By the end of The Third Day episode 1, it seems like HBO has found their answer to Midsommar and The Wicker Man — but something deeper brews beneath the surface.
HBO’s new atmospheric, psychological thriller begins with a close-up on Jude Law’s handsome face as his character, Sam, chats with his wife in what sounds like a concerning phone call. The opening of The Third Day episode 1 confirms Sam might not be the most morally sound person around, as his concern over a potentially missing 40,000 pounds would appear to indicate he came about the money illegally.
At the end of the call, he tells his wife, whose voice we never hear, that he’s “about to start” something. That “something” is a grief ritual Sam appears to carry out every year in honor of his dead son, who was kidnapped and murdered. The case resulted in Sam, and likely his wife’s, face being plastered on television screens across the country during press conferences and searches. We don’t learn this until later in the episode, but it’s why Sam goes into the woods and sends a small striped shirt down the creek.
He sobs and listens to “The Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine, which was a very jarring moment in an episode that is otherwise fairly solemn, slowly baking in layer after layer of tension and paranoia. As Refinery29 pointed out, the usage of the song might serve multiple purposes. For one, it could establish the timeline of the show, which is otherwise coy on revealing the era. “Dog Days” released in 2009.
Florence Welch literally sings, “Leave all your love and your longing behind, you can’t carry it with you if you want to survive.”
Considering The Third Day is going to deal heavily with Sam’s grief, the lyrics feel very pointed. What also feels ironic is that while Sam is participating in his private ritual, he witnesses a young girl try to kill herself via hanging. In the distance, Sam sees a young boy with curly hair tugging on the rope to help the girl, Epona (Jessie Ross), carry out the deed.
Sam mourns one young life as another one is almost taken in the same woods.
Luckily, he’s able to get to Epona in time and she survives, no worse for the wear. But she doesn’t want the police involved and she claims there was no one else in the woods with her. As we only see this story told from Sam’s perspective, it’s murky as to whether or not he’s a reliable narrator or not, but more on that soon.
Epona guides Sam to Osea Island in The Third Day episode 1.
Epona’s home is on a remote English island called Osea (which is a real place). The only way to get there is to drive across a winding causeway when the tide is low. Once there, you’ll immediately be reminded of The Wicker Man, if you’ve seen it. As they drive through the town, Epona tells Sam a little about Osea, its habits, and traditions. She looks forward to an upcoming music festival that’s supposedly a big enough deal the island floods with many outsiders. It sounds like your typical creepy cult bacchanal if you ask me.
Sam drops Epona off at a local tavern run by Mr. and Mrs. Martin (Paddy Considine and Emily Watson). Epona’s hints that the relationship with her father, Jason, isn’t great, so it appears the Martins have taken her in, more or less. But you won’t hear Mr. Martin say a bad word about Jason, even when he’s shown to have anger issues.
Mr. Martin is a little creepy in the way he never seems to stop smiling and lets every problem roll off of his back like a duck in water. Whereas Mrs. Martin recognizes Sam from the press conferences when he was searching for his son. She appears to be fascinated by his grief in a really uncomfortable way.
The Third Day episode 1: Sam struggles to leave the island.
While on Osea, Sam desperately tries to make a phone call so he can learn more about the potentially missing $40,000. He later gets confirmation that the money is missing from his wife. Previously, he admitted to Mr. Martin that they had planned to use the money to bribe a man named Aday to help them move.
Unfortunately for Sam, he’s not getting off the island anytime soon. Before he can leave, the causeway floods once again. He’s stuck until at least tomorrow morning. With nowhere to go, he agrees to accept Mr. Martin’s offer of a spare room in the inn — free of charge. Doesn’t Sam think it’s odd how desperately Mr. Martin appears to want him to stay?
When he retires to his room, Sam discovers an American woman named Jess (Katherine Waterston) is already in his bed! Why would Mr. Martin assign him to room one if someone was already staying there?
The two retire to the bar for drinks and Jess tells Sam a little more about the town festival. She calls it an old Celtic bacchanal (I knew it!). As the day turns to dusk and eventually night, the pub fills with people who grow increasingly rowdy.
Now in a drunken stupor, Sam stumbles out of the bar into the dark surrounding wilderness. He sees the young boy from the woods who he thinks helped Epona try to kill herself. Is this boy a ghostly version of his dead son?
Sam follows the boy to the beach into an abandoned watchtower. Inside features one of the episode’s most grotesque moments (and there are a few as Sam finds many animal and bug carcasses stuffed and torn apart throughout — as if we needed more bad omens), he suddenly stumbles upon a horrific scene of carnage with bloodied body parts strewn and his own hands covered in red.
He sees a blood-soaked child’s shirt on the ground, leading us to believe the body parts are…children. In the corner, the boy appears again, wielding a pair of giant scissors with a brown sack over his head and black galoshes on his feet. Distorted screams fill the air, coming from Sam and from around him.
Just as suddenly as it starts, Sam jolts awake back in his car. The money is in his trunk. What’s the deal? Was it there all along? So far, we’ve got tons of questions and virtually no answers, but I’m certainly curious to see where Sam’s sure-to-be-creepy-and-culty-as-heck journey takes him.
Note: If you’re wondering where Naomie Harris is in all of this, her character will take the lead in the “Winter” portion of the show, which will take place in episodes 4-6.
What was your impression of The Third Day episode 1? Do you plan to keep watching? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
New episodes of The Third Day air Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.