A few months ago, I finally sat down and watched Jude Law in The New Pope – it was good TV that didn’t feel the need to dumb down, buoyed by great performances. He’s back on our screens in a very different role and a very different show, but it’s no less solid – the first instalment of The Third Day, ‘Friday – The Father’, is inscrutable and compelling.
Sam (Jude Law) is a former social worker turned garden centre owner – he has apparently had £40,000 stolen from him and his wife’s office, and is desperate to see a planned deal go through. As he passes through some woods, he witnesses a teenage girl being assisted in hanging herself by a young male accomplice, who flees. He saves the girl, Epona (Jessie Ross), and offers to take her home to the remote island of Osea. Circumstances conspire against him, and he winds up trapped on the island overnight, where he encounters a number of locals and starts to suspect something isn’t quite right.
There are hints of exposition… but the real feeling is one of confusion and weirdness
That’s a plot summary of sorts, but I write it with the full acceptance that I didn’t really know what was going on. This is, it should be stressed, entirely by design, and I like how ambiguous the narrative is. There are hints of exposition, such as the revelation that one of Sam’s children has died, but the real feeling is one of confusion and weirdness. Sam’s attempts to follow up on Epona’s health are shot down by the residents, and there’s a lot of terrifying imagery, from decaying animals to ritual signs.
The previews said we’d have something in the vein of The Wicker Man, and they were exactly right. I want to praise the sound design and the cinematography, because they really help generate a feeling of unease and dread. Throughout this episode, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for something to happen, something to diffuse the tension – it never came, and that makes it all the stranger. Mood is at the centre of The Third Day, and it seeps through every shot and interaction.
There’s a lot of acting talent here, with Jude Law at the centre of it all. The camera rarely ever leaves him, with tons of close-ups of his face as he experienced grief, anger, confusion, concern – a lesser performance would have sunk this show, but Law keeps it grounded in reality (or, at least, whatever reality The Third Day exists in). He’s granted another ally from the mainland, an American visitor called Jess (Katherine Waterston), who seems pleasant, but that doesn’t mean much in episode one.
I’m gripped, full of questions that I want to find out, and that’s certainly the mark of a successful pilot episode
On the island side, things become distinctly stranger (and I’m not just talking about things like the strange reliance on salt). Our main encounters are the owners of Osea’s pub, Mr and Mrs Martin (Paddy Considine and Emily Watson). The two are familiar screen presences, but that familiarity gives way to something darker here. Mrs Martin is hostile and wants Sam gone, but she has a couple of chilling interactions with him (particularly her description of pain). Her husband, meanwhile, is a perpetually grinning man whose friendliness is clearly a mask for something else entirely. There are also brief sights of Epona’s abusive father Jason (Mark Lewis Jones) and a terrifying man called Larry. We’re constantly told that the island is full of good people – a sign, if there ever was one, that they certainly aren’t.
Throughout much of ‘Friday – The Father’, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. But I’m gripped, full of questions that I want to find out, and that’s certainly the mark of a successful pilot episode. The Third Day is not going to be for everyone – it’s a slow burn, it’s dark, it’s confusing and it’s really strange – but on the strength of those traits and this first instalment, I’m certainly coming back for more.