This is a recap of Part 1, episode 1, The Father, which includes full details of the plot. My non-spoilery review of the season is HERE.
The Third Day takes place in a remote part of the UK, on an island that’s cut off from the mainland for most of the day. Osea Island is accessible by car for only a few hours a day at low tide by driving across an ancient Roman causeway that floods when the tide rises. It’s inhabited by a small community of year round residents who have their own traditions and beliefs which blend the old Celtic religion with Christianity.
Sam (Jude Law), a grieving father, stumbles into this community accidentally after saving the life of a young woman from Osea. He feels a connection to the community that he doesn’t understand, but also a sense of chaotic urgency as various obstacles prevent him from leaving the island and returning to his own troubled life.
Osea Island is a real island off the coast of Essex which takes on a life of its own in the story. The characters seem to travel over every inch of this tiny paradise as the show progresses through summer, autumn and winter. This allows viewers to get to know Osea’s tempestuous personality and beauty up close and to get a sense of how its natural elements affect the direction of the community.
The Third Day is a psychological thriller in the tradition of Gone Girl and a folk horror story like Midsommar or The Wicker Man. As with any good horror story, it’s also much more than that. The Third Day is a deep character study of a man who’s been taken to his breaking point and then long past it. His family and the entire community end up involved.
Everyone probably knows at least one person this has happened to in real life, or maybe that’s just typical of my atypical life. If you know a functional alcoholic who finally went around the bend and hit bottom, you know what I’m talking about. Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and The Shining contain examples of characters who slowly lose their minds. Legion, Dark and Amazon’s Undone also take their characters to the edge, push them over, and then continue the story. Or start the story. (Netflix’s Maniac and Kiss Me First fit this pattern as well and are way too under appreciated, so I’m going to plug them.)
The Third Day is a limited series made up of 3 parts and 6 episodes. The 3 episodes of Part 1, Summer, star Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Paddy Considine, Mark Lewis, Jessie Ross and Emily Watson. Part 2, Autumn, was originally livestreamed for 12 straight hours, but is also now available as a 2 hour edited version on HBO’s Facebook and on Youtube, which stars Jude Law and Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine). Part 3, Winter, consists of 3 episodes and stars Naomi Harris, John Dagleish, Nico Parker, Paul Kaye and Charlotte Gairdner-Mihell, in addition to the cast of Summer.
The Third Day Parts 1 & 3 are streaming on HBO Max.
The episode begins with an overhead shot of a man on the phone and a car parked on a road through an open grassy area that stretches to the horizon. We hear crickets, but their rhythm is off. The colors and light are oversaturated despite the cloudy sky. The sounds, colors and focus are all off, blurring in and out, too bright or loud when they should be dull, sharply focused areas next to blurry areas.
In other words, something is very wrong.
Sam is having a difficult phone conversation with someone named Cas, who discovered that their business was robbed and called the police. Sam is frantic because he had £40,000 in cash stashed at the office, which he’s supposed to give to a man named Aday later today. Right now, Sam is somewhere in the middle of nowhere. No, he doesn’t want Cas to do anything about the cash or to even tell the police about it. Sam will try to put Aday off for a while.
The conversation shifts to talk of “the kids”. One of them has chosen the trombone and won’t be swayed from it. Sam ends the conversation, telling Cas that he’s heading down to the river and just about to start.
In a hyper close up shot, Sam’s eyes are very green. There are cows in the fields. Then, in a jarring change, Sam is suddenly, without explanation, in a forest. He retrieves a small child’s striped shirt from the back seat of his car, contemplates his wedding ring for a moment, and puts in ear buds so he can listen to Florence and the Machine’s Dog Days Are Over (~2009).
TVTropes.org categorizes Dog Days Are Over as a Sanity Slippage Song, in which the song’s narrator is slowly going insane.
As the lyrics of the song tell Sam to leave all of his love and longing behind if he wants to survive, he makes his way through the woods to a waterfall in the river he mentioned to Cas. He sits next to the water, holds the shirt to his face and cries intense, noisy tears.
The music is loud, emphasizing the lyrics and female voice, and the image is striking, with more acid washed greens and yellows behind Jude Law’s (Sam) washed out complexion. We never see men cry like this in media. Sam had to leave civilization and some part of his sanity behind to express these feelings so freely.
The music and crying end abruptly. Sam stands, his emotions still on his face, but otherwise packed back inside. He carefully unfolds the tiny shirt and lays it in the waterfall. It’s swept away, quickly at first, but then slowly, a metaphor for the sharpness of loss followed by the long, slow process of grieving. Sam watches the shirt travel away from him, his face becoming a hard, impassive mask as it disappears.
Once the shirt is gone, a large red cricket appears next to Sam’s hand on a tree trunk. He hears unhappy children in the distance and follows the sound through the woods. More reds are added to the surreal forest color palette.
He finds a teenage girl giving instructions to a much younger boy, who’s crying. Before Sam understands what’s happening, the girl tells the boy to pull a rope, then she jumps off a short ledge and hangs herself. The boy runs away. Sam has to run a natural obstacle course through a deep gully and a natural rock wall to save the girl.
