You could see the twist coming from a causeway away—but, like the causeway, it’s about the journey, not the destination.
In many respects, the fourth episode of The Third Day is as much the start of a second season or a sequel as it is a continuation of what’s come before. Subtitled “Winter” in opposition to the opening “Summer” segment (and the intermediary 12-hour slow-cinema experiment, “Autumn”), it has a new leading actor, with Naomie Harris stepping in for Jude Law. (Law’s character, Sam, was last seen heavily bearded and participating in a death-and-rebirth passion play during the “Autumn” event.) Philippa Lowthorpe has taken the directorial reins from Marc Munden. There’s even a new cinematographer (David Chizallet, stepping in for Benjamin Kracun) and composer (Dickon Hinchliffe, taking over from Cristobal Tapia de Veer) on board. About the only thing that hasn’t changed is that the island of Osea is an extremely creepy place to visit.
But even the nature of that creepiness has changed. Gone are the slightly too-friendly greetings and blandishments that welcomed Sam into Osea’s dubious embrace when he arrived just prior to its big summer festival. Now everything is cold and gray. A succession of locals, even the jolly Mr. Martin (Paddy Considine is back, thank goodness), seem intent on running Harris’s character Helen and her two daughters, Ellie (Nico Parker) and Talulah (Charlotte Gairdner-Mihell) right off of the island, or at the very least refuse to give them a place to stay. In fact, before Mrs. Martin takes pity on them (perhaps as much to overrule her milquetoast husband as out of the goodness of her heart), the islander who’s the most friendly towards them is Larry, Sam’s chief tormentor.
Then again, it’s 13-year-old Ellie whom Larry’s being “friendly” towards, which rings Helen’s alarm bells nearly as much as anything else she sees and hears on the island. Given that she comes across a statue of a crucified Mary in a tiny pool of blood; a disemboweled sheep with a crown of thorns and a baby doll in its abdomen; a kind but drunken old man named Janny (Hilton McRae) who’s obviously incurred a head injury from one of the local goons; people who are crying and screaming inexplicably; and vulgar graffiti representations of the sheela na gig accompanied by words like “DIE” and “OUT,” that’s saying a lot.
But Helen has good reason to mistrust the kindness of strangers, as we learn in that relatively predictable twist at the end. (I guessed it way back during the pilot episode; how about you?) She’s not just some random single mom trying to treat her teenage daughter to a birthday getaway, where Ellie’s supposed love of archaeology (in actual fact she’s grown out of that phase a long time ago) will be rewarded with lots of local color. She’s Sam’s wife, as the wallpaper on Talulah’s iPad makes clear. Like him, she suffered through the abduction and (apparent) murder of their son. And while her daughters don’t know the truth about why she’s come to Osea, Helen sure does—though exactly how she hopes to find out what happened to her husband, especially while fronting to her kids that they’re on some kind of holiday excursion, is unclear.
One thing that is clear? The Third Day has not missed a step despite the creative changeover. (Series co-creator Dennis Kelly remains aboard, it should be noted, co-writing the episode with Kit de Waal and Dean O’Loughlin.) The causeway is still an evocative visual signature for the show. John Dagleish’s Larry is still an intimidating heavy; somehow he’s even scarier being friendly than he is being surly. The Martins remain maddening and menacing despite their surface friendliness and their ability to explain away every weird thing that happens—your missing car? Stolen, not towed! The screaming woman? She’s gone into labor! The abandoned house with a fully equipped operating theater? It’s for the birth, since the woman refuses to go to the mainland! The frightening iconography you see everywhere you look? “We’ve had our customs for years,” says Mrs. Martin; “They ain’t pretty, but I’m not fucking apologizing for them.” See? There’s a too-perfectly logical explanation for everything!
(Speaking of logical explanations: If I had to guess, I’d say the pregnant woman is Katherine Waterston’s character, Jess, whose two brightly blonde daughters make a brief cameo, and that her baby was fathered by Sam during their one-night stand. Just laying down my marker, is all.)
But the differences between “Winter” and “Summer” are as interesting to explore as the similarities. Director Lowthorpe and cinematographer Chizallet have settled on a much more muted palette than Munden and Kracun before them. This sells the winter atmosphere nearly as much as Helen and Ellie’s visible breath as they talk in a frigid house they’ve broken into for shelter, yes, but it also makes Helen’s scarf’s comparatively subdued hue of purple stand out like something from Prince’s closet. It’s meant to be noticeable, so that when you see it wrapped around Lu’s foot in lieu of the shoe she lost in the mudflats, you instantly understand what happened without needing to see her take it off her neck and transfer it first.
The interplay between Helen and her daughters is new, too, compared to the near-return to bachelor life Sam enjoyed (well, “enjoyed”) during “Summer.” Bringing her children with her gives her people to care for, and about, besides herself. It makes her reactions in life-or-death situations seem that much more life-or-death. It offers some relatable moments for parents in the audience—the meddling of a well-meaning grandparent, like the grandma who keeps calling on the phone and giving Ellie information a kid probably doesn’t need to have, for example, or the difficulty of separating a grade-school kid from their beloved screens for any prolonged period of time.
And most heartbreakingly, it reveals how the children have come to be the caretakers for their own parent, who suffers from panic attacks they need to hug her through. Sam isn’t the only one with lasting psychological scars from the disappearance and death of their son, and Helen also has Sam’s own disappearance to deal with. In fact, this awful state of affairs for the family is likely the reason why Ellie has been getting in fights with other girls at school; they think she’s “weird,” she says, and given the precarious nature of her family situation, Ellie seems to half-believe it herself.
These will be compelling dynamics to work with in the two episodes that remain. And you can add them to the already fascinating and frightening mysteries of Osea, the fates of Sam and Jess, and the open question of whether Helen will have any more luck escaping than her husband did. All told, The Third Day’s fourth day is fine, fine television.