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Review: With 'The Third Day,' HBO offers a trip to nightmare island

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

A fever dream rush of a show, “The Third Day” is puzzle TV in which the pieces eventually, and somewhat surprisingly, all fit.

Things revolve, at least for the first three of the show’s six episodes, around Sam (Jude Law). He’s a grieving father who has returned to a woodsy site where his young son was murdered to mark a mournful anniversary when he hears a nearby commotion. He rushes through the woods to find a teenage girl hanging herself. Managing to stop her suicide he then offers to drive the girl home, obviously hoping to get her help.

Jude Law in "The Third Day."

Home, it turns out, is on an island off the nearby coast. You can only get to this island via a thin, winding, beat-up road. And the road is only open when the tide is out; most of the time it’s underwater. Uh-oh.

The population of the island are long descendants of a mix of criminals and outcasts with their own set of bizarre beliefs influenced by the Celts, Druids and Christian cults. Sam delivers the teen girl to the owners of the local inn, the upbeat Mr. Martin (Paddy Considine) and his spectacularly foul-mouthed Mrs. Martin (the spectacular Emily Watson). He also meets an American anthropologist (Katherine Waterston, who should star in everything) apparently there to study the unique culture.

One thing becomes clear about that culture: These people like to party. After his car is (mistakenly?) blocked and he can’t get off the island, Sam stays and joins in the general drunken debauchery that seems a nightly occurrence. This leads to some wild, violent hallucinations or dreams or… something. Because as “The Third Day” progresses it becomes clear that as weird as these people are — and they are seriously weird — Sam himself may not be altogether sane.

Are people plotting to keep Sam on the island? Are they out to kill him? Are these bloody visions he’s having real? Or is Sam a mental case?

The show sort of begins again with the fourth episode, when a Mom (Naomie Harris) brings her two daughters to the island for a vacation. This woman obviously needs a new travel agent, and the weirdness continues in fine form.

“The Third Day” runs haywire in so many directions the fear is it might pull a “Lost” and amount to nothing. But by the third episode it’s clear that’s not the case; writer Dennis Kelly ties it all together in wondrous fashion and then lets the firestorm burn on. It’s glorious stuff.

'The Third Day'

GRADE: A-

9 p.m. Monday

HBO

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News.