When he gets to her, he removes the noose from her neck, then lies her on the ground, where she starts breathing again on her own. He tries to assess how injured she is and suggests they go to a doctor or the police, but she’s not very cooperative. She says her name is Epona and that “he’ll kill her”.
She doesn’t say who “he” is or whether he’ll kill her for going to the authorities or the suicide attempt itself, but it’s enough to get Sam to back down. He agrees to drive her home instead. Epona says she’ll give him directions as they drive. When he asks about the boy who helped her, she denies the child’s existence.
After they get in the car, Sam gives Epona a bottle of water. She asks for a packet of salt to add to it.
Sam tells Epona that he used to work with kids as a social care worker, so he’s someone she can talk to, if she wants. She says he won’t understand her problems. He decides they should get to know each other better. He says he’s married with 3 kids, 2 girls and a boy. His oldest girl is about her age. He “gets” crazy. He and his wife run a garden center now. He isn’t specific, but makes it sound like he wanted to get away from working with kids.
He tries again to get her to talk, but she rebuffs him. She does tell him that she’s from Osea Island and the causeway doesn’t open for 20 minutes. They’ll have to wait until the tide is out to drive over to the island. He should drive until he reaches the sea.
Sure enough, they reach the end of the road, where a small island can be seen in the distance across a stretch of water. Epona dozes in the car while they wait for the tide to go out. Sam leaves a message for Aday telling him there’s been a burglary. When he’s done, he sees another cricket on the ground. He kicks at it, which exposes that its dead and full of small black beetles that pour out of its abdomen.
Better to let dead crickeys lie, lest you create many beetle problems. Or is it that the beetles are there either way, all you can do is choose the manner of exposure? Maybe the beetles are what this cricket needs to stop carrying with him in order to survive, because they’re eating him alive.
Epona wakes up when the causeway opens. Sam is pacing betwen the car and the causeway, cursing because he hasn’t heard back from Aday. Epona says he doesn’t have to take her the rest of the way home. Sam questions why she doesn’t want him to. She tells him to go ahead and drive.
He will stubbornly save her, whether she wants it or it’s wise or not.
Sam slowly drives across the causeway. It’s barely out of the water and littered with puddled potholes. Epona assures him that he can’t fall off, as if he’s afraid of falling off the edge of the world if he goes too fast.
If you look closely during the shots from above the causeway, each side of the one lane road is lined with a narrow pile of rocks. Outside of that, there’s a narrow shallow area that varies in width, then the water gets deeper. As strangers, Sam and viewers have no idea how deep the water gets. He could actually fall off if he goes too fast or doesn’t pay attention. Falling into deep water in a car is more dangerous than swimming in it, though swimming could be dangerous enough if the river has fast, unpredictable currents.
When they reach the island, Sam says that it feels familiar even though he’s never been there. He knew about it because his grandfather was stationed on Osea during the war. Epona tells him the causeway will flood again soon, at 3:50, and then won’t be open again until morning.
As they drive on, she points out rehearsals for one of the islanders’ annual festivals, Jesus and the Sea. Normally the festivals are private, but this year they’re turning one into a big music festival and opening it up to the public. There are only 93 people who live on the island and they’re trying to raise money with the new festival. Sam is surprised that so few people can accomplish such a big goal. Epona says, “You wouldn’t believe what these people are capable of.”
In the distance, 15 ft tall puppets of a historically dressed man and woman dance. The man is holding a fish.
They continue driving and soon reach a small cluster of houses with a group of people and more costumed figures outside. Epona explains that this is another part of the festival. The costumed figures are the Sajora, who appear to represent some kind of animals wearing monks’ or druids’ robes. They come to Osea from the sea once a year to sniff out evil. When they find it, they cut it out using the large clippers they’re snapping in children’s faces.
Epona explains that according to their traditions, everything is either salt or soil, sea or land. She doesn’t say which is evil. As they continue past the Sajora, one removes his mask, revealing he’s a young man. He’s smiling until he turns and notices Epona in the car with Sam.
Sam stops near more dwellings. In the distance, one has a faded mural painted on the side. Epona asks Sam to leave without walking her inside, but he refuses. She tells him to take her to the Martins, who run the pub, instead of home. Sam reminds her that she can talk to him. She thanks him for caring about her and unbuckles her seatbelt.
A threshold is crossed here. Sam doesn’t set foot on the island, becoming part of its salt and soil, until this moment. Epona gave him many chances to back out, but he insisted on crossing to the island, bringing her home and getting out of the car. Though almost no one would have left Epona in the woods and many might have driven her to the island, only a few would take her all the way to the Martins instead of the police or a hospital. Sam inadvertently but willingly inserts himself into the life of the island.
Inside, Sam tries to explain Epona’s suicide attempt to the couple who run the pub. Mrs Martin silently draws Epona into her arms and takes her back to the kitchen. Mr Martin tries to smooth things over by making light of the situation, asking if Epona was playing a game. Mrs Martin tells him he’s an idiot. Sam tries to explain that Epona hasn’t received medical attention yet, but Mr Martin brushes him off and offers refreshments, until Mrs Martin calls her husband back to the kitchen.
