Entertainment

HBO's 'The Third Day' Finale Revealed the Answers to Some of the Island's Big Mysteries

Will there be another trip to Osea in the future?

the third day
HBO

"What are you doing here?" asks Jude Law's Sam towards the beginning of the final hour of The Third Day, HBO's tantalizingly strange folk-horror miniseries. The question is directed at his estranged wife Helen, played with nerve and restraint by Naomie Harris, but it could be just as easily turned on any of the island's other residents, the show's creators, or the audience itself. What exactly were we doing here watching this show about a mystical island, the residents of which claim it contains the "soul of the world"? What were its aims? Did it add up to anything or was it all quasi-spiritual mumbo-jumbo?   

For six episodes, bifurcated into two distinct three-episode seasonal halves dubbed "Summer" and "Winter"—plus, if you were inclined to watch Jude Law shirtlessly crawl and sob on a beach, a 12-hour livestreamed "Autumn" experiment—The Third Day effectively layered the ever-shifting motives of its characters. Sam wanted to help Epona, who he first discovered attempting to hang herself near a brook; he also wanted to break free from the pattern of grief he'd fallen into since his son's death. Helen wanted to find the money Sam took; she also wanted to repair her relationship with her daughters. In the final episode, the show attempted to tie together its two primary narrative threads, and it did so with the same winning mix of grisly violence and spiky humor developed over the course of the last few weeks. 

the third day
HBO

Reunited on the edge of the island, Sam and Helen opened the episode with a particularly intense emotional confrontation. Growing out his quarantine hair and dressing like an extra in Barry Lyndon, Sam appears to have more or less embraced his role as "the Father" of Osea, a title that allows him to live out his days with his son, Nathan, who he previously thought was dead. Sam takes Helen to meet Nathan and she makes a startling discovery: This is not her son. As she quickly observes, after politely taking in the boy's gruesome carnage-filled drawings, Nathan is not the right age or even the right color. "That's another boy altogether," she says.

This reveal was further complicated by the convoluted explanation of "other" Nathan's origins given to Helen by Mrs. Martin (series standout Emily Watson) and again upended by the final scene with "other" Nathan, who reveals knowledge of a private conversation the "real" Nathan had with Helen before his death. (Nathan also makes a ghost-like appearance as she pulls her two children across the water to the mainland.) Does that mean that Sam was in some ways correct about Osea? It's a question the series doesn't really engage with that much, preferring instead to stay grounded in the tactical battle for control of the island and the survival of Helen's increasingly fragile family unit. 

the third day
HBO

But was the island actually magical? At a certain point, long-running mystery shows are often expected to lay their cards on the table. (After creating Lost, which did eventually acknowledge that its island was a purgatory-like realm, creator Damon Lindelof made another show, The Leftovers, basically designed to self-consciously not answer those types of questions.) The final episode of The Third Day was an immensely satisfying hour of television, packed with twists, like Katherine Waterson's Jess making a last-minute power-grab or the brutal death of poor Mr. Martin (Paddy Considine), and visceral catharsis, like the final image of Helen curled on the floor with her daughters or the burst of knife-wielding violence from Sam. Sacrifices were made, many of them bloody, and the characters who survived will have to live with their choices.  

On a story level, it was gripping. As an act of world-building, it might have left you a little frustrated and puzzled. That tinge of disappointment might simply be a feature of the genre sandbox The Third Day creators, Felix Barrett and Dennis Kelly, were playing in. To make a broad generalization, the appeal of Wicker Man-esque folk-horror is rooted in the squeamish details of ritual, tradition, and social order. It's less interested in providing answers to big picture questions of time, space, and faith. The Third Day specialized in immersing you in the fractured mindset of its characters, so it makes sense that the show rarely zoomed out to provide context to larger mysteries. 

Whether or not Osea is actually the "soul of the world" like some of its more wild-eyed residents believe matters very little to the story. If the show had run for 12 episodes or for multiple seasons, it might have been fun to see how events on the island ripple out into the "real world," but it also would have disrupted the dread-soaked sense of claustrophobia and tension the series sustained over its short run. There could certainly be a second season—Jude Law's previous HBO miniseries, The Young Pope, got a sequel—but The Third Day ended on a note of contentment and peace that another trip to the island might disrupt. Despite all the talk of darkness, the light won out.

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.
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