The premiere of HBO's new miniseries, The Third Day, starts with a distressing phone call. Sam (Jude Law) paces a rural road as he speaks to his wife about a burglary at his office. We never hear her voice, just his side of a panic-stricken conversation about 40,000 pounds in cash that he fears has been stolen. He doesn't want to get the cops involved. He doesn't want to explain to them why he has all that money, a sign it is untoward. He admits he probably should have told her about the cash. He also admits that he really doesn't want his daughter to play the trombone.
Sam is in full panic mode, but he doesn't immediately head home after that call. Instead, he heads down to the stream with a kid-sized striped shirt in hand, Florence + the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over" in his headphones. As Florence Welch sings, he is overcome with emotion. Eventually, he lets the shirt sail away on the water. A burial at sea for a tiny someone, a son, as we learn later. When Sam lost him is unclear, but the 2009 song might be a sign it was a decade or so ago.
In some ways, it doesn't matter exactly when the loss occurred. The opening scene feels too much like ritual to believe he has not performed it before. (Before hanging up with his wife, Sam tells her he's going down to the river. "I'm just about to start," he says.) This death still feels too raw and later viewers start to understand why. The loss of Sam's son was a public tragedy for all to consume. He is a parent who hasn't been able to grieve in private, but has had to do so publicly. Perhaps, the years of putting on a brave face are catching up with him.
However, this story is not as cut and dry as one of a grieving father searching for closure. The six-part series is told in two parts, “Summer,” which follows Sam, and “Winter," which picks up with a single mom, played by Naomie Harris. Their connection is the mysterious British island of Osea, which is hard to leave once you get there — literally, since the causeway disappears when the tide is high.
Sam is led there by Epona (Jessie Ross), a young girl who he saves from taking her own life, in the same woods where he was mourning a young life lost. Sam sees a small curly haired boy help her commit the act, but he runs off before Sam can talk to him. She swears she was alone and doesn't want him to call the police or take her to the hospital so Sam decides to drive her home. Along the way, he learns about the island, which feels all too familiar despite him never having been there before. It also feels Midsommar-esque, right down to its summer festival that hinges on local religious traditions. (Another similarity? Epona telling Sam, "You won't believe what these people are capable of.")
When Sam gets there, he's introduced to the local pub owners, happy-go-lucky Mr. Martin (Paddy Considine) and the irritable Mrs. Martin (Emily Watson). It's she who swears she knows Sam from somewhere, eventually realizing it's from TV press conferences where she watched him plead for his son's safe return. While we don't know exactly what happened, Mrs. Martin tells Sam, "Something appalling happened to you. To lose how you lost."
She pushes him to talk about his loss, questioning how he could forgive those who hurt his son. "People getting angry and wanting to blame immigrants," she says, but she was struck by how he urged people not to. It happened a long time ago, Sam says. “Pain doesn’t know time," she says, noting that it must have been painful for him to be in those woods again. "It does," he says. "That's the point."
She then suggests that he lean into that pain. "Most people are scared of pain, but," she says, "they don't know how warm it can be.” She once again asks him why he thought those who hurt his son don't deserve to be punished. "Aren't you tempted just to hurt someone?" she asks.
Sam has questions of his own, like who was that little boy? Mr. Martin swears Epona said there was no one else with her. Yet Sam sees him again, on the island, and this time follows him. The boy is wearing a striped shirt and is almost ghostlike, disappearing each time Sam gets close enough to catch him. He often leads him to clues about what might be going on with the island. This all can't be coincidence, can it?
The Third Day doesn't look to answer these questions just yet. The first episode only offers clues (possible red herrings?) about what it is that's going on here. The festival is referred to as a Celtic bacchanal that celebrates the island's traditions. We see islanders giving themselves the sign that is certainly not of the cross. Is this a religious cult that we're dealing with? We learn the island was founded to help mainlanders escape their demons such as alcoholism. "We've been through some bad things, but we take care of each other here," Mr. Martin says with a smile. (It isn't lost on Sam that a pub is now the local meeting place.)
Could the island offer Sam an escape from his grief? He seems so trapped in his own sorrow that he can't see what is happening around him. Since we're seeing things mostly through Sam's eyes, it's also hard to trust what it is we are seeing.
The islanders welcome Sam with open arms and full pints that put him at ease. Still, he sees the boy in the striped shirt once again who brings him to a decrepit building filled with bloody body parts and a tiny bloody shirt. It all feels like a fever dream and before we can figure out what exactly is going on, Sam wakes up in his car, hungover or drugged. It's hard to say. It's also hard to explain the money he find in his trunk. Is that the cash he thought was stolen?
The Third Day premiere blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. It's similar to Lost in that way. There are no polar bears on this island (as of yet), but it is hard not to feel as if this idyllic, but strange place is a symbol for something more. There is also that Florence + the Machine song, which feels like an anchor to reality and possibly, a clue of what the show is all about.
The song's title is a nod to those dog days of summer. The hot, sultry ones that make you feel delirious. It's a good word to describe Sam, who is sweaty and confused throughout the episode. But the song's title is also a reference to a difficult time in someone's life. She sings about looking for a way out and doesn't mince words about what that might take."Leave all your love and your longing behind," Welch sings. "You can't carry it with you if you want to survive."
For those looking for symbols, these lyrics feel as good as any. Welch often uses spiritual imagery in her music, which is why it's hard to dismiss its connection to Jesus' declaration in Luke 14:26. He states that to follow him, you must leave behind family and loved ones. In terms of the song, Welch suggests to find happiness you must cut the ties that bind you.
Now Sam is being offered a similar binary. He can stay in Osea and choose to live in his grief. The island has apparently given residents a new beginning, though it's unclear at what cost. Or he can leave and go back to his family and attempt to move forward. Of course, these choices are based on the idea that he can actually leave the island. From what we've seen so far, that might be easier said than done.