Mrs Martin never speaks to Mr Martin without including at least 2, and generally more, profanities. Mr Martin never acknowledges her attitude toward him. If you though Epona was gaslighting Sam a bit, you were probably right, because the Martins are one big bundle of cognitve dissonance.
The kitchen has a full size swinging door. When it swings open, we can see the 3 islanders conferring. Left alone, Sam decides to call Aday again, but he can’t get a signal.
He wanders the island a bit, past some hanging animal parts that I really, really wanted to be selkie skins, but they aren’t, so Reader, don’t get your hopes up. Basically, what you need to get from the hanging bones or skins or whatever, is that the islanders are not vegetarians, kill the island’s wildlife enthusiastically and use the animals they kill for more than just food.
Sam gives up and wanders back inside to look at the pictures on the pub wall. The images are disturbing. Some are corpses. The music becomes loud and arhythmic. The camera work momentarily goes off kilter, until Mr Martin begins speaking, snapping Sam or the show out of whatever fugue state we were headed toward.
Mr Martin, describing one of the photos: “Frederick Nicholas Charrington. As in Charrington’s Brewery? Built this whole island. He was in the East End one day when he saw a woman surrounded by her starving kids, begging her husband not to spend their last few pence on booze. The man snaps, beats the living flip out of her. Charrington steps in. He gets knocked into a gutter, and when he looks up, what’s he see above this raging drunk’s head but his own name. Charrington. Found God in that moment. Bought Osea, took a bunch of drunks here to build a perfect sober world, and here we are.”
Sam: “Here we are, in a pub.”
Mr Martin laughs as if Sam has made a hilarious joke that’s never occurred to him.
If one were cynical, one could take the comment about “finding God in that moment” two ways. As in, Charrington found God when he saw his own name and realized the power that alcohol has over people and thus the power it gave him over people. He brought drunks to his island, sobered them up and became the God of a sober, controlled population. Then he opened a pub, and also became the God of alcoholism and mayhem again. He controlled both sides of the system- sobriety and alcoholism; sanity and insanity; life and death; salt and soil.
Sam asks if he can use the pub’s phone, since he still can’t get a signal. Mr Martin explains that they’re improving the island’s phone system in preparation for the festival. The signal is intermittent until 4:00, when landlines and cells will cut out for the rest of the weekend. If Sam doesn’t have a signal, the pub won’t either.
Sam explains that he needs to call Aday. Mr Martin questions him about the name, since he thinks it sounds African, then expounds a bit about the Somali refugee community on the mainland. They experience some racism even though they’ve had hard lives. Some have even been child soldiers.
Sam explains more about the burglary at his garden center. The garden center is in London, but they want to move. There’s a planning meeting today that Sam needs to do something about.
Sam doesn’t make any move toward leaving.
Mr Martin pours him a pint. Sam asks how Epona is doing. Mr Martin says she’s okay physically, but he thinks the enormity of what she tried might be hitting her. Sam mentions that there was a boy with her and describes him. Mr Martin says that Epona told them she was alone. Based on Sam’s description, it doesn’t sound like the boy is from Osea.
Sam says he thinks Epona is hiding something. Mr Martin asks what she could be hiding? Sam asks about her father, but Mr Martin insists that Jason is a good man. The islanders are all good people, just rough around the edges.
If Mr Martin didn’t creep you out as some sort of off kilter Stepford husband before, he should now. Sam is creepy, too, and the town is none of his business, but Mr Martin continues to engage him rather than encouraging him to be on his way, so there’s likely an underlying agenda at work here.
But beyond that, Epona has a visible abrasion from the noose, so it’s clear her suicide attempt happened. Then she implied her dad would get violent if Sam took her home. It’s not weird at all for Sam to ask Mr Martin about Jason- except that he should have taken her for medical help first. The way Mr Martin brushed off her attempt as a game and now won’t consider why she might be suicidal or that she might be experiencing abuse is concerning.
Mr Martin asks if Sam has kids, so Sam tells him he has 2 girls and a boy. Mr Martin says he and Mrs Martin went through seven failed pregnancies. Children weren’t in God’s plan for them. They keep going, but something is missing from their lives.
Nice deflection away from Epona’s issues in order to protect his buddy.
Then he offers Sam a room for the night. Room #1, upstairs, on the house. But of course Sam needs to get home.
As they walk back to Sam’s car, Mr Martin explains that the festival is Esus and the Sea, not Jesus.
Mr Martin: “Esus was sort of like a Celtic war god. Some do choose to make a link with our savior. Early Christian scholars in England were druidic. Not many people know that. We’re using our history for this festival.”
He goes on to explain that there’s a long history there and the island has been through some hard times, so they need the festival scheme to work.
Then he changes the subject and asks if Sam was just out for a walk in the woods, by the stream, when he found Epona. He tells Sam that Mrs Martin recognizes him. Sam reminds Martin that he’s new to the island. Then he asks if Martin understands that there’s something going on with Epona. Mr Martin assures Sam that Epona is safe. “You saved her. You saved this child.”
