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

The Third Day puts its all into a fitfully satisfying finale

Nico Parker and Naomie Harris
Nico Parker and Naomie Harris
Photo: HBO
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With the aptly named final chapter “Last Day—The Dark,” The Third Day comes to an end, which begins right at the moment where Helen meets Sam on a dock outside the Big House. Sam wastes no time catching Helen up with what’s happened to him over the past several months. After all, he did walk out on her and their two girls, so yes, an explanation would be appreciated. Helen takes the news about her son’s kidnapping and her husband’s cult roots remarkably well. Almost unbelievably so, even as it’s apparent Sam’s drunk too much of the island’s Kool-Aid.

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Mrs. Martin curses when she sees the two of them talking and tries to tell Sam that his authority may be challenged by the arrival of his daughter. Helen asks for Nathan, and Sam ignores Mrs. Martin’s warnings to take his wife to their son. However, instead of a tearful reunion, Helen keeps her distance and the boy calmly greets her and invites her to look at the pictures he’s drawn, all lurid depictions of murder, disembowelment, and torture. He asks his mom if she’ll stay, and she answers that she has to talk about it first, shooting Sam the first appropriately steely look for what’s happening right now.

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Once outside Nathan’s room, Helen has her overdue outburst—and for a good reason: the boy Sam presented is not their son. He’s not the right age, nor does he resemble them. Nathan died 10 years ago and would be a teenager by now, not a child still preoccupied with drawing, but Sam insists it’s part of the island’s power. She finally tells Sam that she’s here for the money that’s cost the family their business and their home and confronts him with some hard truths about their relationship. She pitied him and tried to support him through his alarming behavior, even though he lost Nathan while trying to break off an affair over a phone call. Sam says he still loves her as she walks off to cry, and he stands in the hallway looking rather like a pathetic rag doll in an oversized frumpy white suit.

Back at the shore, Jess meets Epona’s dad Jason and tells him she’s named her daughter after his girl and asks him to help close the causeway so no one can leave Osea. She’s clearing a path for her daughter to rule the island. Ellie and her new friend, who confirms she’s Jess’ child, talk on a different shoreline. The girl says she felt rejected by her mom ever since Sam arrived on the island, and she was the one who sent the email to Helen letting her know where he was, a revelation to both us and poor Ellie, who’s trying to take in the information just as Larry shows up with some sort of clever. He asks the two girls to follow him.

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Lu reenters the frame looking like she’s run a half-marathon through the mud. She sees her mom’s car and almost runs to it when she notices it’s not her mom driving it but villagers. They set the car on fire and killed a few others who weren’t on their side, which was enough to send Lu running again. At the Big House, Helen gets some (maybe) straight answers out of Mrs. Martin, but in the midst of learning her son is indeed dead and the boy Sam believes is his child is just a distant relative, Jess’ troops menacingly enter the Big House, killing the well-meaning Mr. Martin and sending the survivors into the woods. They reconvene at a tent where they receive a message from the disgraced innkeeper: Ellie wants to talk to her mom.

John Dagleish, Freya Allan, and Nico Parker
John Dagleish, Freya Allan, and Nico Parker
Photo: HBO
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Unfortunately, Ellie’s request turns out to be a trap: one that gets Mrs. Martin killed and Ellie’s parents trapped in the Martins’ (R.I.P.) old bar. Fortunately, that’s where little Lu hid, freeing them to rescue Ellie. Helen gives Sam a chance for redemption and channeling his Jack the Ripper genes from the last episode, tears into Jason to rescue Ellie. In the scene, Law looks like a madman with long hair wielding a knife in each hand and although the walls seem to get a decent coating of blood, his jacket only seems to have some spots. Maybe so as not to scare the kids?

The reunited family heads to the church to rescue Nathan from Larry and another guard. Stoically, Sam retrieves the stolen money to give back to Helen. His demeanor is different now. He’s no longer the absent-minded leader or a kindly father, but he’s more assured, a bit of the old Sam we met at the start of The Third Day. But he’s also deadlier now that he’s in touch with the spirit of his long lost ancestor. He and Helen part ways without much emotion, but before she escapes with her girls, Nathan reaches out and tells her that he knew she didn’t mean the harsh words she said before he disappeared. An emotional plot twist, sure, but a complicated one to get into shortly.

