It’s all rather simple in the end.
Sam, our beleaguered hero, is not connected to the island of Osea by mere coincidence or happenstance. He is the rightful heir of the island’s “father,” a descendant of the Charington family whose grandfather fled rather than be tasked with this burden of leadership.
But when the people of Osea discovered the existence of Sam and his family, a schism happened. Some islanders, like the menacingly milquetoast Mr. Martin, believed that Sam’s son should be abducted and trained to lead the island in his place. They hired Goltan, the Romanian immigrant found responsible for the boy’s death, to carry out the kidnapping. And though Martin hides the truth at first, Sam eventually learns that the kidnapping did not go violently wrong, at least not for his son. He has been kept on Osea this whole time, with a slain local boy — the brother of Epona, the girl he rescued from suicide, and the son of Jason, the man who at first blamed Sam for his son’s death but then tries to help him escape — substituted in his place.
Other islanders, however, want Sam to play this role. And when he interrupted the self-sacrificial suicide of Epona in the woods on the mainland — coincidentally or providentially, depending on your outlook — they finally had the chance to act on their intentions.
Anyway. At Jason’s urging, Sam desperately tries to escape Osea, for what seems like the hundredth time. Still reeling from a near-death experience at the hands of a gun-toting Mrs. Martin (he triggered an electrical explosion to get free of her) and the discovery of the body of Epona (she killed herself by slitting her own belly open in ritualistic fashion in order to placate the island’s pagan gods), he commandeers a boat with the help of his American one-night stand, Jess.
But Jess has a secret of her own, which Sam might have cottoned to had he been paying closer attention. She relates to the islanders as the survivor of a religious cult herself. And those islanders have been holding her precious daughters hostage — they’re the little blonde girls who appear multiple times in Sam’s hallucinogenic visions of Charington and his minion, Larry.
So Jess brings Sam back to shore. She is reunited with her children. And in the end, he is reunited with his son. Grief and relief pour out of him as one, manifesting themselves in a tearful embrace of the boy he thought he had lost forever. Carrying his son in his arms, he strides into “the Big House,” taking his place as the father of Osea and, by extension, the savior of the entire world of which Osea is alleged to be the beating spiritual heart.
And as he does this, black-and-yellow crickets by the tens and hundreds of thousands take to the sky, virtually blotting it out in their swarms, bumping into the camera through which we have observed this strange, protracted ritual. Cut to black. The end …
… for now. The Third Day is only halfway through its run. Less so, in fact, if you include this coming weekend’s multi-hour live event, entitled “Fall,” which precedes “Winter,” the three-episode back half of the season.
But now that “Summer” has concluded, the nature of The Third Day has become clear. Written by series co-creator Dennis Kelly and directed by Marc Munden, these three episodes add up to a single horror movie — approximately the length of the extended cut of the very comparable Ari Aster folk-horror film Midsommar, for example. It would be easy as pie to run these first three hours or so of television back to back to back and call it a movie without anyone even noticing, I think.
And so much of this final hour is consumed by Sam’s journey. I mean that literally: This episode is about Sam’s repeated and thwarted attempts to escape Osea, whether on his own or with Jess or his son. Time and again, we see him held back by physical impediments — the rope Larry uses to tie him up (to say nothing of the weights he prepared to sink Sam’s body into a well), the rising waters swallowing up the causeway to the mainland, the impassable mudflats that stop Sam in his tracks at one point and stop his boat at another. This conflict is so raw, so primal, so man vs. nature as a stand-in for man vs. man, possibly ordained as such by the pagan deities to which the islanders pay homage.
Moreover, what I said in my review of the series premiere remains true: Jude Law’s face alone tells the story. His pores are choked by dirt and grime. His temple is caked with blood, both dry and wet. His cheeks are streaked with tears for himself and, eventually, for his son. There’s something … I dunno, almost thrilling about seeing a handsome male actor subjected to the final-girl indignities of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Aliens or Marilyn Burns’s Sally in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Florence Pugh’s Dani in Midsommar. To watch someone so beautiful be physically and emotionally broken down is like witnessing a human sacrifice of a sort.
Where does all this leave us for “Winter,” the series’ second half? Sam still has a normie family out there waiting for his return. The elderly Charington has killed himself. Jason, the repentant father of Epona and her murdered brother, is last seen tied up by the other islanders. The Martins still have a pub to run. The connection to Jack the Ripper, reinforced in artwork Sam sees in the abandoned church where Epona sacrificed herself, is still unclear. So is the prophetic panel in which Sam is depicted as a pagan saint wielding knives in each hand. And Naomie Harris, the top-billed star of the final three episodes, has yet to show up.
Come what may, The Third Day is an engrossing, emotionally affecting entry into the folk-horror canon. Here’s hoping our return to Osea in a few days is as unnerving and effective as our initial visit.