They reach Sam’s car, but a truck has parked him in. Mr Martin jokes about Sam having to stay in paradise forever. Sam’s phone gets a signal long enough to download the texts he’s received. He gets confirmation that the £40k is gone.
No one can find Danny, the owner of the truck. Sam is now frantic to get off the island. The causeway closes in 20 minutes. After Sam snaps at Mr Martin, he confesses the truth about why he needs to leave.
Aday is a planning officer. They’re bribing him to get their plans approved by the planning committee at today’s meeting. It’s not something Sam would normally do, but this was the only way for their plan to work.
Mr Martin figures out that Aday was the only other person who knew about the money. He convinces Sam that Aday stole the money, so Sam should threaten to turn Aday in to the police unless he “plays ball”.
Sam returns to the pub while Martin searches for Danny. Mrs Martin assumes he’s staying. Then she tells him she remembers him from when he used make appeals on TV for the “little angel” he lost. Later he told people not to blame immigrants. Sam says it was a long time ago, but she understands that he still hurts, that he returns to those woods because it hurts to go there. She says that most people don’t understand how warm it can be to hang onto pain. She asks if he maybe wanted a little bit of revenge after all?
It seems like she’s the one one who wants some revenge. She’s lost seven children to his one.
He breaks the spell she’s weaving by asking to use the bathroom. She sends him upstairs. Once he’s in the upstairs bathroom, we watch him through his reflection in a mirror- through the looking glass. A thick layer of salt is spread on the floor under the pedestal sink. He needs a minute to compose himself after she took him back to the tragic events surrounding the loss of his son.
Then Sam hears arguing from outside. Epona’s father, Jason, is yelling at her, asking what she did, and asking why “he’s here?” A tall man in a white suit tries to calm Jason down. Sam watches them from the bathroom window, staying out of sight when Jason pulls out a gun.
Back down in the pub, Mr Martin assures Sam that there’s no danger to anyone and Epona is just angry that the Martins told her father. Jason has a gun because he’s a farmer, he’d never hurt anyone! Martin implies that Sam doesn’t understand their loyal country ways because he’s a godless city dweller. Then Danny shows up with the truck keys just in time for the causeway to close.
Sam rushes to his car. As he’s driving away, he watches Epona in his rearview mirror. But it’s 3:52. The causeway is closed.
Sam stops and gets out of the car at the shore. While he’s looking at the water, he sees the boy who was with Epona running away down the shoreline. He follows the boy, who runs inland. Sam chases him through field and forest, across the moors, back to the shore, until the boy disappears again. While Sam’s walking back to his car, he passes someone digging oysters.
He comes across Jason and two other men drinking on the beach not far from the lone mansion on the island. He quickly crouches down and hides in the low bushes at the edge of the beach. The men are complaining about their leader, who lives in the big house and who everyone agrees he’s doing a lousy job. Then they switch to complaining about Sam, while Jason aggressively chops at a bucket with an ax.
This is significant because Esus is a woodsman who uses an ax and is associated with marshes.
Jason stops chopping and wanders over to urinate near the bushes where Sam is hiding. He doesn’t notice Sam, even though Sam is close by, barely covered by the bushes he’s cowering under.
After Jason walks away, Sam leaves, too. He discovers a ritual offering in the grass of a dead squirrel whose abdomen has been split open- to let the evil out? There are berries inside the squirrel, and four other fruit/vegetable/internal organ offerings as well, placed next to the squirrels shoulders and legs.
Sam returns to the pub, which is unlocked but empty. Mr Martin mentioned that no one locks their doors on the island. Sam tries the phone, but no luck. He goes upstairs to the bathroom, where the salt has now been spread in a pattern all the way across the floor. Maybe it’s mimicking the level of the tide.
Should have used the bushes.
He gives up and goes into room #1, the room the Martins told him they’d assigned to him. The bedding is rolled up on top of the bed so Sam pulls it to unroll it. A woman screams. She was sleeping in the bed, rolled up in the bedding, because that’s a perfectly normal thing to do.
It’s going to be a bit before the show introduces her, so let me do it now- this is Jess Paffard, an American who is basically an Osea Island groupie. She’s an alcoholic, historian/archaeologist wife and mother who can’t quite keep her life together. Just the type Charrington would have brought to the island for treatment.
Sam backs away as Jess scolds him and they have the obvious conversation about what he was doing in the mistaken room. Jess is particularly nasty about it and he leaves as soon as she orders him out. She dresses and immediately meets him down in the pub to continue the argument, insisting that she paid for the room, even though all he’s doing is apologizing for the mistake.
I guess her level of distress is normal for a woman who wakes up to a strange man in her room, aside from the fact that her room is near the pub’s bathroom and she knows there are no locks on the doors. Personally, I wouldn’t sleep in that pub to begin with, but I’m overly cautious. Then again, there are angry guys with axes and sea creatures with giant clippers for cutting evil out running around the island, so maybe my instincts are just ancestral fears from the Old Country.
