No matter how many times The Third Day's Jess (Katherine Waterston) reassures Sam (Jude Law) that Osea's locals are "really good people," it's getting harder and harder to believe her.
In episode 2, "Saturday – The Son," she offers more insight into the island's religious ties. And It's safe to say Osea seems as bad of a festival destination as Midsommar. Jess explains, pulling from some real history, that the secluded island was purchased by brewery scion Frederick Nicholas Charrington as a retreat for alcoholics in 1903 and its current occupants still adhere to those ancient religious traditions. Their beliefs are steeped in Christianity with a hearty helping of Celtic god worship. Osea's annual festival is dedicated to Esus, a Celtic war god whose victims were sacrificed by "being ritually stabbed and hung from trees," according to Decider. Hence, that disturbing image of Jesus being hanged on the local pub's menu.
Jess sees the island's connection to its past, a simpler time, rather endearing. To her it's no weirder than someone being into crystals. "Whatever gets you through the day," she says. But Sam senses something evil lurking beyond the worship. I mean do you blame him? He can't seem to go anywhere on the island without spotting an animal sacrifice, which seems very much up Esus' alley.
The ancient Celts believed that Osea was "the soul of the world," Jess says. In fact, during the "Esus and the Sea" festival, locals run around with fish-shaped burlaps sacks over their head and giant scissors in their hands pretending to cut out the evil in children. It doesn't feel coincidental that Sam's nightmarish visions include him cutting his chest open to spill his heart out. (A symbolic gesture of him finally ridding himself of his pain or a premonition of what's to come?)
Right now, the island's soul is struggling due to a drought that has killed the local oyster business. Mr. Martin (Paddy Considine) says that's why Larry (John Dagleish) is so belligerent. The locals believe the festival can help set things right, which, is why, for the first time in history, they're inviting outsiders to partake in it. It's easy to assume that revenue is all Osea wants from the weekend festivities, but knowing about the island's penchant for paganism, it's hard to believe that's all they're looking for. The locals have already admitted they are willing to do whatever it takes to return the peaceful balance that once made it a "blissful hippie haven." Could ritualistic slaughter be one of those things?
The island on The Third Day is based on a real island called Osea. It is also only accessible by throughway during low tide and was founded by Charrington, but that's basically where the similarities end. (Though, oddly enough, the real Osea, has been leaning into its connection with the show, which we'll assume they haven't actually seen.) However, the religious lore in The Third Day is very much based in truth.
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The trinity of gods that Jess references — Toutatis, Taranis, Esus — are known in Celtic lore as the Threefold Death. And yes, it is as scary as it sounds. It refers to a person, usually a king, hero or god, dying simultaneously in three ways, or suffering three distinct deaths as sacrifice to the gods, who each have their own way of killing. Toutatis is fire, Taranis is drowning, and Esus is hanging.
Jess doesn't go into all that Threefold Death stuff, but explains that these gods, who are actually priests, were known to dress as things from the sea and take outsiders for sacrifice. Of course, that was a long time ago and Osea doesn't really like to advertise this aspect of the festival anymore. The tourists prefer not to know that they're "glamping on the site of sustained ethnic genocide," she says.
Throughout the episode, Sam, who identifies as a non-believer, is confronted with the island's religion, which doesn't feel all that removed from its past. While walking, he stumbles upon a tent revival in which a man is preaching to a crowd of fervent worshipers. "He has sacrificed," the preacher says. He's talking about Epona's dad, who is shirtless and sobbing. "In the name of the sea and the land, take this man. Strike redemption into his heart," the preachers says. "Burn the sin from his soul that he suffers."
After talking about the dead filling the mountains, valleys, and streams, the holy man continues evangelizing Epona's dad. "The blood of his blood has been spilled for you," he says. "Oh lord take the sacrifice from this man. Let him swim in the sea of your love." Before Sam walks away, we hear the preacher say, "Show him redemption. Drown him."
In that short time, the preacher references two of the three gods' death moves. A bad sign being that Threefold Death is usually prophesied. Another bad sign? Epona's grief-stricken gun-toting dad telling Sam, "It's coming. The darkness." Knowing how episode 2 ends, and knowing Sam only has one more day, it might be coming sooner, rather than later for him.