Autumn - The Third Day S
Image: Sky Arts

‘The Third Day’: Autumn

One of the big struggles I’ve faced reviewing The Third Day is that it’s so unlike anything else on TV. That was certainly true of the ‘Summer’ portion of the show, but the ‘Autumn’ broadcast is something else entirely. Theatre company Punchdrunk streamed a 12-hour live experience that took us deep into the world of Osea and proved bizarrely compelling viewing throughout its phenomenal runtime.

I would normally provide a little overview of the plot, but there’s not really a distinct narrative (and it’s not really the point of the ‘Autumn’ event anyway). A bit of text at the start of the event told us that this was the day of a yearly Osean festival, ‘Esus and the Sea’, which marks the passage into adulthood of the island’s children. A boy or girl is also chosen to take ‘The Path of Esus’, a trial akin to the Christian Stations of the Cross, and new Fathers are also required to undergo the trial and prove they are fit to lead. This means that Sam must prove himself to Osea.

It may not have truly answered that much more about the first three episodes… but it was strangely mesmerising nonetheless

The 12 hours follows the preparation for this festival, and sees Sam suffer through the ritual, but it was about the atmosphere more than anything. ‘Autumn’ was a slow-burn and deliberately so, and it turned the most mundane of events into compelling viewing. The opening crawl to the island, a slow retreat over the causeway as ominous ambient music tinkered away in the background, lasted 30 minutes, and yet it was hard to look away. I was gripped as people picked up rubbish outside a caravan, stuffed scarecrows or ate together.

Such a long stream really helped generate a sense of Osea, and helps colour the world of The Third Day. It may not have truly answered that much more about the first three episodes, and I don’t yet know how it will factor into the ‘Winter’ portion of the story, but it was strangely mesmerising nonetheless. The nature of the broadcast (and the unmentioned Covid restrictions) did alter certain facets of the broadcast – Emily Watson’s foul-mouthed Mrs Martin failed to appear, and much of the horror was suggested off-screen. But even still, with score and setting, the horror felt as if it remained ever-present, be it in the monstrous hanging scarecrows or the impenetrability of the community.

Several cast members return (and Florence Welsh in her TV acting debut, for some reason). Jess reappeared, with the broadcast suggesting to me that she was pregnant with Sam’s child, and it pushed Jude Law to his limits as a performer. An hour of ‘Autumn’ was Law digging what looked like a grave – he was also forced out to sea as part of the ritual, and made to drag a large boat across the land. Then, he was made to wear a crown of thorns and forced into the ocean. It’s really worth stressing that this was live – Law had to do all of this in real time, and I applaud his willingness and his sheer endurance.

‘Autumn’ is one of the most ambitious and innovative TV events I’ve ever seen, and Punchdrunk and their performers deserve real kudos for pulling it off

I was never going to get the TV to myself for 12 hours on a Saturday to watch a community do very mundane things, so I streamed the event on HBO’s Facebook page. There, I discussed the events with other fans from around the world – we tried to make sense of what was happening, deciphering the world of Osea, and it truly felt like a shared experience. ‘Autumn’ was framed as an immersive experience, and the global audience engaged by 12 hours in this world, captivated by the mythology of this world, is proof that it worked.

It’s hard to imagine spending 12 hours of a day watching what was mostly ambience, but it was really incredible. ‘Autumn’ is one of the most ambitious and innovative TV events I’ve ever seen, and Punchdrunk and their performers deserve real kudos for pulling it off. This will not have been for everyone but, for the many of us across the world who were utterly absorbed by the experience, ‘Autumn’ was an amazingly-crafted piece of art that demonstrated how TV can truly push boundaries.

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