Sam tries the phone a few more times, then pours himself a drink. Jess says she doesn’t drink, then changes her mind and asks for one. Then she apologizes for her reaction earlier. Sam tries the phone again and complains that his life will collapse if he doesn’t make a call in the next 20 minutes.
Jess says her phone is working. She lets Sam use it, but makes him stay inside the pub- as if he could actually steal the phone when they’re both stranded on the island until morning. He only has 3 minutes before the lines go dead for the weekend. He chooses to take Mr Martin’s advice and calls Aday rather than his wife. He accuses Aday of stealing the £40k but it turns out Aday was at the hospital because his own wife was having a medical emergency during the burglary. He doesn’t take kindly to Sam’s threats. Sam quickly tries to backpedal, but it’s too late. The bribery deal is off and the damage to Sam’s life is apparently done.
Jess eavesdrops on the phone call. Once he’s off, she asks Sam if he wants to talk about it, but he changes the subject to the festival.
Jess: “I got my PhD on the Essex Witch Trials and perceptions of women in Civil War England. And they’re basing the festival on a Celtic Cromlach, and they want to imbue it with Osea’s history.”
Sam asks what a Cromlach is. Jess says it’s a Celtic bacchanal. The practice was revived by Charrington. The idea was to let the criminals and addicts on the island blow off some steam for a few days, and then they’d be fine for the rest of the year. Charrington’s cromlach was a big success in which three people died.
So it’s the Osea Purge, then.
Jess encourages Sam to talk about the phone call again. Instead, Sam asks what she thinks of the islanders. She says they’re good, well meaning people who are a bit narrow minded. They’re protective of the island and their way of life, but she doesn’t blame them for that.
She asks if he has kids. He says again that he has 3 kids. 2 girls and a boy. The weird, arhythmic music starts again. Jess has two daughters. She’s kind of married to a man who does nothing.
One of the men who was with Jason on the beach enters the pub through the kitchen door. He could have been in there listening for a while and entered at what he thought was an opportune moment. This is Larry, the man who did most of the talking and egged Jason on.
Larry pours himself a draft beer while Jess asks if he knows where the Martins are. It’s dark out now and they’re still gone. Larry ignores her and puts his face in Sam’s face to take a good look at him. Jess gets Larry’s attention just as the Martins and several others arrive. Mrs Martin sends Larry away with a threat from an unnamed person. Mr Martin says Larry was a loving child, so they still think of him kindly.
When the island lost their oyster beds, it changed people. “Some found anger.”
The Martins discuss the fact that Mr Martin put both Jess and Sam in Room #1. They don’t have any other rooms, so the two strangers can either share the room or swim for the mainland. Mr Martin offers to wake Sam up an hour before the causeway opens with an Osea breakfast.
They say Epona is safe and staying with them. Mr Martin offers to bring her to Sam, but the Mrs says he’s a wimp for offering. Only she swears a blue streak, too. Mr Martin laughs and says she doesn’t mean it. But he’s still going to wait until morning to bring Epona round. He recommends Sam and Jess spend the rest of the evening enjoying the company and refreshments in the pub. Jess agrees.
Mr Martin goes into the kitchen, where Larry is waiting in the pantry. They do the sign of the cross to each other, but touch each spot in backwards order- for Esus, the God of war, instead of Jesus, the God of love?
Creepy cult membership confirmed.
The pub fills up with a friendly, boisterous crowd who make Jess and Sam feel at home. Larry rejoins the crowd and helps lead a singalong dedicated to Sam- “Swim, Sam, Swim”: “Show them you’re a swimmer. The swan swam. Six sharp shivering sharks all snapping at your limbs, so swipe them swiftly as they swoop…”
Gosh, childhood must be fun on this island.
Sam is happy while he’s with the crowd, but it only lasts until he’s confronted with himself in the mirror again.
Then Sam is outdoors again, alone in the haunting island landscapes. He sees the boy and chases him to a brick building. Inside, the floor is littered with bloody animal parts and pieces of Epona’s shirt. The boy is at the back of the chamber, with a pair of the Sajora’s clippers and a hood on his head. There are strange animal sounds and bloody hands. The boy screams wordlessly.
Sam awakens suddenly in his car. Was the episode with the boy real or a dream? Was the boy a perpetrator or a victim of this violence? Or both?
After a moment, Sam, who is still very drunk, and possibly drugged, retrieves several items from the back of his car. Including a black and white striped bag full of cash. He takes it all into the pub.
Apparently, he’s the burglar.
We’re clearly dealing with a variety of unreliable narrators who gaslight and lie as often as they tell the truth, including Sam, the Martins and Jess, so figuring out the characters’ motives and history will be an uncertain project. I think we did get a sense of their basic personalities in this episode.
The final bit where we realized that Sam stole the money himself and has been lying to everyone, all day, and maybe even to himself, shows that Sam is essentially on the run from his own life. He purposely lingered on the island so he’d get stuck there and have an excuse not to go home. He was also lured into staying by the islanders, who have their own reasons for keeping him there overnight. The question is, was Epona’s suicide attempt staged to bring Sam to the island to begin with? The way Mr Martin emphasized that Sam had saved THIS child makes me wonder.
