The Third Day (HBO Max)
Written by Dennis Kelly, Kit de Waal & Dean O’Loughlin
Directed by Marc Munden & Philippa Lowthorpe
I have been a massive fan of Dennis Kelly & Marc Munden since I first saw their collaboration in the UK version of Utopia. I haven’t yet sat down to watch the American remake on Amazon, but the reviews & comments I’ve seen from those familiar with the original doesn’t put me in any rush to do so. These two creators are brilliant at constructing character-centered stories around fantastic concepts and presenting them in visually striking ways. The bells & whistles never got in the way of the story and, in fact, served to enhance the narrative, a rare feat. The duo has done it again, this time with more collaborators on HBO’s recent The Third Day.
Sam (Jude Law) is out in the English countryside, close to the sea unraveling. He’s gotten a phone call from his wife that £40,000 have been stolen out of the safe at the garden center they own and operate. They need this money to pay a councilman a bribe so they can build their dream house. Sam wanders further into the woods, where he comes upon a teenage girl trying to hang herself. Without thinking, Sam rescues her and learns she is from nearby Osea Island and is cagey about her reasons for suicide. Our protagonist drives the girl named Epona back to Osea, aware that the causeway to the mainland will be flooded till morning soon. Circumstances leave Sam trapped there, and his life & handle on reality spiral out of control.
It’s hard to talk about The Third Day without spoiling, but I will try to do my best because, if you haven’t seen it, and anything you hear intrigues you, I want you to sit down and binge it right away. The six episodes are clearly divided into two distinct halves, each with their own protagonist and seemingly disconnected until a crucial moment in the second half. If the story feels familiar, it is definitely referencing the British horror subgenre of folk horror, mainly The Wicker Man. Osea is a place that holds itself as essential and separate from the world. Sam learns about the long-held religious beliefs, traditional melded with transplanted Christianity, never devolving into supernatural events always grounded in reality.
The Third Day is a story that hinges on a mystery. There will be events you can see coming far in advance, but others will throw you for a loop. I believe the writers do a fantastic job of dispense information at the right pace so that the audience can sit with each new revelation and understand how it fits into the whole. I felt sure that something sinister was happening on Osea but could not nail down who was on what side in an entertaining way. This is helped by Katherine Waterston, John Dagleish, Emily Watson, and Paddy Considine, who play the four people Sam spends the most time with while on Osea. They are repeatedly lying and deceiving, but what are lies and trues and for what purpose is cleverly hidden until the end.
Jude Law delivers a fantastic performance, and he has aged into a new type of role. Both this and The Young Pope showcase his brilliant ability to play petulant, mentally fragile aging men. Sam is a character fraught with psychological turmoil. Early on, we learn about a tragedy that has haunted him, and later, the full ramifications of that trauma are revealed. Sam is very much an unreliable protagonist. At one point, he’s dosed on psychedelics, and so his perception of events comes into question. But his mental illness also places everything he says into question.
Naomie Harris appears as our new protagonist, Helen, a troubled single mother trying to celebrate her daughter’s birthday in the second half. They end up in Osea about a year after the first half. We’re once again put in the shoes of someone who doesn’t entirely understand what is happening. How these two halves come together and where the mini-series ends is stunning. This is one of the best things HBO has made in a long time.