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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Third Day sets a strange stage in its premiere

Jude Law stars in The Third Day
Jude Law stars in The Third Day
Photo: Robert Ludovic (HBO
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When The Third Day begins, Sam (Jude Law) appears to be having a very bad day. Some £40,000 has gone missing from his business, he’s intensely bickering over the phone with his wife over how this loss could cost them everything. He refers to it later as a bribe. As the stage is set for The Third Day in its first episode, “Friday—The Father,” you’ll quickly learn not to trust everything you hear and see on the screen. Even the colors of the sky, grass, and trees look out-of-sorts, as if put through a moving filter that luridly saturates the color or drains it into an unnatural black-and-white image.

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Sam continues on his way, stopping in a forest clearing to pop in his headphones and have a walking cry listening to “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + The Machine. He stops by a sun-dappled brook to delicately let a striped child’s T-shirt be carried off by the stream’s current. The camera stays on the shirt for a while, the acapella chorus accompanying the scene gives the moment an otherworldly feel. It will not be the last time.

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As Sam continues on, he spots two kids that look like they’re playing in the woods—but something is off. Soon, the girl on a ledge tells a younger curly-haired boy to stand back. She leaps off, the rope around her neck now tightened into a noose as her body begins to grotesquely convulse. Sam jumps into action, tries screaming for help but ends up rescuing her by himself. Miraculously still standing, the girl leads him to her home on Osea Island. The girl, who reveals her name to be Epona (Jessie Ross) in the car ride over remains mostly quiet until the temporary land bridge reveals itself between the island and the mainland. Sam will only have a short window to travel in, drop her off and make it back. He continues on, wanting to make sure she’s safe.

Driving through town, Epona tells Sam (and us) a lot about her strange home. The tiny village of 93 people has thrown open its doors to outsiders for an upcoming music festival, a badly needed source of revenue. “You won’t believe what these people are capable of,” she ominously tells him. She goes on to tell him a bit about their beliefs, including their voice that everything is tied to either salt or soil representing sea or land respectively and thus traditional festival where fish spirits come on land to search out evil. Already, Sam’s face has gone from concerned to mystified at the sight of these odd rituals. True to the show’s trailer, there are some The Wicker Man and Midsommar similarities, more so the former than the latter.

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Sam follows Epona’s request to drop her off at the pub, where the Martins welcome her back. Mr. Martin (Paddy Considine) greets Sam almost too earnestly, while his wife (Emily Watson) is curt and pointed in her responses. Both of them make ungracious comments about immigrants at different times that make Sam uncomfortable but he politely evades addressing them. At one point, Mrs. Martin tells Sam that she recognizes him from his TV speech asking not to blame immigrants for the death of his child. Before this moment, he had told Epona and the Martins that he was the dad of three children, but never mentioned losing one. Now, Sam’s biggest concern is that she’s safe and the Martins’ insistence that her father is a good man is doing nothing to assuage his worries for her. When Epona’s dad does show up brandishing a gun, Sam hides out in the bathroom, terrified by the sight.

Having seen enough, Sam tries to leave the reception-less Osea to make his important phone calls but is thwarted when another car is parked behind him. Eventually, the owner is found, the car moved, and Sam can take off, but looks in the rearview mirror once more to see Epona sadly walking away with Mr. Martin chasing after her. Sam speeds off but the delay was enough. The land bridge is submerged and he’s stuck until the next low tide in the morning.

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Frustrated by the day’s events, Sam steps out of the car and sees the mysterious curly-haired boy from when Epona tried to commit suicide. Both she and the Martins claims to not have seen him, but Sam chases after him and ends up uncomfortably close to where Epona’s dad is venting his anger to his friends. Their fishing crisis is made apparent by the near-empty buckets of oysters Sam passes along the way. Back in town, Sam decides to take Mr. Martin’s invite to stay the night, only to find there’s another person in his room. An American traveler in town for the festival, Jess (Katherine Waterson), helps him making one last desperate phone call out, but it goes so badly, she asks him what she just heard. They’re interrupted by a local who helps himself to the Martins’ pub but eventually its rightful owners return with even more townfolks. The Martins tell their two guests there’s been a mistake and that the two of them will have to share a room, but not to worry: drinks are on the house. A rowdy party ensues, sending Sam on a merry nightmare.

Stumbling into a moon-and-star-less night, Sam enters an old structure where animal bits have been torn apart. In a bloody heap, he recognizes Epona’s shirt. It sends him to an even darker place where he sees himself in white clothes smeared with blood, like the manifestation of the guilt he feels over bringing her back to where she wasn’t safe. Before long, he’s back in his car, face planted against his steering wheel. Were those scenes real or imagined? Grabbing things from his car, a plastic bag rolls out. When Sam empties the contents, it’s likely the missing funds. Did he knowingly have it with him all along? Whatever the circumstances, he puts the rolled-up bills back in the plastic bag and brings it with him back to the Martins’ pub where he will spend the night.

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Stray observations

  • “Dog Days are Over” is an awfully weird song choice for an emotional crying scene, but to each his own.
  • Some of the shots are so meddled with and ever-changing, it looks like Law is standing in front of a green screen.
  • If someone says “they’re good people” or “he’s a good man” more than once, then it stands to reason that the person or group is in fact not good at all.
  • The Third Day is not a subtle show. There are plenty of hints that this island isn’t paradise: a grasshopper eaten alive by beetles on Sam’s way into the village, photos of dead people on the pub walls, a shaped mound of salt that keeps expanding in the bathroom. How many warning signs does a person need to know when to stay away?
  • Towards the end of the episode, Mr. Martin and another local exchange a faithful greeting, only instead of the Catholic Sign of the Cross, it’s the gesture backward: tapping the shoulders first, the center chest, and then their head. It’s a possible sign of how this town has meshed pagan ritual with England’s Christian roots, and it’s also a sign that some righteously evil things are about to happen.
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