Then there’s the conversation between Sam and Mrs Martin, when she taunted him with his loss. We don’t know the details, but he commemorates something that happened to his child every year. Mrs Martin, who lost seven unborn children, watched him on TV and had some intense feelings of her own. She tried to push him to give into whatever dark feelings he may still be harboring. What darkness is still inside her?
There were also signs of lost fertility on the island as a whole, starting with the Martins’ inability to have children. The island has lost their oyster beds- oysters are a fertility booster because they’re packed with minerals, but they were probably a major source of income for the islanders as well. Nothing shuts down long term fertility like poverty. There were a few vague indications of parents separated from their children: Jason was kept from Epona;. Jess is on the island instead of with her daughters; Sam is away from his children and kept chasing a boy he couldn’t catch.
This one might be a stretch, but there don’t seem to be many birds on the island. There should be shore birds everywhere, at least in the background. The loss of the oysters as a food source might have driven the birds away, too, which means the islanders also don’t have the birds as a food source. And if birds represent the soul, that means that in some sense, the islanders may have lost their souls as well.
We were shown the giant puppet with a dead fish, the Sajora sea creatures who cut out evil and the dead squirrel. None of these inspire faith in the vibrant, fertile life of the island.
I’m going to do a major information dump in this recap that might be handy to return to as events unfold in the rest of the season. Cryptic series like this one make it hard to decide when to give what information, but The Third Day actually mentions almost everything in passing in its first episode. So to keep life simple, here is your handy guide to many of the mysterious concepts the series discusses.
Original British Utopia– If the acid-washed color palette and disorienting camera angles of The Third Day seem familiar, you might just be a fan of the original UK version of the TV series Utopia (2013). Utopia had a similar cinematography style, though it divided its time between urban and open spaces with occasional striking nature shots. Both The Third Day and OG Utopia were created and written by Dennis Kelly, while the recent Amazon Utopia remake was created by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl). Half of OG Utopia and The Third Day’s episodes were directed by Marc Munden. Ole Birkeland was the cinematographer for Utopia S1 and The Third Day Part 2.
If you haven’t seen Utopia UK yet, it’s worth checking out. If you’re in the US, it’s available on Amazon Prime, but you might have to do some insistent searching to get it to show up instead of their 2020 remake. The remake is okay, but the original is better. The remake focuses much more on the comic and plague storylines, while the original focuses more on the characters and their motivations for ending or saving the human race. (The remake is one 8 episode season. The original is two 6 episode seasons.)
Both were cancelled before they finished their stories. Since they each ended their season long story arcs, I didn’t think the cliffhangers were too bad. They are both dark, especially the original. The original has particularly dark humor and graphic, if cartoonish, violence. Think Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
The Third Day and Utopia have many similar themes and in some ways, The Third Day can be seen as a continuation of the ideas and themes from Utopia. Both are concerned with loss, balance, population control, environmental degradation, fairness and truth vs belief vs religion or conspiracy theories. They both explore the boundaries between sanity, extreme belief systems and truths that are hard to face. They examine the ways those edges blur and affect behavior when people are faced with situations they don’t know how to cope with. Both shows look at how extreme situations change people, and how sometimes, they don’t change people. And how sometimes, people use extreme situations as an excuse to do what they were always going to do anyway.
Dog Days Are Over– The song is about the choice between either being destructively happy in a bad situation or running from constricting normalcy that doesn’t allow for the full spectrum of one’s emotions and personality (and potentially toward death or extreme loss). The happy but destructive situation can be a bad fit because of abuse, trauma, addiction or mental illness, artistic talent, genius or just quirkiness.
The pressure to change yourself to so that you’re “normal” and fit into the destructive situation can be overwhelming, whether it’s to go along with abuse or addiction or to deny your artistic or intellectual side and be average. Choosing to save yourself and your own sanity can mean losing everyone from your previous life- but the days of being an obedient dog are over. The heat/pressure is off. Will it bring happier times? No guarantees, just the promise of saner, less destructive times. Choose your poison.
Epona asked Sam to take her to the Martins’ to protect him from her father as well as to protect herself. But how did she get to the spot where Sam first met her? Sam is so busy chasing the boy and worrying about Epona’s safety, he never wonders how Epona just happens to be right where he was on that day, but she doesn’t have any visible means of transportation.
Were she and the boy sent to lure him to the island? Variations on the honey trap lure are part of many folk horror stories and horror stories in general. Just when Epona disappears from the episode, Jess shows up as a new honey trap to keep him engaged, while the boy weaves in and out, filling the gaps.
Epona is the name of a Celtic/Gaulish and eventually Roman goddess who was the protector of horses, a fertility and prosperity goddess and who guided souls to the afterlife. She has several characteristics in common with Esus.