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Seeing as the causeway has been blocked by the burnt carcass of Helen’s car, she jumps into momma bear mode, putting her babies in a nearby boat and swimming on her own to escape the wrath of Osea. It’s an exhausting escape, one that nearly claimed Sam before, but one she powers through for the sake of her daughters. They make it to the other side, and Ellie and Lu become their mother’s caretakers, getting her inside from the cold and wrapping her in blankets, laying on either side of her to keep her warm. Ellie sneaks one last look at Osea—it still calls to her even in the face of so much horror—but she reunites with her sister and mother on the floor. Sunlight breaks over them, bathing them in a warm glow, just as the episode ends.

The Third Day writers throw their all into this final episode. The battle lines are being drawn on screen, and the tension is slowly layered on then throw into a succession of twists. There’s no space to ruminate about moods or bad visions. It’s a lot of action, a lot of death, and some semblance of closure. It’s interesting to see what they did with Nathan in this episode, especially since we were led to believe it’s really him, and that’s that. Now, it goes back and forth on his identity, obscuring the truth. Was he coached to tell Helen that or was that something only he knew? Then comes the issue of aging and changing his race. What kind of island magic does that? It’s kind of messed up that the show ended up with the (now) white son going back to his white father and the Black daughters following their Black mother back to the mainland.

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Of course, this abbreviated ending where half of the family gets away leaves the door fully open for a potential trip back to Osea. We don’t know how Sam’s power struggle will go with Jess or if he’ll go to war with her at all. Maybe he’s just happy chilling out at the church with his son. The opportunity is there for the spring. Then there’s also the issue of the island’s wackadoo beliefs. If Jess’ daughter is potentially Osea’s new leader, doesn’t that mean Ellie and Lu would qualify too? Or, do the rules only apply to one-night stands conceived on the island? Clearly, there’s some weird gender dynamics at play, but I’m not quite sure what the show wants to say by the end. As Helen and Jess show, they’re strong as hell and fully capable of cleaning up the messes left behind by the man they formerly loved. But is that their lot in life, to always live with the fallout of their relationships with Sam? They both want something out of him even if they don’t want him in their lives—Jess harnesses it for power, and Helen just wants her girls to survive. Even in the light of an optimistic sun, it feels like this circle is not yet completed.

Besides the Jack the Ripper fan fiction and the strong folk cult vibes, what did we come away with from The Third Day? Beyond its surface trappings, there’s an allegorical warning at the center. Here is an insular society that’s at war with itself, distrustful of outsiders, and thinks the literal world revolves around them. It’s a warning applicable to many world powers but especially so to the U.K. and the U.S., which have made stunning examples of bumbling on the international stage by thinking the sun rises because their powers-that-be said so.

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On an emotional level, the show is constantly wrestling with how we deal with grief. Do we deny dealing with it out of guilt or necessity? There are consequences to both, although this last episode somewhat undercuts this idea by somewhat rewarding Sam for disbelief by returning his (maybe?!) son to him. The last moments of the episode end up serving as a catharsis for Helen, however. She grieves as it seems she was never able to do, even while still saving her family in a superhero display of action. Despite hiding her tears, she does miss Nathan, misses him dearly. She even holds on to the striped bag of money that reminded her of the striped shirt Nathan wore when he died. Although this show was filmed before our socially distanced times, many of us may be figuring out how to grieve in the face of so much loss. Do we push aside our feelings to deal with later, let them overwhelm us, or power through them for the sake of survival? Ultimately, The Third Day isn’t interested in finding closure—only leaving open the chance for another day.


Stray observations

  • The Big House in the daytime actually looks fairly nice inside compared to the night time Haunted Mansion we saw in the first half of the series. See what a difference a little sunlight makes!
  • “Don’t fuck this up, shithead” is my new love language. The Martins forever.
  • Waterston should play darker characters more often. Her pivot from nervous fallen mom to murderous despot was one of the more interesting arcs in the series, and a lot of that comes from her performance.
  • So, are Sam and Helen divorced or is that also TBD?
  • Sisterly love FTW.
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