The Third Day: Autumn review – a remarkable blend of live theatre, television, and Jude Law’s face

October 5, 2020 (Last updated: January 27, 2023)
Jonathon Wilson 0
TV Reviews
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An extraordinary mix of live theatre, television, and Jude Law’s face, you’d never watch The Third Day: Autumn more than once, but it’s quite a thing to even exist at all.

This review of The Third Day: Autumn contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.

None of The Third Day: Autumn was funny, but I laughed at several points all the same. HBO and Sky Atlantic’s bizarre but excellent folk-horror series maintained that distinction after three excellent introductory episodes – collectively titled “Summer” – with a 12-hour live event episode staged by theatre company Punchdrunk. Most of what I was laughing at was the sheer audacity of this endeavor. Twelve whole hours of Jude Law napping, digging holes, and being offered up to pagan gods sounds very much like the kind of dark ritual the show itself dabbles in. The fourth episode, and the first of the “Winter” trilogy, debuts tonight, but how it’ll follow this is anyone’s guess.

That isn’t even to say that The Third Day: Autumn was “good” in any traditional sense. How could you even tell? But it was a remarkable achievement, skilfully blending immersive live theatre – is there a more pretentious artform? – with the mainstream appeal of telly and the seemingly infinite expressive potential of Jude Law’s face, which was partially obscured here by a fearsome Old Testament beard. Just getting to the island took 35 minutes of nothing happening, and Law’s Sam didn’t appear for an hour.

Sam, you’ll recall, ended the first three episodes by becoming the “Father” of Osea Island, an isolated enclave of essentially pagan cultists whose enduring misfortunes were supposed to end with Sam assuming his mantle of leadership, which was technically his by birth-right. The religiosity has been threaded throughout the entire series but was pumped up to ridiculous proportions here, with Sam being slowly led out to sea and through a ceremonial meal of some kind before being left to dig a grave for an hour. I don’t know what Jude Law’s physical fitness regimen is like, but I’d be interested to learn. Nevertheless, he needed a nap after the ordeal; a half-hour which also made it into the production.

From there, the Christ-like metaphors continued with the dragging of boats, the wearing of thorny crowns, and a kind of maritime crucifixion, with Sam having worn the weight of the islanders’ sins only to be eventually sunk by them, condemned to the bed of a churning ocean in real-time to satiate deities of particularly weird appetites – although aren’t they all.

There was more to The Third Day: Autumn than this, including lengthy deviations that took in other characters from the first three episodes, painstaking effort to recreate and stage the disturbing imagery in this new, real-time single-camera format, and the rest of Sam’s story. The more I think about this thing in its totality, the more I’m utterly baffled by both how it came to be and its overall effectiveness. While I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I sat there transfixed for the full 12 hours, I kept drifting away and returning to the screen, lured back as if by a siren’s call to see what latest indignity Jude Law was being made to suffer. The ethereal effect of such a slow-paced endeavor, with its subtleties and ambiance, was gripping, and somehow Punchdrunk achieved the impossible in giving the whole thing a recognizable dramatic rhythm, with narrative ebbs and flows like the crashing of the sea that has formed so much of this show’s literal and metaphorical underpinnings.

I have no idea how they did it. I have no idea how Jude Law managed to rise to the occasion presented by it, and I have no idea how – or indeed whether – it’ll matter to the next three episodes or the season’s overall arc. I also don’t particularly care, in the same way that I don’t want to know how magic tricks work. What matters is the illusion, the effect, and in that regard, The Third Day: Autumn was one of the most remarkable televisual achievements of recent years – perhaps ever. You’d never watch it again, of course, but in our uncertain times, it’s a minor miracle that it could even exist at all.

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