Epona also tells Sam that on the island, everything is either salt or soil, earth or sea, one of side of a duality. Mr Martin mentions that Esus was the Celtic god of war and that the early British Christians were Druids, who would have blended their original pagan beliefs with their adopted Christian beliefs. There’s no indication that Esus and Jesus became the same god, but the two surviving images of Esus are found in Christian sites, suggesting pagan sites became Christian sites and the two were practiced in tandem for a time.
Esus is also thought to be the equivalent of the Roman god Mercury and the Norse god Odin. Mercury is the god of trickery, thieves, communication and financial gain. He guides souls to the underworld and is one of the few who can visit the underworld, then return to the land of the living. Odin is associated with war, poetry, magic, death and the afterlife, and wisdom.
Esus is pictured as a woodsman using an ax to trim branches from a willow tree. A bull watches while 3 egrets fly away. Egrets and willows are associated with the shore. Egrets have a cooperative relationship with bulls, eating parasitic insects off them. They nest in willows. Birds are also symbolic of souls and the willow is sometimes pictured as the tree of life.
One theory is that Esus is cutting back the tree of life during its dormant winter period, so that it will grow back stronger in the spring. The birds are the soul of the tree being released. They would return in the spring to nest in the tree and help the bull once again, completing the circle of earth, sea and sky. Maybe the ax, which was forged by a blacksmith, symbolized fire, the 4th element?
Everything that’s known about Esus, which isn’t much- Chronography.com/Esus
Short article on Esus, which has some outdated info- Screenrant.com
Druids– As most probably already know, Druidism was the Celtic and Gaulish religion that preceded Christianity in much of Europe and the British Isles. The Druids didn’t keep written records, so the details of their religious practices and beliefs have been lost. All we have are what’s been handed down as legend and folklore and the artifacts that survive in the natural world. Since various forces that came after were intent on wiping out the memory of the Druid/Celt’s beliefs, we’re left to use instinct and science to reclaim and build on our pasts.
There are a few important concepts to acknowledge. The Druids ritually observed the earth’s natural cycles each year, celebrating several important points in the turn of the seasons. They made sacrifices to the gods, including human sacrifices. They also believed in reincarnation. Their rituals were performed in natural spaces, using natural materials, rather than in man made buildings with man made items. They practiced mysticism, meaning their rituals allowed them to personally experience closeness and communication with their gods, without the need for an intermediary like a priest.
Cromlachs– (The show’s subtitles spell it cromlach, but everywhere else says cromlech.) Jess says that Charrington brought back Celtic Cromlachs, which she describes as an all out bacchanal. I can’t find any reference to a cromlach/cromlech as a party. Everything I’ve found refers to cromlechs as various forms of stone portals or standing stones that sometimes protected a burial mound.
In other words, they’re associated with transitions, whether it’s astronomical transitions like the standing stones, the transition between this life and the next like a burial mound, or a transition between two spaces, like a portal. A ritual could be seen as a transitional period between seasons of the year or periods in one’s life, so maybe that’s where the use of the word comes in. Maybe the cromlechs are the transitional festivals between seasons of the year.
We saw at least 3 stone portals in this episode- Sam sees Epona hang herself through a stone portal; when he’s outside in the field at night, he sees the boy in a stone portal; and then he follows the boy into a brick building, which serves as a portal where he leaves the natural, safe world behind and enters a man made, nightmare space. That was essentially a portal into a tomb. His fear of Death as a concept was what he’d been emotionally dancing around all episode and he was finally confronted with it in the building/dream.
There were other portals in the epsiode- the swinging door between the public and employee areas of the pub, the stairs in the pub that seemed to take Sam into a more dreamlike space where secrets were revealed, the causeway across the river that separates the island from the mainland, the phones that serve as communications portals to the outside world, and the alcohol that opened the people of Osea to treating Sam as a welcome guest instead of a suspicious stranger. These portals were teased open and closed, what was behind them dangled in front of Sam until he couldn’t resist stepping through, like Alice through the looking glass.
Though Jess defined the cromlech as a bacchanal, she said it was a success because 3 people died. Maybe that wasn’t really a joke- the cromlech was both the sacrificial ritual and their burial site. The cromlech is a ritual portal to death for some and to the next part of the year or life for the survivors.
One thing I did notice- cromlechs include standing stones with a flat horizontal stone on top, but I didn’t see any references to those horizontal stones being used as the surface where ritual blood sacrifices were made. Maybe in Britain, the capstone was just a roof, but in similar calendar/standing stone sites I’ve seen in other places, the large flat rock, wherever it was placed, was used for sacrifices, often even having a groove for blood to drain through. Just a thought.
The gods generally prefer to have their sacrifices laid out where they can see them, you know?
Essex Witch Trials– Jess also mentions the Essex Witch Trials, which took place in the 1640s not far from Osea Island. They were led by the man who called himself the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, who wrote the book The Discovery of Witches, which was used as a guide to witch hunting and interrogation by many others. He was responsible for the executions of more than 100 accused witches. He was eventually tried as a witch himself. Since torture was theoretically illegal, in order to force confessions, Hopkins used methods such as sleep deprivation; forced standing for long periods of time; the “swim test”; cutting the arm because he believed witches didn’t bleed; and searching for birthmarks, which he believed were devil’s marks.
