TV: The Third Day

I’m not sure if it’s an omen that shows keep luring me to creepy islands lately, but here we are: in the wake of Midnight Mass, I just spent another six episodes on an island for HBO’s The Third Day. Despite significant disparities in tone and content, the two miniseries bear surprisingly striking thematic similarities. It’s also a uniquely structured experience.

Sam (Jude Law) is a grieving father in England, making his annual pilgrimage to the site of his son’s death years earlier. Sam’s life back in London, both with his family and his business, appears to be descending into chaos, but before he can finish his visit and head back to solve his problems, he encounters a young woman named Epona (Jessie Ross) in the process of attempting to hang herself. Sam saves her life and finds himself driving her back to her home on Osea, a small island in an estuary only sporadically accessible from the mainland by a tidal causeway. Sam, whose troubled history involves mental health problems related to his son’s murder, quickly gets entangled in local drama as he embeds with the eccentric locals, who have strange spiritual views. As mysterious events and the inconstant availability of the causeway continue to trap him on the island, Sam befriends a visiting American named Jess (Katherine Waterston), who helps him orient to the strange local customs—but who ultimately ends up dragging him even further into the island’s unsettling beliefs and lore. The resulting conflict soon threaten to erupt into a broader conflict.

The Third Day is a fascinating slow burn, divided unexpectedly into two halves: the first detailing Sam’s arrival on the island, and the second involving new arrivals who come to Osea in the wake of the controversies Sam fomented. In between the sections, it’s implied that turmoil and tragedy wracked the island, and while part of me resented this large piece of the puzzle missing, it actually makes the second half differently intriguing, in that it layers a new mystery atop the old, giving us a cockeyed, obscure angle on what we’ve already learned. The staggered structure works well, but even more surprising is that evidently there was a third section in between the episodes: a twelve-hour, live, immersive theater event that was only available in the UK. I’m guessing that unique, massive experience is lost to the ether by now, but the writers clearly had the foresight to anticipate that its events might be just as powerful implied as depicted, because the available episodes work well without it. At any rate, The Third Day is a moody, mysterious watch rich with a finely crafted religious themes and plenty of unnerving, vaguely supernatural ambience. The exceptional supporting cast is anchored by Freya Allen, Paddy Considine, Charlotte Gairdner-Mihell, Naomie Harris, Nico Parker, and Emily Watson, among may others. Overall, an effective, dramatic dose of spiritually themed horror that slots in nicely alongside shows and films like The Kettering Incident, Midsommar, Twin Peaks: The Return, and yes, Midnight Mass.

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