona, dead, and gutted in ritual sacrifice. Mrs. Martin finds him and says the young girl had tried sacrificing herself to the gods in the woods but took this extra step to keep him on the island.

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However, the gesture isn’t enough to stop Mrs. Martin from killing Sam. That’s right, after all this, she’s isolated him yet again to kill him, but not before revealing one more twist: his son is alive. They kidnapped the boy to make him their next leader and killed Epona’s brother in his stead so there would still be a body. She leads Sam down to the dangerous cellar full of electric wires, but he retaliates and escapes. He collapses in a field, dazed from the electric explosion he needed to getaway. A stray signal reaches his phone but only momentarily. He’s entirely on his own and now he knows his son is still alive. Just as things didn’t look like they could get worse, Sam drops his phone because one of the freaky crickets landed on it and he accidentally crushes it in his rush to find it.

Once Sam is on the move again, he runs into Epona’s dad who uncharacteristically greets him with a smile. He’s going to help him escape. Sam then runs into Jess and the two make a desperate bid for a boat reluctantly offering to take them to safety. Sam points the flare gun at the fisherman and tells him to give them the boat. Taking it for themselves, the two try to escape but suddenly, Jess isn’t so into the idea. She runs into a mud bank and while Sam tries to free them, she takes then points the flare gun at him. Her girls are all that matters to her, and she returns the boat to the dock where all of Osea has gathered. The two little blonde girls that Sam spotted before run to their mom, Jess, as Sam slowly walks towards the group, unsure of what is going to happen next. The old man approaches him and thanks him, then shoots himself in the head. It wouldn’t be a cult show without some human sacrifice, right?

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Mr. Martin asks Sam if he’s ready for what’s next, and wordlessly, the stunned man makes his way through the crowd towards the big house, which looks a lot less menacing now. The little curly-haired boy, his son Nathan, runs into Sam’s arms and the two go inside the house. A swarm of the yellow and red crickets (and/or grasshoppers, I’m no entomologist) forms on the ground, taking off as the sky grows dark and the episode ends. Although we got a satisfying payoff for all the strange unexplained aspects of this world, The Third Day retains a shroud of mystery, leaving us to second guess almost every character and with almost next-to-no clues as what could possibly be next.


Stray observations

  • According to Jess, crickets in some cultures are considered to be a sign of rain and death? Considering how much it rains in that part of the world, that’s a lot of fatal omens.
  • Jude Law ran so much in this episode even my legs felt tired just watching him.
  • The cutaway shot of one of those beachside crab invasions looks like nothing else in the show, so it felt like an intrusion of stock footage.
  • Okay, so before Epona sacrificed herself on the altar, she laid out all this tarp to prevent staining the church and covered her own body with a sheet? That’s rather too thoughtful.
  • Well, guess we know why those weird cricket/grasshopper things feature so prominently in the series.
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