Charrington and the Community’s Origin– It’s true that Frederick Nicholas Charrington, brewery heir, bought the real Osea Island in 1903 and turned it into a rehab center for alcoholics with alcohol prohibited on the entire island. The island was also used as a British Naval base.
Dualities and the Breakdown of Order– The shirt Sam dropped in the river and the bag which holds the £40k in cash both have the same black and white striped pattern. This suggests that the cash is connected to Sam’s ritual with the shirt. We haven’t been told how Sam lost his son, but everything so far points to a violent tragedy, from his deep sorrow at the river, to the way he chases the boy every single time he gets the chance, as if he’s desperate to be reunited with a ghost, to the nightmare scenario at the end of the episode.
The black and white stripes are reminiscent of the barred pattern created by the ubiquitous Venetian blinds in film noirs. The bag and shirt were introduced in shadowy situations- Sam’s face was in the dappled shade of a tree when he held the shirt and the car was in a barely lit driveway when the cash rolled out of the bag.
So I’m going with the film noir interpretation of the pattern and guessing that Sam is trapped in his grief and in his life. Both the shirt and the cash represent dualities. Sam is still overwhelmed by his love for his son, but also his sense of regret and loss. The cash represents his desire to stay in place by saving his business, but also his desire to move on and escape, which he mentioned in passing.
The bars on the shirt and bag are defined, with no room for variation in the pattern. The color changes abruptly, no slow, mild gray to ease the way between two states of being. Sam feels he has no shades of gray in his life, so he must choose between harsh options, and those choices seem to be breaking him.
On the other hand, the island is in a transitional zone, where a river meets the sea, one of the liminal spaces where dualities merge and become indistinguishable, such as marshes and tidal shorelines or dawn and twilight. The portals are also liminal spaces. Charrington began his community on the island as a transitional community, to help his followers move from addiction to sobriety.
Even though Epona says everything on the island is either salt or soil, note that the islanders also need help determining which is which. Many of them are unhappy, aggressive or off kilter. Mr Martin referred to the island as paradise, but it’s clear that Osea has fallen on hard times. Spaces that aren’t clearly defined provide more options, but the lack of structure also includes more opportunities to fail.
Though every islander seems to have the tidal table memorized as if it’s part of their bones, the tide times and times that the causeway is open are actually a little odd. Normally, on an open beach, low tides occur every 12 hours, but the combination of the shape of the river bed and the marshland retaining water can make low tides last extra long. That accounts for the 3:50 PM-7:28 AM difference between the two low tides that Sam encounters in this episode. High tides remain at every 12 hours.
Folk Horror– Let’s look a little more closely at the genre of folk horror. The most recent hit in the genre is the 2019 film Midsommar, which stars Florence Pugh as a young woman who visits a remote Swedish village with a group of her friends for a midsummer festival. They discover the entire village is a pagan commune whose festival involves human sacrifice. The festival doesn’t go well for outsiders.
There are similarities between Midsommar and The Third Day, which is why they’re both in the folk horror genre. They both follow in the tradition of The Wicker Man (1973), one of the three films most frequently cited as the foundation of the folk horror genre.
The Wicker Man depicts a police officer who investigates the disappearance of a young woman from a remote community which practices a Celtic inspired religion. Howie arrives when the community is celebrating their May Day festival and becomes embroiled in judging the community’s ritual practices while he searches for the missing girl. As an outsider, the festival doesn’t go well for him.
The other two films are Witchfinder General (1968) and The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971). Jess mentioned that she was drawn to the island after she did graduate school research on the historical Witchfinder General. The film of the same name tells a fictionalized story of rescue and revenge from the point of view of some of Matthew Hopkins’ victims.
The Blood on Satan’s Claw is a convoluted nightmare of a film that combines madness, possession, people growing animal claws and fur and demonic rituals in churches. We’ve already seen similarities to those themes in Sam’s late night chase, the Sajora, and more. Things don’t go well for the outsiders in these films, either.
Folk horror tends to mix of fear and horror of the natural world and rural communities with the assumption that rural communities are xenophobic, while also including the subtext that these communities might still have knowledge that urban dwellers have lost which could help solve the modern world’s problems. If only the urban dwellers didn’t always come into natural spaces with a superior attitude, they might be able to crack the secret, magical code that only those who live closer to nature still understand.
Or maybe the films are saying that as soon as people aren’t controlled by a rigid, intellectually advanced societal structure they revert to a primitive state, practically becoming animals. Usually by the end of a folk horror film, the dark side of everyone involved has been exposed and there are no absolute heroes or villains left.
So, without spoiling anything further, The Third Day has elements from Midsommar and all three films in what’s known as the unholy trinity of folk horror. Dennis Kelly takes these elements and combines them with themes he’s explored in his previous work like Utopia to create something unique but familiar, with amazing depth for 6 episodes and whatever you want to do with part 2.
Images courtesy of HBO and Google.